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Question: My sister and her husband are about to sign a lease agreement on a two-bedroom apartment. The lease requires them to have insurance for the contents of the residence. I agree with the requirement, but my problem is with the landlord also requiring that they carry a minimum of $300,000 in public liability insurance coverage for bodily injury and property damage in and about the dwelling. The lease also requires that the landlord be named as an additional insured under that policy and provide the landlord with proof of such coverage. There are no state laws where we live requiring this coverage so I don’t believe that it is the tenant’s responsibility to hold public liability insurance, especially in the ridiculous amount of $300,000. Please correct me if I’m wrong regarding this issue.

Property Manager Griswold replies:

While there is clearly an additional cost to meet the landlord’s requirements, I do not believe that the landlord’s request is unreasonable as it is actually to the benefit of your sister and brother-in-law. Remember that renters are not typically covered by the insurance policy of the landlord or owner of the property unless there is clear negligence on the landlord’s part. Therefore it is extremely prudent for renters to have their own insurance policy that will cover their personal possessions and contents as well as offer them coverage for alternative living expenses in the event they are displaced from the rental property. The typical renter’s insurance policy will generally include a nominal amount of liability coverage (like $300,000) as part of the package. This coverage is important because the landlord (and the renter) could be named in a lawsuit brought by a friend or guest, or even a delivery person or worker that claims he or she was injured at the property. Landlords should have their own insurance policy that covers fire and property damage, as well as liability coverage, in much higher amounts–generally a $1 million or more. Thus a $300,000 renter’s liability policy is prudent for both the renter and the landlord. In my book, “Property Management for Dummies,” I strongly encourage tenants to have such coverage even if the landlord does not require it.

Question: My children and I live in an apartment. The tenant below us smokes so much that it is coming through the shower exhaust into our apartment. I can’t leave the windows open in the front or back of the apartment because the whole unit smells of smoke if I do. Can I break my lease due to a health hazard or insist on being moved to a different unit?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

Smoking is a lawful activity in most areas; however there is more legislation every day to limit the rights of smokers. Since the places to smoke are becoming more and more restricted, the last place of refuge for the smoker is in the home. But even there, the smoker is under attack. The right to breathe clean air is making great strides against the personal right to smoke. Landlords complain about the damage smoking residue can cause to the interior of the rental, and non-smoking neighbor tenants do not want to smell or breathe the smoke. Secondhand smoke is claimed to be as dangerous as smoking. A tenant who smokes faces increasing pressure to protect others from being harmed or annoyed by the smoke, but it is unclear if that neighbor who smokes “so much” is doing anything wrong. How much is too much? Is it the smoker’s fault or is it a problem with the building’s ventilation? Regardless of the answers to these questions, you should not be forced to breathe that smoke. Since the situation appears to be significant, you should report the matter, in writing, to the landlord. Once notified of the problem, the landlord should take corrective action either with the neighbor or the building. If the landlord fails or refuses to handle the matter, you may request to be moved to another unit. If the landlord will not cooperate, you may choose to assert your right to declare the landlord in breach of the lease, move out and sue the landlord for damages. Get legal advice before taking this action because if you move out without protecting your rights, you may be held liable for damages for breaching the 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.”

E-mail questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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