Author Topic: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters  (Read 7153 times)

Freedom2016

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Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« on: February 09, 2014, 07:32:49 PM »
My husband and I are homeowners on the East Coast, but are living in the Bay Area for a year. As such, we're renting a single family house in East Bay, having become tenants again for the first time in several years.

I am trying to figure out if we are being bamboozled by our landlord or not. Note: We are living in a 15+ year old house with all original appliances. Since we moved in, in October, we've had the following problems:

--Disposal broke
--Clothes dryer broke
--We had a huge ant infestation (thousands of ants)
--Combination light/fan on 2nd floor broke
--Water from torrential rains leaked under the kitchen door and damaged the wood floor while we were away for the weekend

We are responsible people and were not abusing or misusing any of the above when they each occurred (didn't leave food out to attract ants, etc). We promptly alerted our landlord in each case, but have been surprised at his reaction. To hear our landlord describe it, we are annoying him with all these issues, and he has said, "I don't want to be on the hook for every little thing that goes wrong. As far as I'm concerned, I rented to you, you agreed to maintain everything in the home and keep it all in good working order. I did you a favor by paying for the disposal and dryer repairs..." and then he has strongly hinted that he would not always pay for such repairs. This has come as a huge shock to us, particularly after he intimated that we would be responsible for replacing the 15-year old refrigerator if it broke, since it broke "on our watch."

Here's what our lease says:

"Tenants shall, at Tenant's own expense and at all times, maintain the Premises in good working order and repair, including all equipment, appliances, furniture, fixtures, and furnishings, and shall surrender the Premises at termination of this LEASE in as good condition as received, normal wear and tear excepted."

I would think that repairing/replacing aging appliances would fall under "normal wear and tear" (i.e. landlord's responsibility) and that's what my feeble Google searches seem to support as well, but I wanted to check with a community of folks who are more knowledgeable of such matters.

Is California renters laws just insanely different from Massachusetts law?* We were renters in MA for years and years, and every single one of the above items was uncontestably a landlord's responsibility.

I haven't pushed back on my landlord's annoyed demeanor, thinking that maybe I don't understand how renter's laws work out here, but since hearing him say that he thinks we should have to replace his refrigerator if it breaks, I've become much more interested in finding out what the law actually says on stuff like this.

Any advice, experience, or websites you folks can point me to, to better understand our rights?

Thanks!!

*I have looked up actual language of CA law and it is ambiguous. Other websites I have found have suggested that the way CA law tends to be interpreted in the courts is that the implied warranty of habitability extends to appliances included in the property - but I'm not sure if I should take the word of random websites I've been reading.

« Last Edit: February 09, 2014, 07:53:29 PM by course11 »

dragoncar

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2014, 09:01:13 PM »
It seems the problem is that you signed a lease requiring you to maintain appliances.  I have never seen a lease like that, and my guess is that it's not an illegal clause.  If you want, talk to a tenants rights clinic like http://www.ebclc.org/

Even if it turns out the clause is invalid/inapplicable, be more careful about what you sign.  Also, even if the clause is invalid/inapplicable, I'm sure you are aware of the hassle of having a hostile landlord.

p.s. my guess (and again don't take this as legal advice) is that flooding/waterproofing/plumbing is something the landlord cannot delegate to the tenant.

see also http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~asucrla/index.php?page=contact

and this http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/08/business/la-fi-rent-20120108
« Last Edit: February 09, 2014, 09:12:37 PM by dragoncar »

Freedom2016

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2014, 09:42:11 PM »
Thanks for your reply. I thought the inclusion of the language "...normal wear and tear, excepted" in our lease would be our "out" for asking for our landlord to repair the old appliances. Clearly he thinks it is ironclad language that voids him of responsibility.

Regardless, I agree on being more careful about what we sign in the future!

dragoncar

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2014, 10:12:51 PM »
Thanks for your reply. I thought the inclusion of the language "...normal wear and tear, excepted" in our lease would be our "out" for asking for our landlord to repair the old appliances. Clearly he thinks it is ironclad language that voids him of responsibility.

Regardless, I agree on being more careful about what we sign in the future!

The phrasing is ambiguous: does "normal wear and tear excepted" modify the entire clause, or just "shall surrender the Premises at termination of this LEASE in as good condition as received."  You could make arguments either way.

I haven't brushed off the canons of contract construction in a while, which is why I suggest talking to someone who looks at this stuff all day.

Practically speaking, it sounds like your LL is being a jerk.  Is your rent sufficiently below market rates to justify you basically being an on-site manager for the property?

