QUESTION: After being warned several times in writing not to purchase or repair items in her apartment, my tenant purchased a dishwasher without giving me an opportunity to have the existing one repaired. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know the new one was installed until my repairman told me.
The problem now is that my tenant has deducted the cost of this dishwasher from her rent check and marked the check "Rent Paid in Full." I haven't cashed the rent check because I'm concerned I won't be able to collect the balance due. I like this tenant, but I don't think I should pay for the new dishwasher since she didn't give me enough time to fix the old one. What can I do?
ANSWER: First, there is no reason for you not to cash the rent check, even if it is not for the full amount. By doing so, you are not giving up your right to collect the full rent due, but cross out the wording "Rent Paid in Full."
Unless you've previously agreed to accept a payment as "Paid in Full," the notation your tenant has added is not valid. Your next step is to decide if you want to continue her tenancy. You always have the option of compromise. This could include offering to pay half (or some other portion) of the cost of the new dishwasher with the understanding that the dishwasher stays when the tenant moves. If your tenant agrees, be sure to put this agreement in writing.
If she doesn't agree, perhaps your tenant would prefer to pay the full cost and take the dishwasher when she moves. In this case, be sure to include an agreement from her to return the old dishwasher at move-out time.
However, if you do not intend to pay for the new appliance, you can serve the tenant with a three-day "Notice to Pay Rent or Quit" for the amount of unpaid rent. If she doesn't pay the balance due, you may proceed with the legal action. Contact your local housing mediation program for additional assistance.
For the future, be sure your rental agreements contain a clause that clearly states that modifications to premises or existing appliances are not allowed unless prior permission has been obtained in writing. Your tenants should understand at move-in time that this type of action will violate their rental agreement and that they could face possible termination of their tenancy.
Who's to Pay for Repair of Appliances?
Q: I provide a washer and dryer in my apartments, and my rental agreements contain a clause stating that tenants are responsible for paying all necessary repairs. If either of these appliances stops working, the tenant has the option of paying for the repair or not. A prospective tenant disagrees with this clause. She says as long as I provide the washer and dryer, I'm responsible for the repair and maintenance. I don't agree. What do you think?
A: Appliances, such as a washer and dryer, are generally classified as amenities and don't have to be maintained by a property owner. However, if the washer and dryer are listed in any advertisements or have been used as a promotional feature of the apartment, a property owner becomes responsible for their maintenance.
If you didn't promote the appliances, then the designation of who is responsible to repair or maintain appliances can be defined in a rental agreement. This responsibility is no different from establishing who mows the lawn, or on what date the rent is due.
However, if your prospective tenant disagrees with your repair policy, perhaps your current tenants do also. Requiring your tenants to pay for repairs may also create future problems for all of you.
For example, what if the dryer breaks down and the tenant decides not to repair it? Since the dryer was operational at one time, will you deduct repair costs from the security deposit when the tenancy ends? What about normal wear and tear? Even with good care, appliances do break down or wear out.
Unless the tenant has created the need for repair by mistreating the appliance, you might consider sharing repair costs with your tenants, listing a maximum dollar amount you will pay. If you agree to this new repair arrangement, you can modify your rental agreements by issuing a written "30-Day Notice of Change of Terms" to your month-to-month tenants.
Living With a Child Can't Stop Eviction
Q: I have a young child and am having difficulty paying the rent. The property owner handed me a note that says I must pay within three days or move. She said if I don't pay or move, she will start a legal action for eviction. I know that no court will evict me because I have a young child, but the property owner says this is not true. Do I have to be concerned about being evicted even though I have a child who lives with me?
A: Yes, you should be concerned and should do everything you can to bring your rent current. When an eviction is based solely on nonpayment of rent, California Civil Code allows for a tenant, and all household members regardless of age, to be evicted.