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Tenant Not Obligated

February 14, 1993

I disagree with the information contained in the Jan. 31 "Rent Watch." The question concerned the requirement that tenants should advise landlords of problems. The response concluded that the failure of a tenant to notify a landlord of a leaky pipe "could be seen as neglect."

Although I believe tenants should inform their landlords of defects and problems, I don't believe there is a legal duty to do so.

The article referenced an action for "neglect." The law of negligence requires the establishment of a duty owed to another individual. A duty may be established either by law or by contractual obligation.

There is no statute, of which I am aware, that requires a tenant to so inform a landlord. The standard agreement between residential landlord and tenant, of which I have reviewed many, does not typically impose an obligation upon the tenant to report damage to the unit.

Lease language typically states that "Tenant shall keep the premises . . . in good order and condition and shall pay for any repairs caused by Tenant's negligence or misuse or that of Tenant's invitees." This language still does not create, in my opinion, a duty to report problems to a landlord in the leased property such as those described in the question (i.e. leaky pipe) as the leak was clearly not caused by the negligence of the tenant or his/her invitee.

California Civil Code Section 1954 affords landlords their own opportunity to periodically (after proper notice) enter the property for the specific purpose of inspection to protect their investment. An attempt to shift this responsibility onto the tenant is, in my opinion, irresponsible. Many tenants do not report the need for repairs due to fear of being evicted or having their rent increased.

The article concludes that landlords should encourage tenants to report problems. Responsible tenants will do so. And responsible landlords will embark upon a periodic inspection program of their own property.



Narevsky is an attorney.

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