Question: I am a homeowner and look for your column regularly. I have a garage in-law (a legally converted garage that is a rental unit) that is very cute and cozy. I have a married couple renting at the time, and they have been here nearly a year. Without going through all the gruesome details, “Dumb” and “Dumber” overstuffed my washer and dryer until they finally wore them out and now are out of order. It is very expensive to get them repaired and very expensive to replace. I have taken off $15 per month from their rent, and no longer include the washer and dryer in their rental agreement. When they move can I keep their security deposit for busting the appliances? They also warped the bathroom floor by flooding the shower, as they did not have the sense to pull the shower curtain inside the shower stall. That cost me $300 to get repaired. I don’t think I should be stuck with this expense.
Property manager Griswold replies:
I would say that you could charge them for legitimate damages. The warped bathroom floor from failing to properly use the shower curtain is clearly their responsibility. Actually, you are quite fortunate that they didn’t have an environmental claim alleging mold or other health condition, as water hitting the drywall and the floor can result in conditions that are conducive to the propagation and growth of organic substances including mildew and mold if the tenant fails to promptly and properly dry the wet areas.
The appliance replacement could also be charged back to the tenant if you can get an independent written verification from the repair people indicating that the washer and dryer were misused. If they simply wore out from too many cycles (not misused or overstuffed but that they simply did laundry several times per day) then I think you may have trouble charging them the repair costs if challenged, as such use could be construed by a Small Claims Court judge or commissioner as “normal wear and tear.” Having the “independent” opinion of the service repairperson would give you the proof that you need. Regardless, I would suggest that you be prepared to provide copies of the receipts for the repair costs to justify the security deposit deductions.
Question: I belong to an organization in our community that tries to help those with financial or other needs. We have a woman whose partner decided to leave her and her two children, and now she is responsible for an apartment lease that she cannot afford. Is there any way she can get out of the lease, which doesn’t expire for another eight months?
Property manager Griswold replies:
Contact the landlord and explain the situation and see if he/she will voluntarily agree to an early termination of the lease for the stated reasons. They are not legally obligated to allow this but may be compassionate under the circumstances. It is not in the landlord’s best interest to have a tenant that admittedly cannot afford the rent. You might also be able to offer assistance to the landlord in locating a new tenant by telling members of your organization about the vacant apartment. A positive attitude and pleasant manner are often the best attributes when trying to deal with unfortunate circumstances where you are seeking the cooperation of the landlord. Despite rumors to the contrary, most landlords are extremely compassionate and caring people.
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, principal in a law firm representing landlords.
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