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Who Pays for Repairs Inside Rental Units?

June 11, 1995|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group

QUESTION: I live in North Hollywood, and I have some questions about problems arising between landlords and tenants with respect to repair and maintenance. If a faucet needs a new washer or a pipe under the sink is leaking, who is responsible to pay for the repair? What if a drain gets clogged? How about a microwave oven? What is customary (or lawful) regarding repairs?

ANSWER: In general, if the landlord owns it and it broke or clogged without any negligence on the tenant's part, the landlord is responsible to fix it.

For example, a leaky washer in a faucet would almost always be the responsibility of the landlord. The fixing of a leaky pipe under the sink also would usually be the responsibility of the landlord. However, if the tenant broke the pipe through some type of negligence, its repair expense would be his.

Clogged drains flow both ways. Sometimes, tree roots interfere with drainage and that's a landlord's rooter bill (unless you put roots down the drain). On the other hand, if you put Tinkertoys down the toilet, you get the bill.

Fixing a microwave that you own, even one that was a gift from the landlord, is your responsibility. Fixing one that's provided with the apartment is the landlord's financial responsibility, unless, of course, you somehow negligently broke it.

New Management Can't Find Tenant's Rent Check

Q: I live in Los Angeles. My rent is due on the first of the month and I always pay it on time. In late April I got a phone call from the management company. They said that they never got my January rent check.

I can't understand why they waited until now to tell me this, but they did. In the past the prior resident manager used to place a box outside of her apartment unit for rent checks, and I always put mine in on the first of the month.

Unfortunately, my bank has no record of the check being cashed, which leads me to believe that either the former manager or management company lost or misplaced my check. While my bank statement doesn't show a debit for this check, I can't find the "extra" money in there either.

My first question is: Am I responsible for writing another check for the January rent even though I know I already wrote and delivered one?

Also, the new resident manager phones me almost daily about old rental checks from last year that the management company apparently lost. He constantly badgers me for copies of the checks even though I have explained to him that the bank is being slow in getting those copies to me.

Finally, he phoned me the other day saying that I should discuss anything and everything relating to the apartment via the telephone. I told him that I do everything in writing so there are no misunderstandings about what is said.

Never in my life have I had so much contact with either a manager or management company. My second question is: Do you think that I am being unduly harassed, particularly since I'm being asked to write a new check for a 3-month-old rental check and am constantly being asked about last year's rent checks?

A: If the rent check has not been cashed, the rent probably is not paid. Failing to pay the rent can result in eviction. Unless you can prove you paid the rent, you should write another check for the January rent.

You also should have your bank reconcile your checking account to find out about the "extra" money. If they, or you, have made any record-keeping errors, you'll want to get that straightened out.

Before I answer your second question, I want to commend you for doing everything in writing, which leads me into the answer to your second question.

Any manager or management company that wants only to verbally discuss all issues relating to your tenancy is a poorly run concern. That sounds like the type of company that very well could lose rent checks, especially if their financial policies are consistent with their issue-discussion policies.

I can't say whether or not they are harassing you based upon the information you've provided. You will have a better feel for that by the way in which they talk to you and how patient they are with you.

If you believe that you are being harassed, you should contact a tenant/landlord lawyer to review your options.

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