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Question: My landlord started some major work on our building’s roof and deck. We were only notified of the starting date of the demolition in writing a week before they started. The landlord has not told us the duration of the construction or when somebody will come into our unit. It is in the second week already and currently we have all the deck furniture and BBQ in our apartment, no use of the deck and limited use of the garage. Do we have to pay full amount of the rent for these periods?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

The landlord has the right to make certain repairs, improvements and renovations of the property. You also have the right to a quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the rented space and to have any habitability defects corrected. When the rental has significant problems regarding habitability, the tenant may be relieved of the obligation to pay the full rent. Under some circumstances a tenant can even withhold rent pending repairs. In your situation, the unit may not have habitability defects but your use of the space is being severely impacted. The work on the roof and deck is forcing you to use the apartment for storage, which means it cannot be used as living space. Also, such construction can be a significant inconvenience with noise and debris. Workers cannot just walk into your unit without proper notice as per state or local law. Based on what you are going through, it appears that you should not be liable to pay the full rent for the affected time. If the landlord will not voluntarily reduce the rent, pay the demanded rent “under protest” to protect your rights. You can then take your landlord to Small Claims Court for reimbursement of rent and any other damages suffered that are within that court’s limits.

Question: Prior to signing a one-year lease we asked the agent and the owner if the owner had any intentions of selling the property, and expressed our intent to want to stay in the home. The response was “No,” but then two months later the agent put the home up for sale. Are we obligated to stay in the lease or can we break it since we were misled? We are now at the mercy of the owner. If he sells the property prior to the expiration of the lease must we move? What are our options and obligations?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

It is unfortunate that you may have been misled about the intended sale. The owner will claim that he changed his mind about selling right after the lease was signed. What a surprise. Some owners will lease a home during a sale to keep money rolling in while others prefer the home vacant to affect a quicker sale. Normally, a home can be shown only upon proper notice, during normal business hours and the showings cannot be excessive. Of course it is better to be up front about it so that the issues about showing the place can be handled before it becomes a problem. You have a one-year lease for that property. Unless the lease has a termination provision upon sale, you have the right to live there for that year whether the home is sold or not. Generally, owners do not have to inform tenants about possible intentions to sell in the future. I think an owner should, however, disclose if the home was already sold and waiting the close of escrow. It may be difficult to break the lease due to the sale if no one disturbs you during the lease period. It could be different if there are many buyers coming over to see the place. If so, you could seek to break the lease based on a misrepresentation and the harm suffered due to the disturbance of your peace. If you had been informed before you moved in of an intended sale so early in the lease period you probably would not have leased the home or you may have required a different type of lease. Seek legal counsel to protect your rights before you take any action on that lease.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing 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.

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