Job Layoff Doesn't Qualify as
Legal Excuse Break to Lease
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 signed a 12-month lease a few months ago. But
unfortunately I have just been laid off from my job as a computer
programmer. I have been unable to find a new job and am unable to pay
This month my friends have helped me in paying the $1,200 rent. I
have read your column before so I knew to contact my landlord and
explain my situation and I asked to cancel the remaining term of my
The on site manager told me that there is nothing she can do and I
need to pay the rent for the remaining lease period. Obviously, I
can't do that so I have now tried running my own ad seeking roommates
or a sublease. I am very desperate and I don't know what to do.
ANSWER: Griswold: Unfortunately, you have a very difficult
situation that will become much more common as the economy becomes
more challenging. From a legal standpoint, you do not have any basis
to break your lease and I cannot suggest any reasons for you to break
the lease as I assume that the premises are properly maintained and
the landlord has fulfilled obligations under the lease.
They are correct in stating that you are financially responsible
for the balance of the lease, except the landlord has a legal duty to
mitigate or minimize your damages by attempting to rerent your rental
unit if you vacate early. That does not mean that they have to rent
your unit before other vacant units, but they must advertise or handle
the rerental of your unit in the same manner as other vacant units.
While the rental market is slowing somewhat, it is still a landlord's
market in many respects.
My recommendation is that you vacate the rental unit and leave it
in good condition. Tell your landlord in writing exactly what you are
doing and why and ask the landlord immediately to begin advertising
and showing the unit to prospective renters. This is in your best
interest and the best interest of the landlord. You will be
responsible for the rent until a new tenant moves in, plus the
landlord's reasonable costs of rerenting the property, such as
advertising. The landlord will also be required to fully account for
and return any unused portion of your security deposit within 21 days.
Good luck to you!
Our 32-unit apartment building has a part-time manager who is
hardly ever on the premises.
I have had electrical problems that I have had to take care of
myself because the manager was unavailable and now I have problems
with termites. Again, the manager was not home, so I phoned the
owner's assistant who said that she would have it sprayed. She says
the same thing every year, and never does anything. So I sprayed and
have had to sleep in a smelly, pesticide-filled bedroom for several
Is the owner allowed to have a part-time manager live on the
premises, or should there be a full-time apartment manager in a 32-
Griswold: In California, the owner is legally required to
have a "responsible party" on site if the property has 16 or
more units. There are no specific hours or job duties required and
thus your landlord meets the basic legal requirements.
However, the owner clearly is not provided a healthy and safe
environment for you and your neighbors. The part-time manager may meet
the minimum legal requirements, but obviously this individual is not
properly handling the typical duties of an on-site manager for a large
You should immediately communicate your experiences and
observations to the owner in writing.
However, if such reasonable complaints are ignored, you should
contact the code enforcement and health department for more serious
action including citations and potential fines if the premises do not
meet basic habitability standards.
Old counter tops
I have been in my apartment for over 13 months. Before I moved in,
the landlord promised to replace the old kitchen counter tops. They
were old, but still usable, with some discoloration or very
distinctive spots in a few places. Despite my constant requests, about
once every other month, the landlord has never fulfilled his promise
to replace the kitchen counter top. In fact, the landlord removed the
new counter top materials from my patio three or four months ago. The
landlord raised my rent last month, despite my protest that the
kitchen counter tops have never been replaced. Not wanting to receive
a 30-day notice to vacate, I paid the new rent. What are my rights and
how can I withhold rent, if that's possible, and how much?
A: Griswold: Unfortunately for you the landlord only is
legally required to address habitability issues. Based on your
description of the counter tops they are usable but cosmetically
deficient. Thus, the landlord doesn't have to do anything and you
cannot use the California "repair and deduct" statute. I
suggest that you politely put your request in writing indicating
essentially what you told me. Hopefully your landlord will realize
that the least they can do is fulfill their promise since they are
receiving more rent.
Yes, you do run the risk that you could receive a 30-day notice,
but your landlord's failure to live up to his or her promise is not
acceptable either. If they are not going to replace the counter tops,
then you know that they will not do other needed repairs in the future
and thus you may want to find another place to live anyway.
A more risky strategy would be to give your conditional 30-day
notice -- i.e., send a letter indicating that you will find it
necessary to move if the landlord cannot replace the counter top as
promised in the next 10 days. I am constantly disappointed to see
landlords that see the tenant/landlord relationship in such a one-
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
2001 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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