Personal Items Were Tossed Out Without Tenants'
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.
QUESTION I live in a four-unit house. There is a one-car garage
everyone in the four units share; it's used strictly for the storage
personal belongings of the tenants. I had my bicycle and some boxes
use for moving stored there.
Over the years, abandoned items from previous renters have found
permanent homes in the garage. Last year, the property manager sent
notices to the tenants to mark and label their property so unwanted
property can be discarded. I complied and marked and labeled my boxes
An appointment was scheduled by phone between one of the property
managers and all of the tenants so we could physically point out what
belonged to us.
Four months later, another notice told us any unclaimed property from
storage garage will be removed. I discovered one week later that
everything in the storage area was removed including my bicycle and
storage boxes, which were all labeled and marked.
I was told later by the property manager that my property was being
at another storage garage and that I would need to make an appointment
pick it all up.
When I was able to schedule an appointment some time afterward to
retrieve my property, I was told that it was all thrown out or donated
to charity. I'm obviously upset and would like at the very least my
bicycle back or reimbursement. Do I have a legitimate case or not?
ANSWER Griswold: Based on the situation you described, I believe
management was irresponsible in their handling of the situation and
did not follow proper procedure by legally notifying tenants with a
"Notice of Belief of Abandoned Property" form.
The situation of allowing storage in the garage to begin with was
a very poor idea, but that doesn't mean the management can be
irresponsible and discard people's personal possessions without being
extremely careful and literally having each tenant go through the
garage and view the items to be disposed and then sign off on a
waiver. Then it would be the tenant's fault.
So unless they really did go out of their way and you dropped the ball
you waited an unreasonable amount of time without making an
appointment, then you should take your case to small claims court.
Kellman: Your landlord did not just give you the use of a community
garage for storage. They provided you a specific storage space as part
of the rental fee you pay each month. They maintained control over its
use and of the stored contents (notices, labeling, moving to another
By doing so, your landlord accepted the responsibility to exercise
reasonable care to safeguard your property as if it was in a storage
facility. Thus, they had a duty to use some efforts to try and prevent
items from being thrown out or otherwise given away.
They failed in that duty and should be held liable for your losses for
which you may wish to make a claim. To do so, you should prepare an
inventory list of the lost items. Put the value for each item as what
was worth at the time of the loss (actual cash value).
The law does not provide for replacement cost (unless you had renter's
insurance with that coverage). Thus, if your bicycle cost $500 new but
was worth $300 when lost, you are limited to claim $300. Some things
difficult to value like old photos and sentimental items.
List the value of these type of items as what they were worth to you
including some basis for each such valuation. Present the list to your
landlord and ask for reimbursement based on the circumstances of the
If they, or their insurance, will not settle the claim, consider
the matter in small claims court.
Vindictive or justified?
I have been a tenant in an apartment building for over 13 years. Two
months ago, my landlord overheard me complain to my friend about a hot
water problem in my rental unit. He denies there is a problem and
refuses to even attempt to fix it.
All he can tell me is that I should move out if I don't like living
It has been more than 60 days and he still has not fixed the problem
did raise my rent. This is the first rent increase in nearly 10 years.
Further, he will no longer collect my mail while I'm on the road
Do I have rights based on a retaliatory rent increase or a reduction
services for not accepting my mail?
Griswold: While you have a strong circumstantial case for claiming
that you received a retaliatory rent increase, that is all. You would
burden of proof that the increase was directly related to some action
you took to protect your rights -- like calling the health department
the media or a governmental agency. Just complaining to your neighbor
does not rise to this level.
Further, the rental market has seen very significant increases in
rates since 1990 and the fact that your landlord raised your rent
is not unusual. Remember that the courts will allow the landlord to
the rent and that is why the burden of proof is on the tenant,
every tenant would claim their rent increase is retaliatory so they
out of paying more.
Typically, what happens in retaliation is a complaint to the
authorities followed by a significant rent increase that may even push
rent higher than the market rate.
Another way to look at the situation is whether you were the only one
get a rent increase and are you now paying significantly more than
tenants with similar rental units. If so, contact a tenants rights
attorney. The mail situation is fairly simple -- unless you have a
agreement that the landlord must accept your mail, then the landlord
under no obligation to do this.
I regularly advise landlords not to accept tenant's mail or packages
the landlord's liability if the items are lost, stolen or damaged. The
downsides for the landlord or management company are many compared to
the minimal appreciation they will receive.
There is nothing you can do about this other than ask if they will do
the future but the decision is entirely up to the landlord. You should
notify your landlord about the hot water problem in writing. While
still may not do anything about it, it is important to preserve your
and establish notice that you put it in writing as soon as possible.
Be sure to indicate how long this has been going on and the fact that
have spoken to your landlord and approximately when and what has or
has not happened since.
Kellman: If a complaint about habitability results in an increase in
or decrease in services, it could be retaliatory and thus illegal.
the problem with the hot water may qualify if it is significant, like
having any or maybe having water that is too hot.
A rent raise that is a direct response to a complaint may be
You will have to prove that the rent raise was motivated by a desire
retaliate rather than a desire for increased income from the property.
In a nonrent-controlled jurisdiction, greed is legal. As to the mail,
that was a service provided by the landlord that is being withheld
based on a complaint about the hot water, it could be another form of
Again you will need to prove that the mail handling was an expected
service and part of your agreement since your landlord is usually
under no duty to collect your mail.
To claim your rights under this retaliation law, you must first make a
complaint to your landlord, or an appropriate governmental agency,
the problems, which then results in the retaliatory landlord action.
your landlord is guilty under this law, the rent raise could be
he may have to pay you a penalty of up to $1,000 plus actual damages
In your case, you complained to a friend which the landlord overheard.
This is not the type of complaint the law requires since it may be
complicated with misunderstandings and miscommunications.
Put your concerns or complaints in a polite letter to your landlord
give him a chance to resolve the problem before you claim that he
Move 'em out
I rent a house and recently the landlord passed away. Now I understand
that the family members who have inherited the house plan to sell it.
Do they have the right to just move me out?
Griswold: In most cases they can. If you have a month-to-month rental
agreement, then the current legal owner would just need to serve you
with a written 30-day notice to terminate tenancy. If you have a
then the lease agreement would need to be honored by the new owner.
However, the new owner is under no obligation to extend or renew your
lease agreement beyond the existing term.
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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