Freedom2016

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2014, 10:41:49 PM »
Thanks for your reply. I thought the inclusion of the language "...normal wear and tear, excepted" in our lease would be our "out" for asking for our landlord to repair the old appliances. Clearly he thinks it is ironclad language that voids him of responsibility.

Regardless, I agree on being more careful about what we sign in the future!

The phrasing is ambiguous: does "normal wear and tear excepted" modify the entire clause, or just "shall surrender the Premises at termination of this LEASE in as good condition as received."  You could make arguments either way.

I haven't brushed off the canons of contract construction in a while, which is why I suggest talking to someone who looks at this stuff all day.

Practically speaking, it sounds like your LL is being a jerk.  Is your rent sufficiently below market rates to justify you basically being an on-site manager for the property?

No, rent is on par for similar homes in this area.

I feel like I've extended him significant benefit of the doubt, given that he and his wife lived here for 15 years and we are their first tenants; I can understand wanting your home to be well cared for. And, I also don't want to be taken advantage of, or be on the hook for repairs that are truly the responsibility of the landlord. Seriously, I am not buying him a new refrigerator if this one breaks (it's beyond its useful life of 14 years).



mxt0133

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2014, 11:05:30 PM »
I'm renting in SF run by a property management company, so my situation is a little different.  However here in SF, tenants have it pretty good there are lots of laws and organization that renters can contact in your situations, maybe you should look up a local tenants organization.

It sound like he's being a jerk.  If it was working when you moved in and it broke without you actually damaging it then it's wear and tear.  Tell him to come and inspect it himself if he wants, it is on him to prove that you did not maintain it.  I know you tried being patient but if he doesn't fulfill his his obligation as a landlord you can take him to small claims court.  Start logging your conversations with him, date, time, subject, ect.  If he does not fulfill his duties then withhold the rent until he does.  I would hate to go down that road but it will be more painful for him to try and evict you than you having to find another apartment with your security deposit gone as a worse case scenario.

Mori

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2014, 01:18:42 AM »
Easy solution if you have a month to month lease? Give a 30 day notice.

From the CA State document: http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/catenant.pdf

Quote
responsibility for other kinds of repairs
As for less serious repairs, the rental
agreement or
lease
may require either the tenant
or the landlord to fix a particular item.
items
covered by such an agreement might include
refrigerators, washing machines, parking places,
or swimming pools.
these items are usually
considered “amenities,” and their absence does
not make a dwelling unit unfit for living.
these agreements to repair are usually
enforceable in accordance with the intent of the
parties to the rental agreement or lease.
153

That's right around page 40. However, there's also a few lines about "good faith". I'd check with a local tenant association. Even if you get your landlord to fix this stuff, you've already got indications that this problem may not (probably won't) get better.

There may also be Bay Area regulations that are more strict than the state ones.

Freedom2016

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2014, 07:52:40 AM »
Hi Mori,

We're locked in to a year long lease (it's up at the end of August).

I saw the language you quoted and it does seem to indicate we're screwed... but then I found items like the links below - pertaining to California rentals - that seem to suggest otherwise. That's why I'm so confused.

http://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/who-is-responsible-for-repair-replacement-of-appli-866391.html
 “Those appliances are the property of the landlord and as such, he/she is responsible for their maintenance and repair, unless you misuse or otherwise cause the damage or need for repair through conduct which goes beyond average use. After years of normal use, typical wear and tear causes appliances to fail, and it is the landlord who is financially responsible for the appliance's repair or replacement. He/she owns them after all, and you are only paying him/her to use those items. If you can't use one or more of them, your rent should be reduced because your housing services have been decreased. If he/she refuses to repair or replace any appliance and you end up buying a replacement yourself, you should be able to deduct the cost of the appliance from your rent.”

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/landlords-responsibilities-california-regarding-appliances-carpets-45045.html
If the appliances or carpet were damaged by tenants or their guests, landlords can deduct the cost of the replacement from the security deposit. However, landlords cannot charge the full price against the deposit. Depending on the age of the appliance or carpet, the landlord must pro-rate the cost against the average life of the appliance or carpet. For example, carpeting has a useful life of 10 years. If a tenant moves in when the carpet is eight years old and damages it, the landlord may pro-rate the cost of the carpet replacement for the two years left of the useful life.

(I would think appliances might fall in the same category?)


Mori

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2014, 08:34:54 AM »
@year lease: drat.

The law is definitely a bit murky.

