Question: I live in a Section 8 apartment community for seniors. I live on the fourth floor and cannot walk. I use a wheelchair to get around, as most others do in my building. A few weeks ago the elevator in our building broke down and it was not fixed for more than seven days, stranding all second-, third- and fourth-floor tenants who were in their apartments. Those residents who happened to be out of their apartment the day the elevator stopped working couldn’t return for a week. After having exhausted the city, state and even the Americans with Disabilities Act, all have said there is nothing that can be done. Someone on my floor called in a fire alarm last weekend, and I am being blamed. What recourse do I and others like me have?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
Elevators, like cars, can break down and need to be repaired. Like cars also, they can be maintained with routine servicing to help prevent such breakdowns. A brief check with at least one local elevator company confirmed my belief that maintenance service agreements are readily available for landlords with elevators in their buildings. The elevators commonly used in apartments use the hydraulic or friction system. When they are properly maintained with routine servicing and inspections, breakdowns should be a rare occurrence. Unless there is a significant failure needing a new motor, valve or other main part, I am told that most maintenance issues can be handled within one day, even during the holidays. Only when major or uncommon parts are needed should there be a delay of more than one day. Unless there was a significant problem with the elevator in your building, you should not have had to wait a week for the repair. If the delay was avoidable, you and the other affected tenants may be entitled to compensation for the inconvenience. Your landlord should have the elevator regularly maintained (i.e., with a service agreement) to avoid breakdowns.
Question: My landlord told me a few days ago that my rent was increasing by $50 and that he put a notice on my door. I never found a notice on my door and told him so. He says I still have to pay. What rights do I have as a tenant? I agree to pay the increase, but feel that since I never received the notice, he should have sent it by mail or hand delivered it to me.
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
In a non-rent-controlled jurisdiction, a landlord may raise the rent in a periodic (i.e., month-to-month) tenancy at anytime and for any amount. Legal procedures must be followed, which include properly serving you a written notice of the rent increase. The legally required length of time between the date of service and the effective date of the rent increase can vary based on state or local requirements. Most times a 30-day written notice will meet the legal requirements, but 60 days or more can be required if the increase is significant (i.e. 10 percent or more). The notice may be personally served to you. Under certain circumstances, however, it may be given to someone else at your home or posted on the door and then, in either of these two methods, another copy must be mailed to you. Typically the law does not say your landlord must prove that you actually received the notice, only that it was “served” as per procedures. Your agreement to the rent raise is not required. Rent increases as part of a lease renewal may not have to follow these procedures (depending on the lease) since the rent increase will most likely be considered a new rental rate as part of a new contract.
Question: I am a tenant and I do not like the color of the paint in one of the rooms of my apartment. If I will be supplying the paint and labor, is it OK to repaint the unit?
Property Manager Griswold replies:
I would strongly suggest that you not begin to repaint any portion of your rental unit without the advance written permission of the owner. The landlord has a vested interest in making sure that the work and materials are of high quality. A sloppy paint job in a non-traditional color could lead to the landlord having to completely repaint the rental unit upon tenant turnover with the full charge being deducted from the tenant’s security deposit. Some dark paint colors could even require primer coats and two coats of paint, thus increasing the cost significantly. As the tenant, make sure that your have the advance in writing and let the landlord supply the paint and materials. Then the only concern will be the quality of your work and naturally you would be responsible for any damage.
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.
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