Rental Roundtable
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Real Estate Today

Lease Obligates Landlord to Make Needed Repairs

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
13-February-2000 Sunday

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 at, and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

Q: My roommates and I moved into our apartment several months ago. The
landlord/manager agreed to repair specific problems around the house.

It has been over three months now and still he has not done anything
promised. I have tried calling him numerous times and no response was
returned. Many of the items to be fixed were even written on the lease and
still no attention has been taken to fix the apartment.

What are my rights as a renter? Can I deduct rent in order to fix the
problem myself? But most importantly, what can I do to ensure that the
landlord will fix the problems that we had previously promised in a
reasonable scope of time?

A: Griswold: Clearly, the landlord has an obligation to complete the
repairs noted on the lease agreement.

If the items are not repaired, you could take the position that the lease
has been breached and seek to cancel your remaining obligation as well as
potentially seek a reduction in the rent already paid if the items are

I would suggest that you put your concerns in writing and send the owner a
cordial yet firm demand letter. This letter should give the landlord a
reasonable time to complete all of the repairs.

If the items requiring attention are serious habitability or health and
safety items, then you have the right to make the repairs yourself and
deduct the cost from your rent.

First, you must give the landlord reasonable notice (preferably in writing
to avoid any dispute) and the items cannot be merely cosmetic.

Under California Civil Code Section 1942, there is a procedure for the
repair and deduction of rent by tenants.

You are limited to health and safety items and the repairs cannot exceed
the amount of a single month's rent and you cannot avail yourself of this
remedy more than twice in a given 12-month period.

Lease breaking

Q: I signed a one-year lease on an apartment four months ago. I had to
relocate to a different area for employment reasons and notified my
landlord a month ago.

I cannot commute the distance nor pay two separate rents. The landlord has
not yet found a new tenant. What are the implications of not paying rent
after I have evacuated the apartment?

A: Griswold: Unfortunately, you are responsible for the entire balance of
the one-year lease unless:

The landlord rents the apartment;

You have a lease termination clause or provision already in your lease
(not very common unless you asked for it in advance or are in the

Or the landlord voluntarily agrees to let you off the hook.

In this rental market, many tenants want the security that a lease
provides, like limits on future rent increases. But what they don't always
realize is that they can get stuck like you did.

The good news is that the landlord should not have any problem rerenting
the apartment. And by law, the landlord is responsible for mitigating your
damages. Besides the rent until the unit is rerented, the landlord can also
charge you for reasonable costs of advertising your apartment.

Water mess

Q: I was renting an apartment on the second floor and the tenant on the
third floor intentionally left the water running in his unit when he got
evicted, causing damage to the apartments underneath him, including mine.

While the units are being restored, I have had to take up other temporary
housing. My question is: Do I have any recourse for compensation for my
temporary housing while waiting to move back into my apartment?

A: Griswold: Yes, your landlord or the insurance company should compensate you for your losses since the situation was beyond your control. However, you should have your own renter's insurance policy and should make a claim with them.

With your renter's insurance, you can get immediate assistance with your
additional expenses and your renter's insurance company will subrogate your claim against the landlord or the landlord's insurance company.

Also, while many landlords will only offer to reimburse the tenant for the
loss of use of your rental at the daily rental rate value of your
apartment, it is my experience that your out-of-pocket costs for the
temporary relocation will be greater.

Keep track of all expenses for temporary lodging and meals and the landlord should reimburse you for all reasonable expenses.

Unfortunately, some tenants try to take advantage of the situation and will
attempt to make a vacation out of the landlord's misery. Be reasonable and
you should not have any problem.

I would also advise taking photos and keeping copies of everything
(particularly your receipts) for your file. This may be common sense, but
all too often, the first set gets misplaced or lost.

Also, you could need them for pursuing a small-claims action as a last

IF YOU'RE A TENANT OR LANDLORD, the authors stand ready to answer your questions in this column, although letters cannot be answered individually. Write them at: Rental Roundtable, Homes Section, San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O. Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191. Or you may e-mail them at

Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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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
Griswold Corporate Center
Griswold Real Estate Management, Inc.
5703 Oberlin Drive, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92121-1743
Phone: (858) 597-6100
Fax: (858) 597-6161


2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996 Robert S. Griswold.  All Rights Reserved.