I found a free resource for you that may help. The San Francisco Tenant's Union:

http://www.sftu.org/

They give free advice, so it's worth a call. They may know more about how the law is interpreted locally. It also has a list of other resources.

Hopefully this helps!

dragoncar

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2014, 09:15:20 AM »
Well those people don't seem to have any lease provisions movin the maint burden to the tenant.

I'm pretty sure that CA law ALLOWS a lease to do this.  The question is whether YOUR lease effectively does.  For which you should probably ask a tenants lawyer.

You can always try to renegotiate the lease to clarify the provisions based on the fact that you two never really agreed to the same contract when it was signed.  If the LL wants you to take on atypical duties, he should be accepting lower rent.  Best case you get a nice little side gig.

babysteps

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2014, 02:25:05 PM »

Here's what our lease says:

"Tenants shall, at Tenant's own expense and at all times, maintain the Premises in good working order and repair, including all equipment, appliances, furniture, fixtures, and furnishings, and shall surrender the Premises at termination of this LEASE in as good condition as received, normal wear and tear excepted."

I would think that repairing/replacing aging appliances would fall under "normal wear and tear" (i.e. landlord's responsibility) and that's what my feeble Google searches seem to support as well, but I wanted to check with a community of folks who are more knowledgeable of such matters.

Is California renters laws just insanely different from Massachusetts law?* We were renters in MA for years and years, and every single one of the above items was uncontestably a landlord's responsibility.
Regardless, I agree on being more careful about what we sign in the future!

Landlord here.  No MA experience, slim CA experience, mostly NY and CT. 

Standard rentals don't include the requirement that the tenant maintains the property.  But at least in CT and NY it is completely legal to write the lease this way.  Such a clause usually comes with either a lower-than-market rent or is part of a rent-to-own structure.

Simple reading (not local-law reading) suggests the 'normal wear and tear' in this clause is related to the condition of the property *when you vacate*.  It means you don't have to leave everything in brand-new condition.  The landlord would only be responsible for fixing wear-and-tear items for the next tenants, not for you.  A (possibly highly paid) lawyer might be able to gain you a better reading.

If your landlord is reasonable, you might be able to open a conversation about leaving early.  First ask the local tenant rights group if this landlord has a reputation and what to expect in landlord tenant court.  Check legal records to see if the landlord is litigious.  Even with August as the end of your lease, if living conditions are bad enough now, you could make the landlord an offer - "look, this is more maintenance than we expected.  We're leaving as of (fill in date)."  You could also consider leaving on time but without fixing the items.

Keep in mind that there are more- and less-confrontational approaches, your personality type and level of desired drama may be as important as the legal technicalities.  You don't have to do anything in a way that you're uncomfortable doing.  Depending on what you decide to do, you may want to have your next rental lined up before doing any of the following...

You can always try to renegotiate the lease to clarify the provisions based on the fact that you two never really agreed to the same contract when it was signed.  If the LL wants you to take on atypical duties, he should be accepting lower rent.
This.

If the landlord isn't responsive, you could lob in a certified letter to open the discussion.  Tenant rights' group could help you figure if that's a good idea or not, what your liability might be if you leave early (or on time with no repairs) without consent of the landlord.  Document any deficiencies/non-working items before giving any notice to the landlord.  If you want to get confrontational, and there is something that housing code might see as making the unit uninhabitable, you could threaten to call in code.  I wouldn't suggest doing this (sometimes there's a thin line between "justice" and "revenge", and my life is too short), but it would mean the landlord would *have to* fix such items before the unit could be legally rented again.  It would also mean you would have to move immediately.  Of your list of problems, in this area only the ant infestation (if still active) would possibly be a code issue.  Does the landlord need any permits to rent?  If the unit doesn't meet all legal requirements to be rented, that gives you a *lot* more leverage - these vary widely (ask the tenant rights' group for specifics, but may include rental permit or registration, certificate of occupancy, fire inspection, etc.).

Good luck!

SDREMNGR

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #11 on: March 27, 2014, 07:46:22 AM »
Landlords can draw a lease that excepts repairing appliances, requiring tenants repair certain things (drain clogs for example), and damages that the tenant cause.

As a owner of a property management company, I do personally hate some people who literally do not know how to change a lightbulb, and call us expecting us to do it at owners cost.  NOT SAYING THAT IS YOU.  But it sounds like your LL is a long time LL who is sick of managing and dealing with LL issues.

Reading your lease, it's a little vague and if you took it to court, you would have a fair shot at arguing whether certain costs are wear and tear or not.  For example,  I'm sure your LL wouldn't expect you to fix or repair the roof, old cast iron drains, or  broken waterheater.  It's a poorly written lease and if you were so inclined, you could probably push to get costs paid by landlord if something big were to break.

