Landlord Should Disregard Conscience and Raise the Rent
ROBERT GRISWOLD | STEVEN R. KELLMAN | TED SMITH
This column on issues confronting renters and landlords is written by Certified Property Manager Robert Griswold, host of "Real Estate Today!" (KOGO Radio, AM 600, 1 p.m. Saturdays) and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.
Q: I enjoy your column and would appreciate your input on raising rents. I am an owner of a condominium in the Mission Valley area.
I have been renting the unit on a month-to-month basis to very good tenants who pay the rent on time and care of the home. But I have had many people tell me I am not charging enough and should raise their rent. Other rentals in my complex are getting $50-$75 more a month.
My problem is that I told the tenants verbally when they moved in that I would not raise their rent. Am I held to this verbal agreement since nothing was put in writing?
Ethically, I feel it would be wrong to raise the rent because I told them I would not. My conscience tells me to keep the same rent and raise it when they move.
A: Griswold: Many owners get too close to their tenants and cannot separate personal relationships from the business of managing rental property.
Conscience aside, the ownership and management of a rental unit must be treated as an investment. You need to be able to balance the emotional and business aspects of managing your rental.
To do this, many owners rely on a property management company because they are unable or unwilling to raise rents, enforce rules or possibly evict a tenant.
Legally, you can raise the rent anytime under a month-to-month rental agreement upon giving your tenant a written 30-day notice.
I always advise owners that it is better to be a little below market with a good renter rather than get every dollar and risk your valuable investment to an unknown tenant. But your tenants cannot expect your verbal agreement will be good forever.
Smith: I understand your moral dilemma, but I agree with Robert that it's time to view this as a business matter.
Remember that owners have been taking a beating on rents for years and that your unit is in a desirable area that has recently seen major new retail developments and a new trolley line that benefit your tenants.
You may want to wait a while, then write your tenants stating that you have evaluated rents in Mission Valley. Tell them you want them to stay, but that it's time to raise the rent.
For good measure, why don't you offer the tenants an incentive to stay, like a microwave or fresh paint? That way, you get your market rate and promote good tenant relations.
Q: I have been approved to rent a unit in need of some minor repairs that the owners agreed to make before I moved in. Yesterday, I went to move in and the owners told me that they had changed their mind and that if I want the unit I must make the repairs at my own expense.
Many of the items are minor but are health- and safety-related. For example, there are broken stairs, a medicine cabinet with shattered glass, exposed electrical wires and stepping stones that are slip-and-fall hazards.
I really love the area and there are no other vacant units. Aren't the owners required to make these basic health and safety repairs?
A: Griswold: Yes, the owners are required to make the repairs unless there is a different agreement with the tenant. While it may be legally possible for an owner and tenant to voluntarily agree that the tenant will move into a unit with health and safety hazards, it is extremely unwise. The owner retains ultimate responsibility to ensure that the unit is in a safe and habitable condition and in virtually all instances this duty can not be assigned to the tenant.
I am sure that you have already moved in, but I would suggest that you work with the landlords to see that these repairs are completed promptly to minimize any risk to you and to reduce their liability.
Smith: Rental owners have to provide minimum legal requirements for a dwelling to become "tenantable." In this case, the defects you mention are on the borderline. At this point you do not have the right to cancel the binding agreement.
But, the owners will have to make the small repairs. Legally, they cannot shift the burden of the repairs to you.
It sounds like these repairs can be made with minimal effort. If you like the apartment despite the defects, you need to work it out with your landlord.
Remember that as far as the owners are concerned, they are only required to maintain minimum habitability -- bare living conditions -- to be in compliance with California law. On the other hand, they should take care of the most serious problems at their expense, especially the wiring and stairway.
Perhaps a deal can be struck to split costs so the matter can be amicably resolved. This way, you get your landlord/tenant relationship off to a good start.
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 191, San Diego, CA, 92112. Or you may e-mail them at email@example.com
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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,
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