Question: I have been living in the same apartment more than 12 years and the walls need to be repainted. Not only are they dirty, but paint is peeling off the bathroom walls. Also, the molding in my apartment is chipped in many places, and the wooden cabinets in the bathroom have lost outer strips of wood due to moisture. I keep asking the manager about getting my apartment repainted but receive no response. Generally, they paint an apartment only when vacated. Does my landlord have any responsibility to repaint and fix the cabinets? Furthermore, my ceiling leaks. Is the landlord liable to repair the ceiling?

Property manager Griswold replies:

Your landlord is required to properly maintain the rental unit. This includes any deficiencies in habitability, such as water intrusion. Absent any specific local laws, the issue of painting is a little more complicated. If the rental unit needs to be repainted for habitability reasons (like the chipping and peeling that you describe) then the landlord is responsible. If the primary reason to repaint is cosmetic, then the landlord does not have a duty to repaint. Note that the dirt on the walls would typically not constitute a habitability problem by itself, however, if you cannot reasonably wipe down the walls without the paint coming off then you have a habitability problem caused by poor paint quality. Of course, if the paint is of high quality and you have damaged the paint or somehow your lifestyle resulted in a diminishment of the paint’s typical useful life then the landlord has an argument that you caused damage beyond ordinary wear and tear and thus you are responsible for the damage yourself. The same general line of reasoning applies to the cabinets. Generally, if it is cosmetic then the landlord is not required by law to address it. If the issue becomes health and safety in the use of the cabinets, then the landlord should take care of them. The bottom line should be that your landlord properly maintains the property and charges you a market level rent. You have been there 12 years and clearly there should be many items that need attention and should be handled by the landlord without any complaints. Many times landlords do not raise the rent to market level hoping that the tenant won’t complain about anything and then they get upset when the tenants ask for necessary repairs. Also, many tenants realize that their rent is below market so they don’t bring up the issue of problems in their rental unit. The best way for everyone is for the landlord to offer a well-maintained and properly priced rental unit and the tenant to receive good value for their money and the expectation that any necessary repairs will be handled promptly and professionally. But often both tenants and landlords are responsible for deviating from this preferred practice.

Question: I have a 4-unit building with a garage for one of the units. The tenant contends that I need to alert her 24 hours before I enter the garage. Yourthoughts. I have tools and other items in this garage.

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

The laws and rights of tenants regarding the entry by a landlord apply to all the rented space in a residential situation, including a garage. These rights generally only apply to a garage when the tenant has the exclusive right of possession over that space (i.e., it is their garage as part of the rental agreement). In that case, you may not enter without a permissible purpose and then only after giving reasonable notice, which is defined as at least 24 hours, except in an emergency. The notice may need to be longer than that if the tenant has a good reason why 24 hours is just not reasonable under the circumstances. The situation may be different, however, if the garage is not specifically provided to the tenant and you typically share its use, such as storing and regularly accessing your own personal property. In that case, you may be able to enter it at any time without notice since it is a shared space and the tenant may not have exclusive rights to that garage. Obviously, a rental agreement covering the use of the garage would be helpful.

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.’

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