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Landlord Shouldn’t Encroach on Tenant

Special to The Times

QUESTION: I have been renting a home for the last year. My lease runs out at the end of this month and I have chosen not to enter into a new agreement. My landlord will be moving back into the home and has started to bring his personal property over and store it in the garage. I have spent more time helping him move his belongings into the garage than I have moving my own belongings out. Do I have the right to object, and ask him to wait until I have moved out?

ANSWER: As a tenant, you have an exclusive right to possession of the property until you move out. Therefore, it is inappropriate of the owner to move his belongings onto the property until you move, or an agreement is reached between the two of you. If you are able to reach an agreement, the owner should offer some form of compensation for your inconvenience.

You should politely discuss your displeasure with the owner and see if some compromise can be met. Bear in mind that technically you can totally refuse the owner access for the purpose of storing his items.

Tenants Should Advise Landlord of Problems

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Q: I had tenants move out of my property after living there for five years. They always paid their rent on time and they never complained about any problems. In fact, they preferred to take care of small problems themselves.

However, after they vacated, I found severe damage to the bathroom floor. The linoleum lifted up and the flooring underneath it is rotten. There was a leaky pipe in the wall that seeped into the floor and caused the damage. If I had been notified of the problem earlier, the floor could have been saved. Although they didn’t cause the problem, are they responsible for any of the damage?

A: Although tenants cannot be charged for normal wear and tear, they can be held responsible for any damage they caused either directly or through neglect. The fact that your tenants never notified you of the leaky pipe could be seen as neglect, provided that you can show they were aware of the problem. If you can prove that this is indeed the case, they would be liable for a portion of the costs that you incurred to fix the damage.

It is a good idea to tell your tenants about the importance of notifying you of any problems; some landlords provide tenants with blank forms for requesting repairs, to make it easier for them to notify the owner when repairs are needed. Explain to your future tenants your willingness to fix anything that is broken, and their possible liability if they don’t notify you, and include a clause that summarizes this idea in your rental agreement.

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Occupants Surprised: Apartment ‘Haunted’

Q: After my daughter and I moved into our new apartment we found out that a grisly murder had been committed there. Now, I understand what causes the noises we hear during the night, and the small items that disappear and reappear in strange places. We immediately requested the owner to release us from our one-year agreement, and to pay our moving expenses, since he should have told us that the apartment was haunted, or at least that there had been a murder. Isn’t that the least we should have expected?

A: A property owner is obligated under state law to provide you with a habitable unit, which means that the material conditions of your rental home should be sound and in working order. They have no legal obligation to respond to renters’ spiritual beliefs. Because the presence of ghosts is controversial and hard to prove, you may have to decide what is more important to you: to live with the strange noises, whatever they may be, or to move out and incur a financial loss. If you choose to move, you are obligated to pay rent, as well as the costs incurred by the owner to advertise the unit until a new tenant is found.

Of course, the owner must make reasonable and expeditious efforts to locate a new tenant who will relieve you of your contractual obligations. Tenants should ask questions ahead of time about those elements that are important to them, because what is important to one may not be important to the next.

Landlord Not Liable for Shared Deposit

Q: I have been living in an apartment with a roommate. Although we both signed the same rental agreement, I have decided to move out, and my roommate is going to stay and eventually find a new roommate. When I asked the landlord about returning my half of the security deposit to me, he said that I would have to take it up with my roommate. Since the landlord is the one holding the deposit, doesn’t he have to return my half of the security deposit and collect another security deposit from the new person moving in?

A: Not in this case. When a tenancy involves co-tenants on a single rental agreement, the landlord is under no obligation to return a portion of the security deposit to the departing tenant, if the other co-tenant remains. In fact, the landlord does not have to account for or return any of the security deposit until the unit is vacated by all tenants.

Perhaps you can work out an agreement with your roommate to pay you half of the security deposit and then have her collect a deposit from her new roommate. Or, you could wait until the new roommate moves in, and collect your share of the deposit directly from her.

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This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 582-B Dunholme Way, Sunnyvale, Calif. 94087, but cannot be answered individually. For help in the Los Angeles area, call the Metro Harbor Fair Housing Council at (213) 539-6191 or the Westside Fair Housing Council at (310) 475-9671.


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