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Real Estate Today

Job Layoff Doesn't Qualify as Legal Excuse Break to Lease

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
7-October-2001 Sunday

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 at, 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 my rent.

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 lease.

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!

Absentee manager

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 days.

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- unit building?

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 building.

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- sided manner.

IF 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

Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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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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