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RENT WATCH

Plumbing Job Upsets Tenants; Landlord Can Help

September 22, 1996|From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: For the last three weeks I have been replacing all the pipes in my apartment complex, and I was naive to think that my tenants would be grateful for the resulting improvement in water pressure and quality. But quite the opposite is happening. I had hoped that my tenants would be more understanding and would put up with the inconvenience, just as they would in their own homes. I am incurring major expenses, and now I have to face tenants who are angry and impatient because their water is turned off each morning until late afternoon and because the plumbers go in and out of their apartments daily. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Most tenants understand the need for maintenance and repairs and will cooperate with workers for a few days. However, even the most patient tenants can become annoyed when they are deprived of water all day for more than a week, when they put up with the inconvenience of having workmen in their homes every day and when they have to clean up the mess the workmen leave behind.

Nevertheless, there are a few things that you might be able to do to alleviate the problems for your tenants. For example, convince the contractor (possibly by offering a cash incentive for early completion) to bring in a full crew so the work will be finished sooner.

Ask the plumbers to finish one section of the complex before starting the next one. Instruct the plumbers to be courteous and considerate and to pay attention to details such as wiping their feet before entering the units, removing debris at the end of each day and making sure the doors are secured at all times.

Your frequent and consistent presence at the job will also reassure your tenants that you are closely watching the work and the workers.

Because most people become nervous--or irritated--when they do not know what is going on, make sure to keep your tenants informed of the progress. Also, you might consider having a cleaning service do a thorough cleaning of the areas affected by the repairs. If you do, tell your tenants in advance.

Because of the inconvenience, you might offer financial compensation for your tenants. You could provide a small daily allowance for each day of work done in their unit, or a flat amount to be deducted from the following month's rent. You may also consider special problems, like the effect on families who must stay at home all day with young children and who would be considerably more inconvenienced than those who leave early each day and return late. By treating your tenants with consideration, you will not only reduce their level of frustration, but you will have a better chance to obtain their willing cooperation.

You may even consider a courtesy gesture, such as a gift certificate or a small gift, along with a note thanking them for putting up with the work to improve the complex.

Think of your tenants as partners without whom you could not run your business and treat them as you would like to be treated if you were in their position.

Kids Can't Be Banned From Upper Units Q: I was recently looking for an apartment and found a unit that was just right for my family. But when I turned in the rental application, the agent told me I couldn't rent that apartment because it was on the second floor and children are not allowed in upstairs units. She explained that there had been lots of problems with noise complaints and that I could rent a first floor apartment when one became available.

Although the issue of noise problems made sense to me, I was very frustrated in being turned down. Is there anything I can do if this kind of situation comes up again?

A: The policies that this agent told you about are illegal. Federal law makes it illegal to assign "any person to a particular section of a community . . . or development, or to a particular floor of a building because of . . . familial status . . ." (CFR 100.70 [a] [4). This means that property owners can not restrict groups of people to certain apartments or areas of a complex.

You may want to contact your local fair housing agency for more information about familial status discrimination. In Northern California, call (415) HOUS1NG. In Southern California, call (213) HOUS1NG.

Owner Is Responsible for Safe Lighting Q: I live in an apartment complex that has a number of long corridors. Our manager--and maintenance people--are very careless. There are always many burned-out lights along these corridors, and sometimes they are all out. It is scary and seems dangerous, but nothing happens when we complain to the manager. Doesn't the owner have to provide safe lighting?

A: If anything were to happen to you or other tenants or guests, the owner could be held responsible for negligence. In fact, negligence is the most frequent reason for which tenants or guests injured by a housing defect sue landlords.

Even if there are no complaints from tenants, the owner is expected to conduct reasonable inspections, and in this case, he or she should know that there is a lighting problem.

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