Relocation costs during renovation upset renters

Should tenants be entitled to compensation?

Question: The management has been renovating all the apartments where we live. They force tenants to move to other apartments while their apartment is renovated. All the temporary moves are at the tenant’s expense. If the tenant chooses to come back to the renovated apartment, he/she has to pay higher rent. Should the landlord management company pay the moving expenses? What are the tenant’s rights in this case?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

The landlord has a right to make routine repairs and maintenance on the unit. This right also includes renovations to upgrade the apartment. The policy of the law (i.e. the general trend of laws) is to promote the better and higher use of property. This is a public policy of many jurisdictions because local governments would rather have nicer, more expensive properties than ones that become dilapidated with age and lack of maintenance. (Of course, more expensive properties means more property taxes for them.) If you are renting month to month, the landlord may simply ask you to vacate the unit permanently (eviction) to work on a vacant unit without paying any of your expenses. If you do not live in a jurisdiction with some eviction controls and you are on a month-to-month agreement, a 30-day notice (or 60 days or even longer in some jurisdictions) to terminate tenancy without cause may be sufficient. If you are on an ongoing lease, the landlord would have to pay the expenses for the temporary move and you should not be evicted. As a tenant on an ongoing lease, you could decide to move entirely and ask the landlord to pay you for the early termination of your lease as well as your moving expenses. If you do not live in a rent-controlled area, the landlord could raise the rent upon your return to the renovated unit. Of course, if the rent is reasonable for the area and the renovations are significant, it may be worthwhile to stay there since you would be getting the benefits of the “newer” unit.

Question: I was wondering if you could help me with a situation I am having with my landlord. My wife and I signed a year lease about nine months ago. We have decided to buy a home and we close on this home at the end of next month but our lease isn’t up for four more months. I have informed my landlord of our situation and he still states that we are responsible for the remainder of the lease. I cannot afford a mortgage and rent for four months. What are my options here?

Property manager Griswold replies:

This is a question you should have asked before making the commitment to buy a new home. At this point, you don’t really have any options if the landlord is not willing to voluntarily let you out of your lease. You signed a legally binding contract with your landlord and now you have signed a legally binding contract to buy a home. It is not the landlord’s problem (or the home seller’s either) that you decided to buy a home and can’t afford the rent and a mortgage payment. You should have thought of that and not signed the lease last year or waited on the new home for a couple of months or made the purchase contingent on closing at the end of your lease. You could have even explained the situation to the new seller and he/she may have been willing to assist you with a credit in escrow or some other concession that might help with the financial burden. But it’s tough to get anyone to help you at this point, as you are legally obligated and your landlord and the home seller have no reason to come to your rescue. If you do vacate and move into the new home, the landlord is required to mitigate your damages and make a reasonable effort to re-lease the rental, but that is no guarantee that he will find someone within the four months left on your lease. I suggest you do your very best to leave the rental in rent-ready condition and try to assist the landlord by offering to allow prospective tenants to view the property while you still live there. You can also try to locate a new qualified tenant yourself by spreading the word to everyone you know and putting up signs or placing ads. Remember that they have to meet the landlord’s usual tenant screening criteria. This may work, but the only sure thing is to be prepared to pay for both the rental and the new home for at least four months.

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 James McKinley, member of the Moffitt & Associates law firm, which represents landlords.

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

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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