Broken Locks Lead to Burglary; Is the Landlord
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 rented a home in a nice area, but unfortunately three
days after we moved in, the home was burglarized. All boxes with items
of value (China, crystal, electronics) were stolen along with some
small pieces of furniture.
We noted after we notified the police that several of the windows had
broken locks, and it would have been easy for any would-be burglar to
enter my home. My landlord did later tell us that he was aware of the
broken locks, but said he had placed sticks in the window so that they
could not be opened (we did not find any).
Was my landlord negligent in not telling me of the broken windows and
is he responsible for any of my loss?
ANSWER: Kellman: Yes, your landlord may be liable for your losses due
to his negligence. You must first prove that the windows could not
have been locked securely, which is true in your case since they were
admittedly broken. Your landlord, of course, will say that the sticks
he supplied locked the windows but that seems like a flimsy excuse
since you did not see any such devices and apparently they did not
You will need to show that your landlord knew or should have known
about the inadequate locks which seem pretty easy in your case since
he was aware of the broken windows.
So far so good. Now you must show that the landlord either failed to
promptly repair the locks or at least that he failed to warn you that
they were broken at that time. If you can do this (and it seems you
will be able to), you will have proven a case of negligence.
Finally, you need to prove your damages. Under negligence law, the
landlord will be liable for the value of the stolen items at the time
of the theft, not what it would cost to buy them new.
Of course, some items like crystal and china may actually be worth
more now than what you paid for them. Make an inventory of the losses
and present it to your landlord. He may respond directly or turn it
over to his insurance company.
If that does not resolve the matter, consider the Small Claims Court
if the losses are not beyond that court's limit.
Smith: Not so fast, Steve. Generally, except under special
circumstances, California landlords are not legally responsible for
loss to the resident's personal property, possessions, or personal
liability, and the landlord's insurance will not cover such losses or
There is no guarantee for the security of personal property. In this
case, the burglary is an unforeseeable criminal act by a third party.
Costly misfortunes of this nature cannot be pinned on the landlord.
The writer will have the burden of convincing the court that the
landlord was responsible and that her damages are reasonable.
In particular, the court will have to be convinced that the burglar
would not have broken in through the windows "but for" the
locks being defective. That's a tall order in this case.
Further, she will have to shoulder some of the responsibility for
failing to keep the sticks in place or place her own locks on the
windows. Any award would be reduced in proportion to her own
If California tenants desire to protect themselves and their property
against loss, damage, or liability, I strongly recommend that they
consult with an insurance agent and obtain appropriate coverage for
fire, theft, liability, worker's compensation, and other perils.
No breakable leases
I am a student and have just signed a one-year lease for a
three-bedroom apartment, along with my roommates. If I get a job offer
that requires me to move, is there a way to break the lease? A friend
told me there was a special law if you had a job transfer.
Griswold: No, your friend is wrong as there is no such law that would
allow you to break the lease just because you want to accept or even
must accept a job transfer. There are no simple ways for a tenant to
break a lease for any reason other than a serious breach by the
landlord. Even that would require you to prove the breach and remember
that you are personally responsible for up to the entire amount of all
rent due during the entire lease.
You and each of your roommates are joint and severally responsible
which means that the landlord can look to any one of the roommates
they want -- they are not required to go after all roommates. Thus,
landlords will usually go after the most responsible roommate for the
entire amount, which means that roommate would then have to try and
recover from the other roommates.
This can be a very dangerous legal position for someone that is a
responsible person with a job or assets and roommates that are not as
responsible or fiscally solvent!!
Take a picture
I am moving out of an apartment in the beach area. My roommate and I
have been notified that our landlord has no intention of properly
evaluating the use of our security deposit and is planning on not
returning a single cent in order to pay for painting and carpet
cleaning. She reportedly does this to all of her tenants.
We have hardly done a speck of damage. We hung some pictures and
that's about it. We intend to spackle the small holes and touch up the
paint before we leave. A Web site says she has 30 days to return the
deposit to us providing the place is left how we found it, with the
exception of normal wear and tear.
I have also been told that it is the law that the landlord must take
care of those things between tenants without using the deposits of the
former occupants. Can she do this? Do we even have an issue worth
Griswold: You cannot always rely on the tenant/landlord information on
the Internet as the laws vary greatly from state to state. In
California, the landlord has only 21 days to account for your deposit
and cannot automatically deduct for painting but only if the damage is
beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Carpet cleaning and cleaning of the unit are not subject to ordinary
wear and tear, thus you must remove any/all dirt that entered your
rental unit during your tenancy regardless of source.
I strongly suggest you send a letter to your landlord explaining that
you want to know exactly what you should do to be able to get your
entire deposit returned. The landlord may try to get away with
something but you should document the condition and seriously consider
hiring professional cleaners for the cleaning and carpet cleaning so
that the unit is sanitized and the landlord has no basis for having
the work done by someone else and
charging it back to your security deposit.
Hopefully, your letter expressing your concerns and stating that you
know something about your legal rights will discourage your landlord
from any unethical behavior. So I would suggest that you wait and see
what the response is and then it may indeed be worth pursuing.
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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