Landlord may be in the doghouse over dispute
Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
This column on issues confronting renters and
landlords is written by Counselor of Real Estate and
Certified Property Manager Robert Griswold, host of Real
Estate Today! with Robert Griswold (10 a.m.
Saturdays on AM1130 - KSDO radio, or on the Internet
and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the
Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law
firm representing landlords.
Q: HELP! We've lived in the same duplex for over three years, and have always been very tolerant, but our current neighbors have two medium-sized dogs, who bark at all hours, poop (which is never cleaned up), and are never on a leash.
One of the dogs has actually bitten people three times, and now finally they keep her leashed. The other dog hasn't bitten anybody yet, he just chases (and terrifies) adults and children.
We spoke with our neighbors. Not only did they not address the problems, but they were incredibly rude as well. Next, we spoke with the landlord to address these problems, and received no results.
We don't want to move, but have been considering it because of them. What legal requirements do dog owners have, in terms of leashes, noise and poop?
A: Griswold -- You have made the right decisions in first trying to talk directly with the neighbor and then advising your landlord when that failed. Since no results are forthcoming, I would advise you to put your concerns in writing in order to document the notice to the landlord.
Hopefully, nothing bad will happen, but if it does and there is ever any type of legal action by someone hurt by the dogs, a major issue will be the landlord's knowledge of the dog's behavior and propensities. There are cases in which landlords have been held liable to a victim of a serious dog bite since they were aware of the problem.
Unfortunately, sometimes it takes someone getting hurt before landlords realize that they can be held financially responsible. Often the tenants with the dog don't have any assets so the landlords get hit for the damages.
Diplomatically warn your landlord of the potential liability and the potential loss of your tenancy. If the landlord still does not respond, then unfortunately you may have no other choice but to move.
As far as the legal requirements for pet owners, call the animal control office for more information for your area. You can also file a complaint. It is my understanding that animal control will promptly investigate your allegations, particularly the dog bites and what may be even mistreatment of the dogs by your neighbors.
What about Section 8?Q: I notice that a lot of your questions deal with moderate to expensive properties/rentals. How about the other end of the spectrum? Could you discuss the Section 8 rental assistance program? What are the highlights of the plus/minus for the tenant/landlord? It looks like a good deal for everyone: the government pays most of the rent, thus assuring the payment; the tenants are screened etc. Why isn't this more widespread?
A: Smith -- The Section 8 rental assistance program -- funded by the Housing and Urban Development Department -- gives approved tenants financial assistance by paying a portion of the rent directly to the landlord. Participation in the program is voluntary.
Some landlords embrace the concept, touting it as the cure-all for their rent collection woes. Others criticize the program because it adds a layer of bureaucracy to the landlord/tenant process.
Drawbacks include additional HUD regulations including inspections, rent sometimes below market, and a requirement of just cause for tenant evictions.
In a market where the flow of conventional prospective tenants is strong, the desirability of participating in the Section 8 program is questioned. But, depending on your type of rental property, the Section 8 program may be right. For more information, contact your local housing authority.
Age discriminationQ: My two sons were denied an available rental unit because the 18-year-old didn't have at least two years of rental experience. Also, they hadn't been at their present jobs long enough. They have four months at their present jobs, and previous work experience including the U.S. Army. They meet all other criteria required. Is this age discrimination?
A: Kellman -- Under federal and most state laws, a landlord may set reasonable credit standards for a rental. The mere fact that these standards seem to discriminate against the poor, those without credit and even young people does not make it illegal.
Demanding a specific time of prior rental experience seems to be age-specific in that young adults may be precluded from the rental. That does raise a question of age discrimination. Check with a local attorney to look into that matter further.
Patch problemQ: My landlord inspected our unit and found several chips on the corner of the hall wall, which occurred because of a bad patch repair job done before we moved in. Then, my children picked at the chipped plaster and paint. Am I responsible to repair this damage or is it the owner's responsibility? How do I prove a pre-existing condition, which didn't reveal itself until after I moved in?
A: Griswold -- I believe the plaster problem will come down to a question of the origin of the condition.
In this case, the bad repair job began to deteriorate and then the children made it much worse. Thus, one argument is that if the work were completed properly there would not be any further damage.
Also, it is somewhat predictable that children may be attracted to this type of condition and make it worse as part of ordinary wear and tear.
However, I can see that it could be very reasonable for the owner to take the position that there is joint responsibility since they were not notified immediately as soon as the defect became apparent and before the children made the condition much worse. I would suggest offering to split the cost of the repair.
As far as the latent defect issue, there is no magic way to prove a pre-existing condition other than just immediately notifying the owner at the time it first becomes apparent. I would strongly advise that you document the problem by taking pictures.
Robert Griswold and the Real Estate Today! radio show strongly support the intent and the letter of all federal and state fair housing laws. As a reminder to all owners and managers of real estate, note that all real estate advertised is subject to the Federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to advertise "any preference, limitation, discrimination because of race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex, physical disability, or familial status, or intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination." Additional state and/or local fair housing laws may also apply. Be sure to inform all persons that all dwellings offered or advertised are on an equal opportunity basis.
Revised and Updated - Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, CCIM,
PCAM, GRI, ARM
©2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996 Robert S. Griswold.
All Rights Reserved.