Are landlords responsible for purchasing window coverings?

Allowing tenant to improve property can lead to surprises

Question: I just renovated a home, which I rented to a friend. Since I know this guy, I didn’t ask for a deposit or advance rent.He said his girlfriend had some things in mind for the window coverings so I told him I wasn’t going to buy anything. The girlfriend then purchased $320 in window coverings and handed me the bill.I agreed to pay $200 toward the purchase and he’s fine with that. My question is, are landlords responsible for purchasing window coverings? If so, is there a rule on what window coverings to purchase? For example, there is a front and back porch on the home converted to livable space. However, there are inside doors on the home that shut the home off from that space. The girlfriend bought roll downs for every window on the front and back porch.

Landlords’ attorney Smith replies:

California’s habitability laws do not require its landlords to install or pay for window coverings in rental property. You comply with housing codes by providing windows that give adequate protection. Your $200 contribution towards the cost of the treatments was a kind gesture – but was not legally required. You have the right to prohibit the installation of the roll downs. Standard leases contain a clause that prohibits any alteration to the rental property without your permission. It sounds to me like they’re taking advantage of your friendship. Next time, make sure that you set out the ground rules in writing regarding the condition of the premises, repairs and improvements. Finally, make sure you get a substantial security deposit to guard against tenant damage.

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

It is true that there is no specific habitability law that requires window coverings. However, there is no law that forces a tenant to live in a truly glass house either.Uncovered windows create their own problems. Will the landlord pay for the sun-faded and -damaged property? How about a little privacy? It is not fair to expect a tenant to install his/her own window coverings and then claim that the lease prohibits him/her from doing this “alteration” without permission. This would mean the landlord could withhold that magical permission until the tenant agreed to install only the “best” coverings. The landlord could then claim that they must remain at the unit after the tenant moves. Nice move. It seems more equitable for the landlord to supply basic coverings (miniblinds, etc.) and offer the tenant the opportunity to upgrade them at the tenant’s expense.

Question: My husband signed a nine-month lease for an apartment where he has lived for the past seven years. He signed it while he was employed; he’s been laid off since. Fearing the worst, how should he handle this situation? What happens usually when one breaks a lease?

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Property manager Griswold replies:

The lease is binding and cannot be cancelled due to a loss of a job. You should contact the landlord and see if they will voluntarily let him out of the lease. The landlord is under no obligation, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If he just vacates, he would be responsible for the entire balance of the lease unless the landlord is able to re-rent the rental unit. If the rental unit is re-rented, he would no longer be responsible for the rent but would be responsible for the reasonable actual out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the landlord for advertising, leasing fees, etc., necessitated to re-rent the unit. Of course, if the landlord is not able to get the same amount of rent as your husband was paying, the landlord may try to charge your husband for that amount, as well. For example, if his rental rate was $2,000 per month and the landlord re-rents the property but can only get $1,900, then your husband is responsible for $100 per month for the balance of the lease.

Question: How often should a landlord replace a carpet in a rental unit while the same tenants live in the unit?

Landlords’ attorney Smith replies:

There is no flat rule requiring landlords to replace carpet for existing residents, no matter how long they are in possession of the premises. The only exceptions would possibly be in limited local jurisdictions where a rent control board has developed specific regulations. So even when the carpet seems old and slightly worn, it still satisfies the minimum requirements. Not until it becomes a health and safety hazard does the landlord have a duty to perhaps replace the carpet while you are still in possession of the premises. If there are health and safety issues regarding the carpet, such as nails or tack strips pointing up, then the landlord should replace the carpet or fix the hazardous areas. Otherwise, there is no duty, even after five years, to replace your carpet.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

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