Tenant’s draining experience

Special to The Times

Question: I am having a dispute with our landlord regarding who should pay for plumbing. We have lived in this one-bathroom unit for more than two years. When the shower and tub drain became clogged, the plumber found hair blocking the drain. The landlady says we are responsible for the $40 repair.

We keep the premises in good repair. The tub drain did not have a screen to filter bathwater; we supplied one. We regularly remove it for cleaning.

I think that a drain clogged by hair is normal wear and tear for which the landlady is liable. What is your opinion?


Answer: Property manager Griswold replies:

There is no case law as this type of minor issue would be handled strictly at a Small Claims Court level.

While an argument can be made that hair in a drain is normal wear and tear, I believe that you would be responsible, having lived there for more than two years.

If the drain became clogged immediately after you moved in, then the owner might have to share the expense. But assuming that the owner had the drains cleared before your occupancy, then you must maintain them.

Remember that under California law, landlords cannot enter the unit unless the tenant requests repairs; thus, they are not responsible for routine cleaning. Naturally, you as the tenant are charged with an affirmative duty to keep the unit clean. I believe that if there is a lot of hair, then the routine cleaning of drains by professionals or use of store-brand drain cleaners is the responsibility of the occupant.

Tenants’ attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:

The normal use of a shower will naturally result in hair going in the drain. Whether this is normal wear and tear is probably a function of the amount of hair. In other words, some hair seems to be unavoidable. However, excessive hair in the drain may be avoided with ordinary care like using a screen, which should be supplied by the landlord.

In your case, there was no drain screen provided, which means that the landlord should not complain about hair clogging the drain. To your credit, you voluntarily supplied one.

I do not agree that the tenant has a legal duty to routinely clean the pipes with drain cleaners. That appears to be plumbing maintenance, which is not the responsibility of the tenant.

The use by the tenant of certain drain cleaners may actually cause personal injury and damage to the plumbing resulting in costly repairs. No tenant wants to risk injuries or be hit with a big repair bill for chemically damaged plumbing. If the tenant is to do any routine drain cleaning, it should be done only with products supplied or specified by the landlord as being safe for both the tenant and the plumbing.

Landlords’ attorney Ted Smith replies:

Any amount of tenant hair that clogs the drain is misuse of rental property, not “ordinary” wear and tear to be tolerated by the landlord. Both the lease and California law make the tenant responsible for clogged drains caused by their neglect.

The landlord appreciates the tenant installing the trap. It apparently didn’t work. The tenant is still on the hook for the drain cleaning charge, which, by the way, is quite reasonable under the circumstances.

The tenant should pay this amount immediately to avoid legal proceedings.

Rent is due, even if roommate left

Question: I leased a house last year with a roommate. My roommate recently bailed on me, and I cannot afford the monthly rent. We have four months remaining on the lease. The landlord says that I am responsible for the rent. What can I do?

Answer: Landlords’ attorney Smith replies:

Both of you are responsible for the lease, jointly and severally. This means the landlord can hold one or both of you fully responsible for the rent required by the lease.

As far as the landlord is concerned, it doesn’t matter that your roommate moved out -- he’s still legally liable.

You may have a case against the departing roommate who walked out on his agreement with you to share rent.

You might want to ask the landlord if he’s willing to accept a new roommate, if the new person qualifies.

Remember, though, no one can move in without the landlord’s prior written consent.

With or without a roommate, you must keep paying the rent if you live there; otherwise, you’ll get evicted, which could show up on your credit report.

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