Q: I live by myself and have a large home. To help cover my mortgage I decided to rent out a couple of the extra bedrooms. My two roommates each have their own bedroom and bathroom, and we share the living room and kitchen and rest of the house.
Last weekend, one of my tenants was dying a leather belt in the kitchen and he accidentally tipped the bottle over and spilled dye all over the linoleum flooring. He tried in vain to clean it up quickly, but there is nothing that will take this permanent dye out of the flooring. This is sheet vinyl and the damage is permanent and will require the entire linoleum to be replaced.
My tenant at first balked at paying anything but has now approached me with a proposal that he’d pay for 20 percent of the new flooring. He justifies this amount based on this type of flooring having a lifetime expectancy of 15 years, and it is now approximately 12 years old. Therefore, he calculates that the remaining life is three years, or 20 percent of the lifetime expectancy (3/15 or 20 percent).
The linoleum may be 12 years old, but it is my favorite pattern and is in excellent condition. I had no plans to replace it for many years. I have received three bids and want to be reasonable so I would be willing to evenly split the $500 for the cost of materials and labor to replace it. He thinks that is unfair, as I will get a new floor. What is your opinion?
A: I think you are being very reasonable in offering to pay half the cost. While it was an accident, the tenant caused the damage through his negligence. He could have taken precautions to avoid any potential damage to your property. While he may feel that the flooring had only three years of remaining life, because it is in excellent condition there is nothing that would require you to replace your kitchen linoleum at this time except for the damage they caused.
Many homeowners have kitchen flooring that lasts for much longer than 15 years, especially if the linoleum was good quality and is properly maintained and is not damaged by sunlight. The tenant should accept your offer and be glad that you did not do your own calculation that you intended to keep the flooring for another 25 years!
Q: I recently signed a one-lease year to rent an apartment in a two-family house. It wasn’t until a week or so later that I discovered the main vehicle access to the property is on an extremely narrow driveway. I have an oversized SUV and can squeeze by only after backing up and going forward about 10 times! I have only about six inches on both sides when driving in the driveway as the house is on one side and a block masonry wall is on the other. My fear is that next winter it will be impassable and I will not be able to get out.
I am trying to break the lease; however, the owner is saying she will not do this. If in fact there is bad weather and the driveway is impassable, can I sue for time lost from work? Maybe I could just withhold the rent that month. I work as an hourly consultant so damages would be easy to access.
A: It is my opinion that a narrow driveway is not a legal reason to break a lease unless the landlord made you specific promises or guarantees in advance about the driveway that were a material part of the lease. In other words, you would have had to have an agreement with your landlord in advance and made the use of the driveway a condition of your acceptance of the terms of the lease. For example, maybe you told the landlord that you are not willing to lease the property unless the landlord promised that the driveway would always be usable throughout the entire year or was even widened. Then if the driveway became impassable and the landlord failed to take appropriate measures, you may indeed have a breach by the landlord of a material element of the lease. But absent such an agreement, I do not believe that you have the right to sue the landlord if the driveway were to become impassable in the winter.
Also, I would not advise withholding rent without first contacting a tenants rights attorney in your area. You can always contact the landlord and see if she will agree to let you out of the lease, but otherwise I would say that your lease is binding.
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."
E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.