August 18, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver
“Mr. Beaver, my parents are in their 70’s and inherited over half a million dollars they want to use to acquire rental homes. Our town has a rental shortage, therefore high rents can be charged, which is what they intend to do. But there’s a problem and I’m trying to convince them this is a bad idea,” Julie’s email began.
“They are know-it-all, greedy misers with no concept of a landlord’s legal obligations. Their response to my suggestion of hiring a property manager was, ‘No! Why pay for that?’ Growing up, our house was always run down. They could write you a check for $100,000, but maintenance at home just wasn’t done. In short, my parents would make the world’s worst landlords.
“On the positive side, they read your column. I imagine you’ve come across landlords like they would be and what happened to them. Please tell us about a real-life situation, Thanks, Julie.”
First week no hot water – gas turned off
When that email came in, we were helping Southern California reader Stacey deal with elderly landlords just like Julie’s parents could very well become.
She signed a lease for a lovely three-bedroom house on March 10th, moved in the next day finding that the landlord had the gas turned off instead of allowing Stacey to put it in her name. This resulting in a week without hot water or heat.
All states require rentals to be habitable, which means heat and hot water. A violation has significant legal consequences for cheapskate landlords, such as a tenant withholding rent until the unit is habitable.
“E” for evil was how these owners handled a safety issue. “The hot water heater, fireplace and gas furnace were all ‘red-tagged’ by a gas company employee who wrote, Significant Risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Must be repaired by licensed HVAC contractor.
“I phoned the owners. They came out, went up in the attic themselves, and I heard banging sounds. Turning on the gas themselves after tearing-up the red tags, they told me,
‘We’ve fixed the problems.’”
Fortunately our reader took photos of the tags which proved to be great evidence later.
Too cheap to hire a gardener – Wanted post-dated checks
Over the next two months, without providing Stacey notice, Mr. and Mrs. Skinflint came “A total of nine times to fertilize the grass and apply weed pre-emergent, which I knew was too late and I told them. They just laughed at me. When I suggested they hire a professional gardening service, they said, “That costs money.”
“This was frightening for my young children who were playing in the yard when, ‘Two old people came in and told us to get into the house and stay there!’ Stacey explained.
“I always paid the rent early, but the owners repeatedly came to the house, demanding that I give them, post-dated checks. When I refused, they sent their daughter, who banged on the door, insisting that I give her the rent check.
“Twice they just showed up ‘To conduct an inspection,’ and I told them this violated the law. They laughed at me and wandered around the house, complaining that the boy’s room was messy. There was no way to please them, so I am contacting you for advice,” Stacey wrote.
At our recommendation, Stacey spoke with Code Enforcement/Building and Safety in Stacey’s town who sent out an inspector, confirmed the landlord had violated the law by tearing off the red tags and sent a notification of possible legal action against them.
“You don’t like it here then MOVE!”
Next, getting all four of us on a conference call, I asked the couple–who own three paid-for rentals–to explain tearing off the red tags, the nine yard visits, and the inspections, “Do you plan to respect her privacy?”
Their answer was expected. “If Stacey doesn’t like it here, then she can move!” Click.
The next day she was served with an eviction notice. This proved to be a costly mistake.
By trying to evict Stacey, the landlord’s action would be seen as retaliatory for her involving You and the Law and filing a complaint with Code Enforcement. A landlord is not allowed to raise rent or evict if the motivation stems from reprisals against the tenant for exercising a host of tenant rights.
Often lawyers who represent landlords like Stacey’s are the last to know the extent of their client’s stupidity. Fortunately their attorney took an objective look at the situation, realized the thousands of dollars in damages Stacey could be awarded, and handed her a cashier’s check that fairly compensated for the grief and moving expenses.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.