Rental Roundtable
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Real Estate Today

House Without Jacks Makes Calling Difficult

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
8-December-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 live in a five-bedroom house, and each person rents their own room. The landlord lives on the premises in one of the rooms.

While there is a single telephone jack in the living room, no one is allowed to use it since the landlord uses it as his own personal line. In the upstairs bedroom that I rent there is no phone jack, and the phone company says they have to dig a long trench to put the line to the house. Who's responsible for covering the costs, my landlord or myself?\

ANSWER: Tenants' attorney Kellman: The law requires the landlord to provide "at least one usable telephone jack" for the tenants. While there is one working jack in the house in which you now live, you are restricted from using it. As such, it is just like it does not exist.

Therefore, it appears the landlord has not complied with the law requiring him to provide a usable telephone jack. I believe the landlord should either allow you the use of his phone line or install one in your room at his expense.

Mine, yours?

Question: My husband has a rental property in San Diego that has been rented to the same tenant for 18 years. I understand there's a law in Mexico that says if you rent a property to the same tenants for 20 years or more, that property becomes theirs because it's considered paid for by the tenant.

Is there such law in the United States? Our tenant has been a great renter but we don't want to lose our property to our long- term tenant.

Property Manager Griswold: Real estate law in Mexico is fundamentally different from that in the United States, and I am not an expert on tenant-landlord regulations in Mexico.

There is no such law in the United States. That is the benefit of owning real estate here -- the tenant essentially pays for the property for you yet you always retain ownership and control.

With the majority of real estate in the United States purchased with mortgage financing, the actual purchase of the property is typically with 20 percent cash and the balance paid over time. Thus, the rent paid by tenants will allow you to pay that mortgage payment until the mortgage is paid off.

Of course, I always suggest that a good landlord should show their appreciation for their good tenants by promptly addressing any maintenance concerns, regularly updating the property through improvements and keeping the rent just below the prevailing market rate.

In the dumps

Question: We just moved into our house this week and our landlord has gone on a cruise. The place is an absolute dump. It was supposed to be cleaned by the time we moved in yet there is everything from bugs to dirt and grime and mildew all over the walls and cobwebs everywhere. The ceiling is falling in in the living room and it is absolutely disgusting.

After reading the lease, it is stated that no repairs can be made without the landlord's permission. Since it must be some sort of health violation to have a ceiling and walls covered in mildew, can't we just request this to be fixed and have the landlord pay the bill for services we contract? Must we wait until he returns?

Tenants' attorney Kellman: Your landlord is obligated to provide you with a habitable dwelling when you move in. The level of cleanliness necessary upon move-in is somewhat subjective. One person's acceptable condition would not be adequate for another person who adheres to a stricter standard.

Your landlord, however, specifically promised to have the place cleaned, so it should be at least reasonably clean. By any reasonable standard, your unit was unacceptable. Failing to provide the place in a condition free of bugs, dirt and mold isn't only a breach of his agreement, but it is probably a violation of applicable housing codes and health standards.

Under certain conditions, you may clean and make some repairs on your own regardless of the lease restrictions. He may be on vacation, but your rental unit is certainly no picnic for you. Do not wait for him to return from his trip.

You should promptly give him notice of the problem and your intention to do the repairs or cleaning and that if he does not act he will be asked to pay the bills. Give him a reasonable opportunity to have them done. If he does not take care of them, you have the right to have the work done and seek reimbursement from him.

While you may have the option to deduct the costs from the rent, a case in small claims court may be a safer way to go if he refuses to reimburse you.

But what about food?

Question: We have recently rented an apartment for the very first time. Last week our landlord mentioned that he wanted to renovate the kitchen while we are living there which means we will have no kitchen for three weeks.

What are our rights with regard to renovations? What can we ask for this and can we say by law that repairs must be completed within a set time frame or we will get somebody to do it ourselves and have him pay for it? It seems like he is trying to take advantage of us since we don't really know our legal rights.

Tenants' attorney Kellman: While it is nice to have the kitchen upgraded, it can be quite an inconvenience. Three weeks sounds like a pretty long time to renovate a kitchen. In fact it may be too long. In that time, you can gut the whole thing and replace it with a whole new one, which is unlikely in a rental unless he plans to move in himself.

Sometimes, landlords will take an extra long time for renovations because they are saving money with a laid-back work schedule. Heck, it's his kitchen in his home, so why hurry? There is no real legal time standard for a renovation since they are all different.

It would not be wise to interfere with this job by having work done on your own to speed it up. This could cause you great trouble since this is not a normal repair-and-deduct type of situation . Also, you could be blamed for all sorts of construction problems and expenses. You may wish to seek the advice of a contractor to see just how long that job should really take and let the landlord know of your information.

You are entitled to compensation for the inconvenience during the renovation process. I believe that compensation is not limited to a discount of rent but should include some extra money to cover the extra expense you will incur in not being able to cook your own meals at home. While eating out may be a treat, it can get old pretty soon if you are forced to do so every day.

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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