Leave a Paper Trail to Document Costs of
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: My husband and I were landlords briefly when we purchased
our first home and there were tenants living in it. The tenants have
just vacated, allowing us to move in, and they left the house
completely riddled with fleas. They had a cat and numerous kittens
that were allowed to go outside and inside as they pleased.
We deducted $215 from their security deposit, which was $135 for an
exterminator and $80 for flea bombs and spray. The exterminators told
us we would need to bomb and spray repeatedly to kill hatching fleas
before they had the opportunity to lay new eggs.
The tenants are now threatening to take us to court for the $215,
saying they are not responsible because the house has a "flea
problem." We feel we should stay firm on this issue. They left us
with a huge problem and as a result, we have spent numerous hours
mopping, vacuuming and doing laundry not to mention the fact that we
have been bitten repeatedly!
ANSWER: Griswold: The attorneys can battle over the legal issues, but
as a property manager I would advise you to stay firm on this issue.
Be prepared to document all of your facts and be sure to keep copies
of all invoices. I would also suggest that you get an opinion letter
from your exterminator on their letterhead stationery.
With additional experience as a landlord, you will begin to develop a
sense of when disputes may arise and you should have any independent
service providers write detailed information right on the original
receipt. This information could prevent a misunderstanding or at least
provide clear rationale for your actions in the event that you find
yourself challenged in a small claims court.
Smith: Tenant allegations like this come with regularity in
need to be able to show the small claims court that you have
documented the condition very extensively and that your repair efforts
and expenses started modestly but based on the seriousness of the
problem, more extreme measures were required. You may need your carpet
or flea expert to back you up with testimony.
If small claims court is still imminent, consider filing a
cross-complaint back to the tenant for aggravation and damage on the
flea bites. Either way, make sure you document everything carefully
and present an organized case. This will give you your best shot in
small claims court.
Kellman: I would agree with Ted that if these tenants caused the flea
problem, they should pay to take care of it. The problem is that it is
unclear in this case who caused the flea infestation. Since you bought
the house already rented, you may not be able to say with certainty
that these tenants caused the problem.
In fact, they could have inherited the flea infestation from the
previous tenants who lived there before them. We do not know if, for
tenants kept quiet about the fleas out of fear that they would be
blamed and face an eviction. This is not so far-fetched in San Diego
where tenants may receive a 30-day notice to move for no specific
Thus, be sure of your facts before going to court. It seems clear you
will prove a flea problem which required those expenses. What is not
so clear is the evidence of who or what actually caused the flea
problem in your house.
Our lease is up the first week of September. Now that the time is near
for us to move there are numerous concerns that I wish I would have
thought of when we first moved in. Our apartment building has been
sold and is going through management changes (this is the second
change in less than two months).
We were given notices that new leases would be issued. We have no
desire to stay in our apartment and DO NOT want to sign the new lease.
Can the new owner evict us when we refuse to sign the new lease?
There are numerous repairs that need to be made in the apartment. Most
which I have reported; however, I did not keep a written record of
these requests. We've kept the apartment up to the best of our
abilities but are afraid of losing out deposit due to cheap
workmanship and materials.
I've thought of writing a letter to the apartment manager as well as
the owner stating what repairs have been reported as well as what
needs to be repaired and am thinking of giving my required written
Is it too early to give the written notice of relocation and is it a
good idea to write a letter concerning the repairs?
Smith: As the landlord's attorney, let me remind you that you are not
in a position to dictate the terms of the new lease, nor do anything
to prohibit the sale of the real estate. The new owner has the right
to create a new lease that is to his liking -- it's like a new
ballgame with new rules.
You may choose not to sign the lease, but then you will have to vacate
the premises. You cannot force your version of the tenancy on the new
landlord. Sure, repairs may have to be made. But the landlord has the
right to raise the rent. There is no upper ceiling on either the
amount or frequency of rental increases in California in jurisdictions
without rent control.
Kellman: When the lease expires, your rights to remain are terminated.
Your landlord is not under a duty to renew it unless you had an option
to extend the lease and it was properly exercised. Otherwise, the
landlord may, or may not, offer you a lease.
Worse yet, without any law to limit rents, the landlord may offer you
a new lease but may also raise the rent without limit in jurisdictions
rent control (such as San Diego). You have some power if you are a
desirable tenant and the landlord wants to keep you there.
Of course, some landlords feel that to be a good tenant, you should
not complain about repairs. Actually, notifying the landlord about
repairs is good for both landlord and tenant. Good maintenance helps
to prevent the development of serious problems with the property which
can be very inconvenient and expensive.
Therefore, it is best to notify the landlord of repair requests with a
polite letter. You should give the notice when you discover the
problem. Waiting may only make things worse. A good landlord will
appreciate your concern for their property. The landlord who deters
you making repair requests may regret the action in the long run if
the property suffers expensive damage due to unreported problems, or
worse yet, if someone is injured because of it.
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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