However, my advice is to just ride out the lease, keep your fingers crossed that nothing big breaks on your watch, and let your LL know right now that you plan on moving out at the end of your lease due to how the lease is written.  If you have a bad LL, nothing is going to change that and it'd be better to find some place else better.

Daleth

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #12 on: March 29, 2014, 12:53:24 PM »
However, my advice is to just ride out the lease, keep your fingers crossed that nothing big breaks on your watch, and let your LL know right now that you plan on moving out at the end of your lease due to how the lease is written.  If you have a bad LL, nothing is going to change that and it'd be better to find some place else better.

That's my advice too, except that I would check in with the SF Tenants' Union or some similar organization linked to here--ask them if those clauses are legal in your type of lease (a non-rent to own situation at market rent) and if so, ask if the clauses mean what the landlord says they mean. The reason to get some legal advice (which should be free through the tenants' union) is because jerk landlords have a tendency to not refund your deposit or to make spurious deductions from it (a la "the fridge was broken" even though you know it wasn't). Also, take pictures of everything--preferably video if the goal is to show that things work (e.g. all burners light, fridge hums and maintains a low temperature, etc.)

Carless

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2017, 08:19:02 AM »
Don't forget, if the fridge does break you don't need to replace it with new, just working.  If you're in a larger city then there should be a good used market available.

tralfamadorian

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2017, 09:05:37 AM »
CA is arguably the most tenant friendly state in the nation.  An one hour consultation with an attorney specializing in the area would probably be worth your while if the bills that the landlord are expecting you to pay are piling up. 

The clause that you listed from your lease is not unusual in the states I own rentals in and is supposed to guard the landlord against tenant negligence; your landlord appears to either not understand the clause himself or is attempting to take advantage of you. 

As a landlord (not in CA though), I would expect that the costs of the repairs of the items you mentioned to fall to either the landlord or tenant depending on the situation.  Did the disposal break because a part wore out (landlord) or because a fork was in there (tenant)?  Were the ants attracted by dirty dishes (tenant) or nothing that could be prevented (landlord)?  I'm not saying you did any of these things but this is the way it should work.  The repair person or pest control technician should have that sort of information on their invoice.   

Dicey

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #15 on: April 08, 2017, 05:13:38 PM »
Hmmm, carless and kelly have revived a dead thread. I wonder what actually happened?

Freedom 2016, are you still in the house? Looks like you might be. What's "The rest of the story?"

Frankies Girl

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #16 on: April 08, 2017, 05:37:49 PM »
Hmmm, carless and kelly have revived a dead thread. I wonder what actually happened?

Freedom 2016, are you still in the house? Looks like you might be. What's "The rest of the story?"

This forum has no stops on spammers inserting spam links into their very first postings, so they come in here, register, then go on a spam spree in the archives, bumping very old posts that may have ~anything~ to do with the product site they're spamming.

Most forum members here don't notice the dates, and then they reply thinking this is a new thread, this can end up having lots of replies without anyone noticing the dates or the fact that the OP isn't even on here and hasn't been in YEARS in many cases (but this thread's OP seems to still be pretty active!).

The mods may eventually delete the spammer's post that originally bumped the zombie thread, leaving the latest responses intact. So we're left with not only wondering what the hell happened, but also why there is a very weird jump from 2-3 years ago to today's time and why Joe The Average Forum Member™ felt the need to search out a post from years ago to give their 2˘...

My humble suggestion would be:
1. Prevent new members from posting links/pics until at least 10 postings - something that makes it much more obvious that they ARE trying to wrack up posts so they can sow their spammy seed (it's REALLY obvious if you've seen it a few times).
2. Any zombie posts bumped should have both the spam post AND the following whatever new posts from members that didn't notice deleted as well (as a clean-up move), so the thread goes back into the grave where it belongs.


« Last Edit: April 08, 2017, 05:39:50 PM by Frankies Girl »

Dicey

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #17 on: April 09, 2017, 08:55:25 AM »
As usual, I agree with your wise counsel and suggestions, FG.

However, I didn't notice anything particularly spammy about these comments; what did I miss?

Also, I checked before I posted and saw that the OP is still active, which is the only reason I asked. I like to know how things turned out.

geekette

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Re: Could use landlord's perspective - California renters
« Reply #18 on: April 09, 2017, 09:06:16 AM »
The spammy one was probably removed by the mods.  I know I reported a spammer in the last few days.