Question: I am currently renting a single-family home. When I moved in the appliances were in bad shape and/or didn’t work properly. The bottom line is they were just outdated and old. So I replaced them with brand-new appliances, i.e., wall oven range, stand-alone range, refrigerator and dishwasher. According to my lease I should not have done this without the owner’s permission. Now the owner is selling the property, which I do not intend to purchase. She is aware that the appliances were replaced. I have asked for some type of reimbursement for these appliances. I was told that since I did it without her permission she doesn’t have to offer me anything. In addition, I was told to replace the appliances immediately if I wanted to keep my new appliances, because once the house has been shown to prospective buyers the new appliances must remain. Is this true? I realize what I did was not proper, but these appliances have improved the showing of her home. In addition to other improvements I have made, which I don’t expect reimbursement for, is there anything I can do to get some type of reimbursement? Or do I just take the loss?
Landlords’ attorney Smith replies:
I understand your dilemma but, as the landlord’s attorney, I have to remind you that you did not have permission to install the new appliances. You have the right to remove them when you leave. But, you will have to account to your landlord for the value of the older appliances that you took out prior to installation of the new ones. Even though the house is shown with the appliances intact, you may still remove them. It is up to the owner to remind the buyer that those appliances are owned by you and that, if applicable, the buyer will have to install new appliances, or perhaps the seller can supply those as part of the purchase and sale arrangement. Your other option is to leave the appliances. Your landlord could offer you some reasonable compensation. Again, this is not required. Some courts might give you equitable relief by authorizing a reimbursement for the reasonable value of the items. Other, more landlord-oriented judges would state that since you did not have permission to place them in the property in the first place and made a deliberate decision not to remove them upon your departure, you are entitled to no compensation.
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
Old outdated appliances, especially ones that do not function, are not worth very much. Taking your new appliances away when you move and leaving nothing in their place is not much worse than what was there when you moved in. Your liability would probably be the value of the missing old and broken appliances, which may be very little. The lease may have required permission for modifications or alterations, but most appliances are simply items of personal property that can easily and legally be taken with you. You have the option to take your new appliances and leave something similar to what was there in their place. Any appliances similar to the broken and old ones should be legally sufficient (and pretty cheap to obtain). I do not think you lost the rights to take your appliances with you unless they were so permanently installed that they became part of the house, since that is pretty rare. Leaving your new ones there and expecting compensation is trickier since you are forcing their sale on the landlord. Some judges may go for that on the theory that the landlord is being unjustly enriched with a windfall, which is not fair. Others would say, leave them and lose them.
Question: I am renting an apartment and the landlord allows only one dog or cat with an additional security deposit of $500 for each animal. Nothing is said about birds. When I asked about possibly getting a bird he said he doesn’t allow birds because the bird seed would attract mice from the vacant field next to our property. I don’t believe that. What do you say and what is the law and where do I stand?
Property manager Griswold replies:
The owner of a rental property is not legally required to take pets with one exception: If the pet or animal is medically prescribed as a companion or service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Therefore, unless you qualify under the ADA law, your landlord is within the law to set uniform standards for allowing certain types of pets and not others. They can also make policies about the type of breed, size restrictions, etc., as long as they have the same policies for all tenants that are not qualified under the ADA protections. Thus, in your case about wanting to have a bird, it is not a question of whether you or I agree with the owner’s policy, as the owner can set his/her own guidelines as long as they apply them uniformly. While it is not relevant, I happen to agree with the owner that bird seed or any type of pet food or any food source can attract mice and vermin if the property is located near an open area where they may have nests or shelter.
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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