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Real Estate Today

Is the New Owner or the Old Responsible for Cleaning?

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
11-June-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: I live in a single-family home that is rented as two units. The property is for sale and I am the buyer. We recently had the property tented for termites and, while the current landlords paid for the relocation of the downstairs tenants, those tenants also requested that their unit be cleaned of pesticide residue. The current landlords say they aren't responsible, and now the tenants are asking that I pay for it.

A: Griswold -- Generally the current owner would be responsible for maintaining the habitability of the premises until you legally become the new owner. As far as the request for cleaning, I recommend that the current owner check with the pest control company and follow their advice exactly. If the pest control company indicates that the carpets and unit should be cleaned, then the current owner should have this work professionally completed and assume financial responsibility.

Even if the pest control company does not indicate that the cleaning is necessary, it may be prudent for the current owner to do the work anyway to minimize the possibility of an issue being raised later.

Unless you have agreed otherwise in your purchase agreement for this property, you have no obligation to pay for this cleaning. However, as the future owner you have a vested interest in preserving a good relationship with the downstairs tenant and thus may be inclined to pay for the cleaning yourself.

Closing the door

Q: Our landlord is selling the house we occupy. He has agreed to let us stay for the duration of our lease (six months), but wants to hold several open houses over the next couple of months. My husband and I feel that this is an enormous invasion of our privacy, and do not want to be kicked out of our house during these times. Is there a law regarding our rights? What is reasonable notice to show the house? Do we need to contact an attorney? Can we refuse a request to show the house?

Our lease states that our landlord can have access to the house for the purpose of showing it to prospective buyers, contractors, and repairmen . .
. but does not state that we have to vacate the premises for an open house. 

A: Griswold -- Check California Civil Code section 1954, which states that the owner or their agent must give you at least 24 hours written notice in advance to show the home during normal business hours.

Yes, you can refuse to let them in if you haven't received 24-hour notice or the requested time is not during normal business hours. Normal business hours are subject to debate, but I would consider Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to be reasonable. Some tenant/landlord attorneys feel that Sunday is also normal business hours for the real estate agents.

No, you shouldn't need an attorney or be required to vacate or even keep your home spotless. In the real world, you should negotiate an arrangement with the owner (and have the owner's broker sign, too) that states the terms and conditions upon which the home can be shown. Your agreement should cover the available days of the week and specific hours, plus other terms such as whether your home will be shown only when you are or aren't there.

I firmly believe that you should also be given some financial consideration for the inconvenience. For example, possibly a $100 per month rent credit or free rent for the last month if the home is sold. Savvy landlords know that this is money well invested!

Who pays for water?

Q: Our landlord has started charging for water usage, when four apartments share the same meter. I also think the sprinkler and pool water are tied to the meter as well. Can a landlord charge for water usage when there is not a separate water meter for each apartment? If so, shouldn't the bill be from the official water and sewer agency?

A: Griswold -- Yes, and while preferable, a separate meter is not legally required. The landlord must allocate the water bill in a reasonable manner and allow for all usage for the landscaping and the pool.

There are several Residential Utility Billing Systems (RUBS) that are designed to allocate the water usage between tenants and the landlord. Some are based on the size of each unit, some on the number of occupants, etc. So, in your case, the landlord can charge each tenant for their water usage as long as the allocation method is fair and reasonable and the billing can be directly between the tenant and landlord without any input from the water district.

However, I would suggest that the tenants be given a copy of the actual water bill received and paid for by the landlord as backup for the water and sewer charges. Of course, the most precise method is to have separate
meters for each unit, plus a meter for the common area that only the landlord would pay. There is no way that the water district will send separate bills to each tenant unless the units are separately metered.

Unfortunately, to this point, the water districts have not made it financially feasible to provide separate meters due to their exorbitant charges for water meters. Their pricing for water meters is strictly designed for new usage and thus the charge for a new meter is very high with charges for new water projects, dams, pipelines, etc. which are all to offset the increased demand.

Of course, there would not be any new or increased demand, rather tenants would most likely be more conservation oriented since they would be paying for their actual usage directly. For many years, there has been a request for a reasonable charge for splitting existing water meters in multifamily apartments, but the water districts have yet to cooperate.

There are now some private firms that will install small in-line water meters for each unit. Then the landlord can either handle the billing themselves or have an outside firm read the meters and send the tenant's a bill for their portion.

Naturally, the landlord receives the bill from the water district and pays for the entire usage and then is reimbursed through the collections by the third-party utility billing firm. This latter system seems to work fairly well.

A key issue

Q: My husband and I have lived in the same apartment for over eight years. Several years ago our landlord had our apartment locks changed. To be more specific, I believe he simply had the locksmith re-key the locks. At the same time he had one other apartment in our fourplex done, too.

This past weekend, we found out that our key works in our upstairs neighbor's door and vice versa! Do we have any rights regarding this issue and what appears to be a terrible infringement on our personal security?

A: Griswold -- While I do not approve of the sloppy or negligent work by the locksmith and possibly your landlord in hiring them, I believe the only issue here is to immediately re-key the lock so they are different. Be sure to check with an attorney as to any legal rights.

For example, if someone entered your rental unit without force and items were stolen, then you clearly have a claim. You may also have a claim for emotional damages.

However, you may only have a claim for the time period after you became
aware of the duplication of keys as the landlord would usually be allowed a reasonable period of time (a business day or two) to change the locks

In general, it is my opinion as a property manager that unless you or your neighbor has suffered any specific damages, then you do not have a claim. Just be glad that you and your neighbors discovered this unusual situation before anything serious did occur.

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


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