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Message #902 Tenant rights: Renting (Pt. 2)

mp3 #902 What Should You Know Before You Rent? Part 2 (mp3 file)


1 - Who should make repairs in your home?

2- Can the owner come into your home without asking you?

3 - What are the owner’s rights?

4 – What are your rights?

5 - Can you report the owner if the home is unavailable?

6 - What can you do instead of reporting the owner?

First, Who should make repairs in your home?

You should – if you, your family or a friend cause the damage. For example, if your child breaks a window, you must replace the glass. Or you can ask the owner or manager to make the repair but you must be prepared to pay for it. If you did not cause the damage, the owner probably is responsible for making the repairs.

The best time to ask for repairs or improvements is before you move in - but after the lease is signed. Walk through the apartment or house with the owner or manager and ask to have certain things fixed. You may want to take a friend along. Then, your friend can be a witness if you and the owner later disagree about the repairs to be made.

It also is a good idea to take pictures of any problems, like a broken table leg or light fixture. Be sure that you and your friend initial and date the photographs. These photos also can help you prove that you are entitled to get back the security deposit when you move.

If the repairs are not made by the date that was promised, send a reminder in the mail and keep a copy.

Next, can the owner come into your home without asking you?

Yes - but only in emergencies. For example, perhaps water overflows a bathtub in the apartment above yours. The owner can check your apartment for water damage - even if you are not at home.

The owner can enter your apartment or house for certain other reasons, too - but only after giving you a 24-hour notice, and only during normal business hours. For example, if you plan to move, the owner has a right to show the apartment or house to other people. Or, the owner might want to bring in an electrician to check the wiring.

What are the owner's rights?

The owner has a right to expect you follow the rules of your rental agreement. For example, you certainly should pay your rent on time and keep the apartment or house clean. And you should not bother other tenants with noisy parties or a television set turned up full blast.

In addition, you should use the apartment or house only as it is meant to be used. For example, don't cook if there is no kitchen.

The owner also has the right to expect you to fix anything you damage. For instance, if you break a lamp in a furnished apartment, you should repair or replace it.

If you do not do these things, the owner may have a good reason to ask you to move. And if you do not move, the owner can sue to evict you.

Also, although no one can refuse to rent to people with children, the owner can limit the number of people living in the apartment.

The owner also has the right to sell the building. If so, your lease - if you have one - will not change and the owner must either transfer your deposits to the new owner or refund them. If the deposits are transferred, the owner must tell you in writing and give you the new owner's name, address and telephone number.

What are your rights?

You may rent your apartment to someone else, as long as your agreement does not say you cannot. This is called "subleasing."

If the agreement forbids subleasing, check with the owner and try to get approval in writing. Be sure that your subtenant is responsible. If a subtenant does not pay the rent or damages the place, you will have to pay.

Some communities have "rent-control" laws that give you certain protections against rent increases. These laws usually say when and how much your rent can be raised. Many local governments have "rent board" agencies that can help you with issues involving local rent laws and ordinances.

You also have the right to a decent place to live for the rent you pay. The law says that your apartment must be livable. If the apartment is not livable - through no fault of your own - you can move. You may not have to pay rent after you move, even though you have a lease.

According to the law, for a place to be unlivable or "untenantable," the problem must be substantial and may involve:

-poor waterproofing and weather proofing, such as broken windows.

-plumbing that is not in good working order.

-not enough hot and cold running water to bathe and clean.

-no heat.

-electrical lighting that is not in good working order.

-dirty grounds and building - or a build-up of trash -

At the time you move in. -roaches and rodents.

-not enough trash cans to hold your garbage.

-floors, stairs and railings that are not in good repair.

Can you report the owner if the apartment is unlivable?

Yes. Let's say the furnace has not worked for six weeks in the middle of winter - and the owner won't fix it, in spite of all your phone calls and letters. In this case, you can report the owner to a housing or building inspection department.

What if there are rats or mice in the building? Maybe garbage sits around for a week at a time. Then, you should call the county or city health department. A lot of trash in the hallways could be a fire hazard. In this case, you can report the owner to the fire department.

The government department you call may give the owner a written notice to correct the problem within 60 days. If there is no improvement in that time, you can sue the owner.

What can you do instead of reporting the owner?

If the problems affect tenant ability, you can make repairs yourself or pay to have them made. Then, you can deduct that money from your rent. But you cannot deduct more than the cost of one month's rent for any one repair. And you cannot use the repair and deduct remedy more than twice a year.

You also could stop paying rent until repairs are made. This can be a risky procedure without legal advice, because the owner may sue you if you do not pay rent. And, you probably should put your rent money into an "escrow" account. This means that your rent money is kept in a savings account or safe deposit box. This makes sure that you will have the money to pay the rent, when repairs are made or if you have to move.

In either case, be sure to write to the owner first, saying what you plan to do. You also must give the owner a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs.

If you have a major complaint about the owner, it is possible that the other tenants do too. Get them together to talk things over. Perhaps all of the tenants will sign a letter asking the owner to make a certain repair or improvement. Or, they might select one person to meet with the owner on behalf of all the tenants.

If all else fails, you and the other people in the building might consider holding a rent strike. In California, rent strikes are legal only under certain conditions. So you and the other tenants may want to pool your money and hire a lawyer.

Even if you do not hold a rent strike, you may need a lawyer's help.

View message #903 for information about eviction.

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