Question: I have rented my condo to a low-income family through the city’s rental assistance program. The government pays the majority of their rent, as there is only one working adult and four children in the rental unit. The nonworking father constantly is calling me to point out things that may need repair or replaced mostly from wear and tear. Every contact includes his offer to do the repairs as long as I pay him. I am tired of his persistent calls and I am beginning to wonder if I should let him do the work? Or should I continue to rely on my trusted handyman from outside?
Now he complains that the carpet is dirty and can’t be cleaned because the stain keeps coming back due to the pad also being stained. I replaced the carpet, including the padding, less than three years ago. After hearing this complaint over and over, I made a personal inspection and found that the carpet isn’t as dirty or badly stained as he claimed, and actually I could see no reason to replace it. After another month, the working mother, who may be annoyed by the nonworking father, called and wished to have part of the carpet replaced, and asked if I could “subsidize” the cost. There are four children and a dog, with a nonworking adult at home most of the time that really accelerates the wear and tear of everything in the condo. I think I have a “professional tenant” who is pushing me to the breaking point. What should I do?
Property manager Griswold replies:
Personally I would avoid having the tenant do any work at your property under any circumstances. Landlords that allow tenants to make even routine repairs around the rental property often regret their decision. While I am sure there are many very handy, capable and honest tenants who have the necessary knowledge, training, certifications and materials to complete virtually any repair, I have seen too many situations where the work was not done properly and there were negative consequences. I suggest you stick with your trusted handyman and have him be sure to carefully document his findings on his invoices about the condition of the property before the repair and exactly what he did. The request for replacing the 3-year-old carpet seems to be unreasonable based on complaints of dirt and stains, as the tenant is responsible for properly maintaining the carpet through regularly vacuuming or periodic cleaning. Failing to perform routine housekeeping and to demand new carpet every few years is unacceptable. Most tenants do properly take care of the rental unit and don’t make unrealistic requests so I can see your concern in this case.
Overall, it seems like it may be in your best interest to not renew the tenant’s lease at the appropriate time. Check with the city program officials to see the quickest and proper way to terminate or nonrenew this lease. While landlords should always avoid unnecessary turnover, I think that continuing with this tenant is likely to be a problem, and this is a scenario in which I have seen litigation develop down the road based on claims that you failed to properly maintain your rental property when the reality is the tenant did not fulfill his/her obligation to perform basic housekeeping. Your feeling that this is a “professional tenant” may be accurate and it is better to go through turnover of your unit now rather than face a tenant that trumps up some reason to not pay rent or to create a situation where they can turn around and sue you. I suggest you continue to promptly and professionally address each and every concern they raise and keep diligent records, and simply serve them a termination notice at the earliest opportunity or do not renew their lease while smiling and being polite and gracious as they leave your property. I am sure there are many other potential tenants that the city can offer you through their low-income program that would keep the property in good condition and appreciate the housing opportunity that you are offering without being unreasonable in their expectations.
Question: Who is responsible for washing the outside of apartments’ windows? I have rented my second-floor apartment for 16 years, and the landlord has never washed the windows. They are filthy! I asked him once several years ago if he ever washes the windows and he laughed and said, “No.” With old sash-style windows, it’s impossible for me to clean them from the inside. What can I do?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
Tenants must take care of their dwelling and use it in a normal manner. Tenants are not responsible for damages that occur through ordinary and normal use (ordinary wear and tear). Dirt is generally not considered ordinary wear and tear. The unit must be cleaned when moving out or the landlord may deduct cleaning costs from the deposit unless the unit was very dirty when moving in. What about cleaning during the tenancy? The law does not require cleaning by the tenant during the tenancy except if the unit is abused and then the landlord may seek to evict for either no reason or for good cause when appropriate. Like good arguments, windows have two sides. The insides are — or at least should eventually be — the responsibility of the tenant to clean. The outside of the windows is a different story. That is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain but not necessarily clean. Unfortunately, building and safety housing codes do not generally require a landlord to clean the outside of the windows during the tenancy. Dirty windows are no fun, but they do not violate housing codes nor do they create “substandard” housing regardless of whether they can be cleaned easily or not. If you want them clean, you may have to do it yourself or, if too difficult or dangerous, you may have to hire a professional. The law imposes a duty on the landlord to maintain a safe and habitable dwelling, not necessarily one with crystal-clear window views. If clean exterior windows are a priority, have a clean-window agreement with the landlord before moving in.
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 James McKinley, member of the Moffitt & Associates law firm, which represents landlords.
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