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Real Estate Today

Tenants With Lease May Find Ways Out of a Cat-astrophe

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
25-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 lease a house with a couple of roommates. One of them recently got a cat, a violation of the lease. Apparently, our landlord has seen the cat
but didn't say anything.

I have spoken to the roommate who owns the cat and urged her to contact the landlord for permission or get rid of the cat. She prefers the "don't ask,
don't tell" philosophy.

I am tempted to call the landlord and spill the beans even if it means forfeiting our security deposit or paying additional penalties in breaking the lease or even being evicted. What are the risks in contacting the landlord and what do you think I should do?

A: Smith -- As the landlord's attorney, let me caution you that "don't ask, don't tell" won't work. All roommates are at risk for eviction based on just one having a cat. Roommates are jointly and severally responsible for the behavior of other roommates. I always encourage tenants to be upfront with their landlords.

It is possible that the landlord could agree to accept the cat with an additional deposit if it's housebroken and complies with the rules and regulations, but your landlord is not required to take the cat, and the offending roommate may have to get rid of it.

The landlord may serve a three-day notice to either remove the cat or vacate the house. If a legal notice is served, make sure that you comply -- that way, you will avoid further eviction proceedings.

Kellman -- Clearly, you should avoid violating your lease. This includes having pets when the lease specifically excludes them. However, the lease may simply be a form lease which the landlord is using for convenience without particular attention to each provision.

Since your landlord has already seen the cat and did not complain about it, having this pet may be OK. You should try to get legal permission for this cat. One way is to simply ask the landlord for written permission; another is to openly keep the cat, admitting to the landlord that you have it.

If your landlord then fails to take any action over a reasonable period of time, he/she may then have waived that lease restriction thus allowing that pet.

For some tenants, a cat may be permitted by law if they can prove they are
disabled and the cat is emotionally therapeutic for their disability. If these methods do not work, the landlord may demand the removal of the animal within three days or you may face the wrath of Ted in an eviction proceeding for all roommates.

Where's my line?

Q: I moved into my new apartment community two weeks ago. The telephone here does not work, because there are not enough telephone lines in the vicinity. The phone company has given me a tentative connection date which is more than a week away.

Ironically, I was told by the rental agent that they have six phone jacks in every apartment. Is it legal to rent out apartments when the landlords know that there are problems getting telephone connections? My neighbors tell me they've experienced the same problems. Shouldn't the landlord have informed me of the scarcity of telephone lines in the area?

A: Griswold -- The landlord is required to provide one working telephone jack per California Civil code section 1941.4. I do not believe that the landlord has violated their legal obligations if the phone company cannot provide the phone line.

As a courtesy, if they are aware of the situation, then they should let you and other potential tenants know about the lack of phone service. Luckily your unfortunate situation is not very common.

Tenant from hell

Q: We are renting out our condo. Three months ago our former tenant moved out and recommended our new tenant. The new tenant was up front and told us her credit was bad. Since our former tenant (who was great) referred her we took her in for a one-year lease that has over nine months remaining.

However, this tenant has been a nightmare. Her rent is due on the fifth and even though it is not considered late until the 10th, she is consistently late. Then last week she notified us that she lost her job. We want to cut our losses and sell the condo since the market is great.

Can we give her a 30-day notice -- even if we have a one-year lease? What are our rights as a landlord? Is it true that a tenant can stay at our place up to three months without paying rent and we cannot kick her out?

A: Smith -- You should have been more careful here. Relying on a referral
to qualify a prospective resident is not good property management. Resident screening includes credit, income, and rental history analysis. You are stuck with the new resident for the one-year lease, provided she complies by paying the rent on time. Sure, you may sell your condominium, but the buyer will be saddled with the lease for the balance of the lease term.

The 30-day notice to terminate tenancy is not available to you -- it's for month-to-month rental agreements only. No job means no income and a likely problem with paying rent. If she fails to pay rent, do not wait. Serve a three-day notice to pay rent or quit immediately. If she fails to comply, start the unlawful detainer process to recover possession of the rental.

Although jurisdictions vary, on average, California's eviction process will
take between a month to six weeks to complete. Once evicted, the lease will be terminated and you will have the right to sell the property free and clear from any lease.

Kellman -- While it is true that you are bound by this lease, you are not restricted from pursuing your plans. If your tenant lost her job, she may be as concerned about the rent as you are. Perhaps moving to a lower rent situation at this time is the best thing for her. Since you want to sell your condo, her moving out may be the best thing for you, too.

This may therefore be a golden opportunity for you both to achieve mutual goals. You should consider making it easier for her to move out including giving her some financial incentives to terminate the lease and vacate your
unit fairly quickly.

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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