Careless key management makes owner liable
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: Two apartments in my building were recently burglarized of blank
checks and personal information. Then my apartment was burglarized and
I lost a briefcase, cell phone, cameras and other possessions.
Police determined both apartments were entered with a key as no sign
of forced entry was present. Our manager was on vacation and the keys
clearly labeled by apartment and were left accessible to his roommate
in plain sight of anyone visiting their apartment.
Is the property manager or owner responsible for our loss? If so, how
do the tenants go about seeking reimbursement?
A: Griswold -- Yes, the owner and property manager are not maintaining
proper key control, making the owner responsible. Prudent management
keeps the number of keys limited and under tight control with access
provided only to the owners and/or managers that need specific keys.
Keys should be kept in locked key cabinets that will deter
unauthorized access and they should be marked with a code system to
minimize the possibility that a lost key would be improperly used.
I strongly suggest that you submit a formal written demand for
reimbursement directly to the owner so they can file a claim under
their liability coverage.
You should also submit a claim to your renter's insurance policy. Your
insurance company may then seek reimbursement from the owner or their
insurance company through subrogation. Be sure to include a copy of
the police report.
To joint or not
Q: My wife and I own a 13-unit apartment building. Currently, we hold
title as joint tenants. I was told that it is better to change it to
corporation or a Limited Liability Company (LLC). What are the legal
what you would personally do in this case?
A: Smith -- An LLC is an entity that combines characteristics of a
corporation and a partnership. An LLC is a separate legal entity,
capable of suing and being sued. Like a corporation, an LLC provides
protection from liability for its owners (called "members").
An LLC usually is taxed as a partnership, subjecting its income to
only one level income taxation, and allowing flexibility in
structuring allocations and distributions of income. General business
matters -- employment law, accounting, and licensing -- apply to LLCs
just like other legal entities.
An LLC can be very effective for many real estate investors; however,
be sure to consult with your own legal and accounting professional for
your specific needs and concerns.
Q: I am a tenant under a long-term lease. The refrigerator that was
included in the rental of the house broke down two weeks ago, spoiling
over a hundred dollars of food.
I notified my landlords immediately and was told that the fridge was
left as a convenience to me and when it broke down, it was my
responsibility to buy a new one. There is no written disclosure of
this in my rental agreement, it is not specifically addressed one way
or another. They have refused to replace the refrigerator. I have been
without it for two weeks now.
A: Kellman -- The refrigerator is part of the rental just like a
garbage disposal or doorbell. While the law does not require your
landlords to provide you with a refrigerator (or a garbage disposal or
door bell), if one is provided, it must be maintained in good working
Your landlords are simply trying to escape that responsibility by
calling the refrigerator a convenience which, of course, becomes real
inconvenient when it breaks down. It is especially inconvenient when
your landlords surprise you by inventing a new rule that the
refrigerator is now your responsibility.
Simply stated, your landlords are wrong. Unless agreed upon in your
lease, the maintenance of all appliances in your rental are the
responsibility of your landlords. While some food loss may be
unavoidable, your landlords should reimburse you for the losses that
could have been avoided if they acted promptly and responsibly.
They should also provide you with a repaired or replaced working
refrigerator. If they will not cooperate in this matter, maybe they
need to cool down in front of a small claims judge.
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 email@example.com
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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