Rental Roundtable
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Real Estate Today

Tenant's Apartment a Shade too Shady

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
20-January-2002 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: My windows are shaded by trees. Not only is it expensive to have the lights on all day, but it also heats up the apartment. Is there anything I can do to get more light into my unit?

ANSWER: Griswold: I would suggest you write a polite letter to the owner or property management company informing them that the trees need to be trimmed and send a couple of photos that clearly reflect the overgrown trees. Often, this is all that's necessary as typically the tenant will be the first to notice that the trees are in need of trimming.

While overgrown trees can constitute a health and safety risk (as Steve Kellman will cover below), many times there is no significant health and safety issue and it is merely an aesthetic condition or the desire to have more sunlight in your rental unit. Under such a scenario, the owner may not be willing to incur the costs entirely on his own and you may want to offer to share in the cost of having the trees professionally trimmed.

I would strongly advise against you attempting to trim the trees yourself unless it is simply a few small, low-hanging branches that can be reached from the ground with hand-pruning equipment. I remind all rental property owners that expecting or requiring tenants to be responsible for the proper maintenance of landscaping is always risky, but your large specimen trees are virtually irreplaceable assets that can be destroyed by a negligent tenant.

Leave the proper care and pruning of your valuable trees to the professionals by only hiring certified arborists or tree pruning professionals directly. Letting your tenant select the firm could very well lead to the loss of the tree or a significant liability risk.

Kellman: Trees need to be maintained in such a manner so as not to pose a risk of health and safety to the tenants or their visitors. This may involve trimming branches that stick out or could fall in a walking area. It could also involve cleaning around the trees if there is an accumulation of droppings which could pose a slip-and- fall hazard. Sometimes roots can cause a trip-and-fall hazard.

The law, however, does not really handle the issue of not enough or too much sunlight at your windows. I suppose a bright, sunlit window may be attractive to the plant-loving tenant but can be an annoyance to another tenant.

As to the heat and cost of lighting, the bulb of the day is the fluorescent. It does not generate heat like an incandescent bulb would and uses only a small amount of electricity, which means that this bulb pays for itself over time. Contact your local electric utility distribution company to see about some programs it may have that could pay for or at least share in the cost of these bulbs.

Condo racket

I own a condo in San Diego and have rented it to a nice middle- aged professional couple for the last six years. They have a problem with a neighbor whose bedroom shares a wall with theirs. She is an ill, elderly woman who makes terrible noises at night, forcing my tenants to sleep in the living room.

They have spoken to the woman, her live-in caregiver, and the building manager with no success. What can I do for them?

Smith: All tenants are entitled to quiet enjoyment in their occupancy of rental property. Still, apartment tenants need to understand that some noises are inherent in multifamily housing with common walls. A difficult situation arises when a sensitive resident is placed next to an abusing resident.

Management has the right and the duty to enforce apartment regulations by asking the noisy tenant to keep it down. If, after a reasonable request, the tenant refuses to cooperate, legal proceedings could be instituted to remove the tenant from possession.

Care must be taken to follow fair housing laws and to make sure that the complaining tenant is not exaggerating the situation or making false or frivolous accusations.

Raindrops keep falling

Since we moved into our apartment over a year ago, we have had problems with our ceiling leaking every time it rained. The landlord finally fixed it a couple of weeks ago.

There are holes in the ceiling so that the water would run out, and the water ruined many household items.

We are having problems receiving any type of compensation. We have documented every time it has rained and who we contacted. We plan to take them to Small Claims Court soon. The owner seems to think that we do not deserve rent credit because the entire apartment did not have leaks.

We have sent the owner many letters requesting compensation and was told to wait until it was fixed. We're tired of waiting. How should we proceed from here and what are our rights?

Kellman: Tenants are entitled to compensation, not merely rent credits, when the landlord's negligent maintenance causes losses or injuries. First, you must determine if the landlord is liable. If the rain caused a surprise leak that was not foreseeable, and the landlord had no prior knowledge or notice of any possible leak problem, then the landlord may not be liable.

However, if the landlord knew, or should have known of a leak problem, but failed to take proper action, he or she will most likely be held responsible for the damage caused by any such leaks that may occur. This responsibility will include paying you for the cost of repair of damaged items, or for the value of any item not repairable. For destroyed items, the amount of damages owed to you would be at the depreciated (or used) amount rather than the cost to buy them new.

You can certainly use the Small Claims Court if your damages are reasonably within that court's jurisdictional limit (currently $5,000). There are time limits in which a claim must be filed. Therefore, be sure not to wait too long to file your case or your rights to file that claim will be lost forever.

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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