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When the landlord wants to remodel but the tenant doesn’t want to leave, who wins?

Landlords who want to remodel rental units could have trouble forcing their tenants to agree to move out.
(Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images)

Question: My landlord told me in a letter that they were planning to remodel my kitchen and bath and that I would have to vacate for two weeks while the work is done. My family can’t afford a hotel, and we don’t have family in the area that can put us up for two weeks. Can my landlord force us to move out while the remodeling work is done?

Answer: The landlord’s right to enter once the unit has been turned over to you is very limited, under California Civil Code section 1954.

The landlord can enter to (1) do repairs that are necessary or requested by you, (2) in emergencies, (3) if they believe that the unit is abandoned, (4) to show the property to prospective buyers and (5) with a court order. In every other circumstance, you control access to the unit. It follows that the landlord may not tell you to vacate simply to accommodate his or her remodeling plans.

The landlord can ask, however, and you may agree if you can negotiate terms and conditions that make the inconvenience worthwhile. At the very least the landlord should offer to refund the rent for the days you have to vacate the apartment.

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If the landlord cannot persuade you to cooperate, the landlord would have to wait until the end of your tenancy under a lease before doing this work.

But if you are a month-to-month tenant and live in a unit not covered by a rent-control law, the landlord may simply terminate your tenancy with a 30- or 60-day termination notice to proceed with the work. So if you like the apartment and want to stay, it is probably in your interest to try to work something out with the landlord.

In Los Angeles, rent-control ordinances apply to most multi-unit living quarters built by Oct. 1, 1978, including apartments, condos, residential hotels, mobile homes and lots containing more than one single-family home.

For tenants of those rental units, landlords must pay temporary relocation costs if a major repair or remodel is planned. The tenants must continue paying rent and can be evicted for refusing to allow access for repairs or improvements.

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Under all of these circumstances, the best path forward would be to ask to sit down with the landlord to understand his or her wishes, to discuss the impact on you and your family, and to agree on a plan that honors everyone’s needs. If the notice you received was in written form, make a written response indicating that the landlord’s request is problematic for you, but that you are willing to sit down with the landlord and discuss the situation.

If your conversation with your landlord doesn’t go well, you may check to see if there are community mediation services in your area and ask for their help with this conversation. Many programs are free or very low cost and provide an excellent alternative to escalating in court.

Current is fair housing director for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. For more information, contact Project Sentinel at 1-888-324-7468, info@housing.org, visit www.housing.org or contact your attorney or local housing agency.


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