Rental Roundtable
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Real Estate Today

Landlord Ignores Tenant's Request to Upgrade Apartment

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
24-March-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 (9 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 have been living in the same apartment over 12 years and it needs to be repainted -- the walls are dirty, the paint is peeling off the bathroom walls, the molding is chipped in many places, and the wooden cabinets in the bathroom have lost strips of wood due to moisture.

I keep asking the manager about getting my apartment repainted but receive no response. Does my landlord have any responsibility to repaint and fix the cabinets? My ceiling leaks, too.

ANSWER: Griswold: Your landlord is required to properly maintain the rental unit. This includes any deficiencies in habitability such as water intrusion. The issue of painting is a little more complicated. If the rental unit needs to be repainted for habitability reasons (like the chipping and peeling that you describe) then the landlord is responsible. If the primary reason to repaint is cosmetic, then the landlord does not have a duty to repaint. Note that the dirt on the walls would typically not constitute a habitability problem by itself, however, if you cannot reasonably wipe down the walls without the paint coming off then you have a habitability problem caused by poor paint quality.

Of course, if the paint is of high quality and you have damaged the paint or somehow your lifestyle resulted in a diminishment of the paint's typical useful life then the landlord has an argument that you caused damage beyond ordinary wear and tear and thus you are responsible for the damage yourself.

The same general reasoning applies to cabinets. If it is cosmetic then the landlord is not required by law to address it. If the issue becomes health and safety in the use of the cabinets, then the landlord should take care of them.

Your landlord should properly maintain the property and charge you a market-level rent. You have been there 12 years and clearly there should be many items that need attention and should be handled by the landlord without complaint. Many times landlords do not raise the rent to market level hoping that the tenant won't complain about anything and then they get upset when the tenants ask for necessary repairs. Also, many tenants realize that their rent is below market so they don't bring up the issue of problems in their rental unit.

The best way for everyone is for the landlord to offer a well- maintained and properly priced rental unit and tenants to receive good value for their money and the expectation that any necessary repairs will be handled promptly and professionally. But often both tenants and landlords are responsible for deviating from this preferred practice.

Penny wise

Q: At my apartment building there is a pool in the center of the courtyard. It is cleaned only on Fridays and the filters are never on. There is always algae growing in the pool by Tuesday. What recourse do tenants have to get the pool cleaned on a more regular basis during summer? Should the health department be notified? We have already expressed our concerns to the landlord and no corrections were made.

A: Kellman: A pool can be great for those hot summer days, but it must be properly maintained or it becomes a danger exposing you to risks of illness or even death. Landlords should take pool maintenance very seriously. Improperly cleaned water may promote dangerous bacteria easily capable of making you ill. Improperly maintained suction vents can cause drowning if a child gets stuck against one. Improperly grounded wiring or the use of unapproved higher voltage lighting can cause dangerous shocks. There are slip- and-fall hazards for improper surfacing around the pool. These are only examples of risks facing tenants from improperly maintained pools.

As to your situation, the landlord must keep the water clean to avoid algae or any other unhealthful contaminant. Obviously, minimal cleaning and turning the filters off is only done to save money and is a very unwise practice. This lack of maintenance will cost much more in the long run in increased risks forced upon the tenants.

You should call the county health department to ask for an inspection. They can take the appropriate action with the landlord if the pool is not kept up properly.

Begin spin

Q: I am a tenant and I recently gave my 30-day notice to vacate, but I am not sure when the 30 days begin. Can it begin any time, or does it begin on the anniversary date of the 30-day period?

I moved in on the first of the month on a month-to-month rental agreement and pay my rent on the first of each month. I decided on the fifth day of the month to give my notice to vacate and I immediately notified my landlord. The landlord insists that the present month-to-month lease if effective for the balance of that month, plus the next month. Is my landlord correct?

A: Smith: California's month-to-month tenancies may be legally terminated by written 30-day notice. It is well settled that the notice of termination does not have to coincide with the rental due date. Your 30-day notice dated on the fifth of the month is effective 30 days hence. Count the 30 days beginning with the day after the notice is given. All calendar days are included. Watch out for months with more or less than 30 days.

Let's assume your rent is due in advance on the first of the month and that we are dealing with a 30-day month. You will owe a five-day prorated rent on the first of the following month. The landlord is wrong when he claims that you will owe the entire following month.

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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