Question: I have been leasing an office for the past year. Since I typically use my office only four days a week I informed the landlord that a professional counseling peer and friend of mine was interested in the possibility of sharing my office. We have worked out our schedules so that they would only be using my office the one day a week that I am out of the office. The landlord said that he would need to raise my rent since the office would be used more and there would be increased use of electricity. Is this legal?

Question: I have been leasing an office for the past year. Since I typically use my office only four days a week I informed the landlord that a professional counseling peer and friend of mine was interested in the possibility of sharing my office. We have worked out our schedules so that they would only be using my office the one day a week that I am out of the office. The landlord said that he would need to raise my rent since the office would be used more and there would be increased use of electricity. Is this legal? It seems to me that since I’m paying full rent, it shouldn’t be any of his concern whether I’m using it one day a week or seven.

Property manager Griswold replies:

If you have a lease, then the terms cannot be changed unless the lease specifically limits the use or there is language indicating that the rent will be adjusted if an additional co-tenant is added. If the lease is silent on this situation then the owner must wait until the end of the lease to change the terms. Of course, at that time, the landlord can raise the rent to whatever level he/she wants and you can choose to leave if the terms are unreasonable. Try to work out something fair. For example, if the space is individually metered, offer to pay the increase in the average monthly utility bill. If the building is not sub-metered, try to agree on a reasonable rent increase that approximates the increased use of electricity. An additional one day per week would only be a 20 percent increase; thus, if your landlord says that your utility usage of the office space runs $50 per month then the co-tenant would add about $10 per month to the landlord’s costs. You may want to consider offering a higher amount (even $25-50 per month) as long as you get a new lease with an extension so that you lock in your office space for the long run.

Question: We recently entered into a five-year lease agreement for three contiguous office suites in a commercial office building located in an area that can be very hot.During our first week, outside temperatures have ranged from 98 to 104 degrees.Suite “A” has a thermostat and is quite cool, but Suite “B” has only one non-functioning ceiling air vent that runs from Suite “A,” and the room temperature has averaged 82 to 83 degrees from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Suite “C” is also the same temperature as the thermostat, which is actually installed in a separate suite unrelated to our business, so it comes on only when the other tenant is “hot.” Is there is a legal standard that set forth the minimum and or maximum temperature of a commercial office building?Additionally, can we void the lease based on habitability if the landlord does not respond to our requests for repair?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

There are standards for safe and healthy work environments that an employer must provide for their employees.These standards are not necessarily the direct responsibility of the landlord in a commercial lease situation.In such leases, the tenant does not have the same habitability rights that a residential tenant does.A commercial tenant may not repair and deduct or withhold the rent if the landlord fails to make repairs.In commercial tenancies, it is generally legal to shift the responsibility of maintenance to the tenant if that is agreed upon in the lease.Therefore, your lease will govern as to who is responsible to maintain, repair or even replace the air conditioning system.If the lease provides that the landlord is responsible for the air conditioning system maintenance, you are within your rights to demand (in writing) that any needed work be done.If it is not done, you may have grounds to “break” the lease if the needed repairs are significant.If they are not, you may be better served to repair it yourself and simply sue for the reimbursement.If the repair cost is within $5,000, you may even use the Small Claims Court.Keep your rent current to protect your rights.See an attorney to review the lease before taking any action.

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.

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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