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Rental Roundtable

Tenant Wants Car Repaired

April 07, 2002|ROBERT GRISWOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: Recently my lease ended, and I turned in my keys. Earlier in the year, my car received some water damage while parked in the underground parking lot. I informed the property management, who never responded to my inquiry. I contacted them again at the end of my lease, and they instructed me to get a quote from a specific repair shop. I supplied that quote, along with two others.

How do I proceed if they do not respond to my request for repairs? They have not disputed their responsibility.

Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

It sounds like the management company has acknowledged responsibility. I would advise sending a formal demand letter briefly highlighting the fact that your property was damaged; that you contacted them and they advised getting a quote from a specific repair shop; that you are including copies of other bids; that you would like compensation for the amount of the most reasonable repair estimate; and that you would like a response within two weeks.

In this first letter, keep the tone cordial and do not threaten legal action. If this doesn't work, send a stronger letter, saying that you are giving them 10 days or you will be forced to take legal action and seek reimbursement for legal costs. If necessary, take them to Small Claims Court.

Attorney Ted Smith replies:

Not so fast. I'm not convinced that the landlord is responsible for the water damage to the car while it was sitting in the carport. Where did this water come from? Is it from a natural flow? Was a window or the top left down, and why? These questions need to be answered.

A claim should be filed first with your car insurance company. Your insurance company will probably honor the claim without assigning fault. In this case, the landlord will not be responsible unless there is a clear showing of the landlord's negligence in causing the water damage to the car.

Who Pays for Damage

by Tenant's Child?

Q: Recently, one of my children accidentally broke the window of a vacant unit at our rental community. Since it was an accident and there are no designated play areas for the children, I have refused to pay for the window replacement.

Now I have been informed that the manager has deducted the cost of the new window from my security deposit and I have 30 days to replenish the security deposit or I will be evicted. Can they do this? Am I right in not paying for the window?

Tenants' rights attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:

It may seem unfair that there are no designated play areas for children at your complex, but there does not appear to be any specific legal requirement to provide such areas. The law does, however, prohibit discrimination against families with children. This may be applicable if your complex prohibits children playing in areas that are clearly appropriate for such playing. Certain actions by landlords to keep families with children out of a complex may be illegal discrimination.

Even if such may be the case in your complex, your refusal to pay for the glass may get you in trouble. The saying, "You broke it, you pay for it" may apply here. Even though the breakage was an accident, someone has to bear the responsibility for the damage. As the parent, that will probably be you.

If there is illegal discrimination at your complex, that will not alter your responsibility for the glass.

Giving you 30 days to repay the deposit used for the repairs is a reasonable action by the landlord. You should consider paying this sum to avoid a 30-day notice to move, which may generally be given with no specific stated grounds. You could consider giving your own 30-day notice and move to a complex more suitable for children. It would merit further investigation if moving out is just what the landlord is forcing you, and any other family with children, to do.

Smith replies:

There is nothing unfair, illegal or even immoral about asking for the tenant to be responsible for the damage caused by her child in this case. There are good reasons. It is well settled that one who damages apartment property through carelessness is responsible. The tenant is responsible for the acts of the child.

California's fair housing laws force the landlord to be neutral regarding any protected class. Landlords are legally required to take children in rentals. There can be no special treatment. The erection of play areas for children could be viewed as discrimination against singles or seniors with no children.

There is more bad news for the resident. The security deposit can be used for damages caused by the child. Here, the landlord has a rarely used but legal clause that allows for the deduction, even though the tenant is still living in the apartment. The lease provision requires the security deposit to be replenished after it is used for the window.

You should replenish the deposit to avoid further legal proceedings.

*

This column is written by property manager Robert Griswold, tenants' rights attorney Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

If you have a question, send it to Rental Roundtable, Real Estate section, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012. Or you may e-mail them at rgriswold.latimes@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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