Lease should guard parents' 3 months at the beach

Inman News

Question: I found a beachfront condominium for my elderly parents to rent for three months. The unit is for sale. Can we include language in the written lease to protect my parents' right to stay there for the full three months in case it closes before their occupancy or the expiration of their lease?

Answer: As soon as your parents sign a lease, even one that commences in the future, it is a legally enforceable document against the current and any new owner. A new owner must honor it and cannot, for example, ask your parents to leave early because the owners want to move in. But read the lease closely. It's not unusual to encounter a clause that specifies that in the event the property is sold, the lease will terminate. You'll want to cross out any such clause.

Finally, try to get some protections for your parents in case the unit is aggressively marketed during their stay. The last thing they want is to have would-be buyers disturbing their vacation.

Most standard leases are not written with a specific state's laws in mind. If your state doesn't give tenants much protection, or if the lease is silent on the issue, there's nothing stopping you from negotiating for them on your own. If the market for renters and buyers is soft, you may have the edge.

Landlord may be liable for dog bite

Question: Last month, my daughter was playing at my apartment complex's playground when a tenant's dog approached her, trying to snatch her snack and biting her on the face. This dog has been a continual problem, running loose and aggressively charging people. My daughter was traumatized, required many stitches and may need plastic surgery in the future. I don't think the dog's owner has much money, but we're facing big expenses. What should we do?

Answer: You may be able to look to the landlord (the property owner) -- or more precisely, the landlord's liability insurance policy -- as a source of compensation for your child's trauma and medical costs. Whether you can successfully collect on a claim depends in part on being able to say "yes" to the following questions:

* Was the landlord aware that this dog posed a danger? If the landlord (or the manager) knew about the problem -- from personal experience or other residents' complaints -- he or she had a duty to keep residents safe.

* Did the landlord fail to take proper steps to keep tenants and guests safe? A proper response to a tenant's uncontrolled dog might be to insist on leashing, muzzling and having a responsible adult in charge of the animal at all times. If these measures fail, landlords can insist that the dog be taken off the property and follow through with a tenancy termination if the owner refuses.

* Did the landlord's failure to require control lead to the biting incident? You'll need to find out how the dog got loose. Suppose the dog was safely locked inside but got out when a burglar left the front door open; it may be hard to pin that on the landlord. On the other hand, if the dog was on its usual unsupervised, unleashed romp through the property, then you can connect the landlord's failure with the attack.

You might also consider talking with a personal injury lawyer. Bring information about the dog, its owner and the incident itself, with names of witnesses and their contact information.

A lawyer may decide there's enough to proceed with a claim, which typically means a letter to the landlord, advising him or her of the probable lawsuit. Then the landlord will call the insurance carrier, and negotiations will begin. Expect the process to take a year or two and to pay the lawyer one-third (or more) of your settlement or judgment amount.

Janet Portman is an attorney who specializes in landlord- tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at janet@inman.com.

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