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APARTMENT LIFE

Landlord Lays Down Condition for New Carpet

March 22, 1998|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I have rented an apartment in Fullerton for the last five years. As you recommend, upon moving in, I completed a checklist indicating the poor condition of the carpet.

During the last five years, the carpet has become so threadbare that shoes, and sometimes bare feet, get caught on the nails in the carpet edges and seams.

The owner agreed to replace the carpet, then rescinded the agreement when the glass shower door broke. He then said he would replace the carpet only upon receipt of payment for the shower door.

The shower door cracked spontaneously. No one was near it. The owner's repairman concurred that the nature of the cracks showed that there was no indication of impact. He has since told me that he twice mentioned this to the owner.

I don't mind paying for something that I broke, but I do not want to pay for something that would have broken anyway. Also, I don't think they should hold the carpet "ransom" for the shower door. Is the owner required to install new carpet? Am I obligated to pay for the shower door?

ANSWER: Although it can happen, spontaneous breakage is pretty rare. Usually when we say "it broke," we mean we broke it. Convincing the landlord that it did, in fact, break on its own is an uphill battle at best; however, your cause is aided by the repairman--his repairman--agreeing with you that "it broke."

Assuming you could convince the landlord that the door broke on its own, would it be worth it? Maybe not. According to a spokesman for a local hardware store, Callahan Hardware, "Replacement of a swinging shower door glass is about $39 while a sliding glass door costs about $49."

Any new carpeting would cost considerably more than $49. Since the owner is not required by law to replace worn carpet, only to be sure that it is safe, he could repair the carpet or remove it completely to make it safe. That is not the solution you are looking for. You want new carpeting.

If I were you, and the shower door glass replacement charge is reasonable, I would pay it to keep the peace and get the carpet installed. Otherwise, your request for new carpeting very well may be swept under the rug.

Q: I live in Irvine, and in January 1997, windstorms blew a tree down, through the roof of the carport and on top of my car.

My question is about landlord liability. I went to the apartment manager to find out what they would cover, and they said they would pay my deductible and any extra expenses I incurred.

I wound up paying $675.60 for the deductible and car rental while my car was fixed. They gave me a check "to begin with" for $200. It did not even cover the deductible.

One negligent act on their part was the trimming of the trees in the complex. During the storm, the wind pulled other trees out of the ground by the roots. Immediately thereafter, nearly all their trees were trimmed to prevent them from being caught by the wind and pulled out of the ground.

This type of landscape maintenance care could have helped prevent the tree from falling on my car. I also have pictures of my car and other trees that fell because they were not trimmed properly.

Am I still able to get the rest of my money? If yes, how do I go about it?

A: The statute of limitations on a case like yours, assuming you have a case, is three years. According to Trevor Grimm, general counsel to the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, though, you may be barking up the wrong tree.

Grimm said: "An 'act of God' defense is common in situations such as yours, meaning the owner is not liable for any of your costs. Apparently, the owners broke no laws by not trimming their trees, and from the facts you present, I cannot determine any negligence on their part. Trees fall all of the time during windstorms. That is why people buy comprehensive auto insurance. It seems that your manager has been generous in offering to pay any of your expenses.

"If there was another, subsequent windstorm and more trees fell as the result of it, the landlords may be liable for some damages for not correcting a foreseeable problem. That does not appear to be the case here."

Even though they may not be liable under the law, you may have a chance at prevailing in a lawsuit in a Small Claims Court because the owners agreed verbally to pay for your damages and oral contracts are legally binding.

Q: I live in Monterey Park, and I have a question about terminating a month-to-month rental agreement. My daughter paid her rent on Jan 1. On Jan. 15, she was given a 30-day notice to move out by Feb. 15. She vacated the premises on Jan. 27.

In returning her security deposit, the landlord deducted four days' rent, saying he did not re-rent the apartment until Feb. 5. Was she liable for rent 30 days after she gave notice if the apartment remained unrented?

A: Since your daughter could have stayed in the unit until Feb. 15, she was liable for the rent up until that time, unless the landlord re-rented the unit, as he did, before then. He rented it on the fifth of the month, making her liable for the rent through the fourth.

Kevin Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group, and manager of public affairs for the California Apartment Law Information Foundation, which disseminates information about landlord/tenant law to renters and owners in California. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.

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