Who's Responsible for Paying for
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: We have a tenant who notified us that his air conditioner was
not working properly. We called a service technician who found nothing
wrong, but submitted a bill for the service call.
This tenant is on the typical apartment association month-to-month
rental agreement. We sent the bill to the tenant to reimburse us for
this service charge since there was nothing wrong. He declined to pay
because he says
the rental agreement makes no provision on who will pay for
inspections, thus the charge defaults to the landlord. He states he
found something in the California Civil Code that addresses this
A: Griswold -- Air conditioning is not a habitability item; however,
if the rental unit had air conditioning then the owner has an
obligation to keep it in operating condition. I am not aware of any
particular civil code section that would address the specific issue at
hand here and thus prevent you from charging the tenant for the
However, from a tenant relations standpoint, I would think that it
would only be appropriate to charge the tenant if you felt that the
tenant knew that the service call was vindictive or a waste of time or
in the event that the tenant had damaged the air-conditioning unit.
Hopefully, your service technician also took the opportunity during
the inspection to lubricate the unit and replace the air filter. Such
servicing is advisable each year and is clearly beneficial to you and
should be part of your preventive maintenance program for a major
component of your rental property.
Further, this type of preventive maintenance should be your financial
responsibility absent any mitigating factors indicating that the
tenant created a problem.
While I am a property manager and represent owners, I believe that it
is important to treat everyone fairly. Thus, if the tenant requested
the air-conditioning service call in good faith (and you did not warn
them in advance that they would be responsible if nothing was wrong)
then the service call is part of your cost of doing business.
Q: My son, his pregnant wife and toddler have rented for 1 1/2 years;
under a one-year lease and now month to month. The carpet is more than
20 years old and has caused medical problems to their toddler. They
have a doctor's statement and sent this to the landlord management
firm with their rent check requesting the carpet be replaced.
The apartment manager indicated the landlord would replace the carpet
but would raise the rent $40 a month. My son told her they could not
afford this dollar amount but would compromise and pay $20 a month
more. The manager came back with $25 and asked for another year's
lease. My son and his family are hoping to relocate, do not want to
sign a lease, but do want the carpet replaced because of health
My son and his wife have improved the condition of the rental property
making it much more attractive and therefore when they do leave, the
manager will be able to get more rent from this property.
Do they have to pay the increase in rent if the carpet is replaced? Do
they have to sign a year's lease?
A: Smith -- California landlords are required to make rental property
habitable. The perfect, aesthetically pleasing rental is not required
-- essential services and minimum living conditions will suffice.
In my opinion, the carpet -- even though old -- more than satisfies
the minimum habitability requirement. Its condition poses no risk to
safety. The health claims arising out of the carpet condition are a
You must pay rent if you intend to live there. The $25 rental increase
is modest and reasonable -- especially in this rental market. Your
landlord has the right to ask you to sign a new lease. There is
nothing illegal about this request.
If you intend to remain in possession, you'll have to come to terms
with your landlord; otherwise, you'll have to vacate the premises. You
may have a separate action for medical expenses based on the problems
from the carpet, but old carpet does not, by itself, render the rental
Kellman -- While carpet is not legally required, if it is supplied in
the rental, it must be properly maintained. The average carpet used in
rentals has a useful life of between seven to 10 years. Thus, after
that period is up, the carpet has depreciated to be of no real value.
Old worn carpets can cause many health problems and can definitely
affect the habitability of a rental. Carpets can become embedded with
dirt, mold, mildew or other contaminants such that they can no longer
be effectively cleaned. They can become so worn that they pose a
danger from exposed carpet nails and they can be so frayed that they
are a trip-and-fall hazard.
Once the carpet poses a problem for health and safety, it should
promptly be replaced at the sole expense of the landlord with no
like signing a new lease or raising the rent. Keep in mind that in
nonrent controlled cities (such as San Diego), a landlord may
generally raise the rent without a specific reason to do so.
Any medical problems caused by a defective carpet, which should have
been replaced years ago, may be the subject of a claim for damages
including the refund of some rent paid for a substandard dwelling.
How high is high?
Q:What is the legal amount a landlord can raise the rent each year in
A: Griswold -- There is no legal limit on the amount a landlord can
raise the rent in California, except if the property is located in a
rent control area (parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and parts of
Los Angeles County -- call your local city or county if you think you
might be living in a property subject to rent control).
The landlord should obviously not raise the rent beyond the market
level or he will lose their tenants.
Q: I am paying my rent weekly to the landlord. If a landlord serves a
seven-day notice to terminate the tenancy, does she also have to serve
a three-day to pay rent or quit?
A: Smith -- Week-to-week tenancies are rare, but they are legal. The
renter occupies the room or apartment on a week-to-week basis and the
rent is paid weekly instead of monthly.
This tenancy can be legally terminated by seven-day written notice.
Like its month-to-month counterpart, either the landlord or tenant may
the week-to-week tenancy. If the weekly rent is not paid, the landlord
in addition to the seven-day notice, also serve a three-day notice to
pay rent or quit.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
2000 Rental Roundtable
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
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