Question: We have been renting a home for many years on a month-to-month basis. Over the past few years we have had situations where repairs were needed that were either a safety or health risk to our family. Some of the repairs were approved and completed by our landlord, while many other requests for repairs were ignored. The repairs that were ignored by the landlord were completed by us. The landlord has been told about all the repairs prior to us making them. We were never reimbursed for these repairs nor did we deduct the cost from any of these repairs from our rent payments. There are still even more repairs that need to be made. We have made the landlord aware of these repairs and they are being ignored as the others were. We don’t feel we should continue to spend our own money to have these repairs made. Are we correct?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
Your landlord should be making all necessary repairs. If your landlord refuses to repair a condition or defect (especially ones that affect health and safety) after reasonable notice of the problem, you have the option to repair it yourself and deduct the cost from next month’s rent. The law limits this remedy to a repair bill that does not exceed a month’s rent, and you cannot do this more than twice a year. Also, this remedy is not available to you if you caused the damage by use beyond ordinary wear and tear. Be sure of the significance of the defect and do not forget to give reasonable notice of it to the landlord before deducting the cost from the rent. If the landlord objects to the deduction, a tenant-landlord attorney (like our ever lovable co-columnist Ted Smith) may be filing an eviction case against you for non-payment of rent. In some cases, you may bring such a claim for repair bills you paid as long as four years ago, while other claims must be made much sooner. Therefore, it is better to make any such claims as soon as possible to avoid any statute of limitation restrictions. You are entitled to reimbursement for the repairs your landlord approved and probably also the ones not approved if they were truly necessary and you had given ample notice before doing them. If the landlord does not honor your claim, you may use the Small Claims Court to settle the matter
Question: My landlord has presented me with a new lease at my upcoming renewal and it has a new clause dealing with abandonment. There is specific language that says I must notify the landlord in writing anytime I am absent from the unit in excess of seven days. The language specifically says if I fail to do so I am in breach of the entire lease. I travel very frequently on business and this is a major hassle. I am in my sixth year of leasing here and have never been late with a rent payment, even through an employment lapse. Any pearls of wisdom?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
Landlords are on a “need to know” basis when it comes to sharing personal information. In this case, your landlord does not need to know your travel schedule. The landlord’s separation anxiety felt when you are not home is not your problem. As long as you timely pay the rent and take care of the property as required by law, you should be able to leave and return anytime. I believe that lease provision is an unwarranted intrusion into your privacy and is probably not valid or enforceable. Besides, there are usually laws describing when a unit is legally abandoned. For example, for the unit to be legally deemed abandoned, many states require that the rent must first be unpaid for a certain minimum period of time (such as 14 days or more). You would then get a legal notice indicating that the landlord believes that you have abandoned the property. You would then have about two weeks to reply and let the landlord know you have not abandoned the unit. Since you pay your rent on time each month, it would be pretty tough for your landlord to prove you have abandoned the unit merely because of business traveling.
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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