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RENTAL SAVVY

Too many toys and not enough outlets? Talk with landlord

September 16, 2007|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Question: I live in an older building and my apartment doesn't have enough electrical outlets. Is the owner required to add more?

Answer: A property owner is required to keep a place "fit and habitable," which is defined by state law and sometimes honed by county, city, village or town ordinances as well. The declaration "habitable" means that the rental unit is "suitable to be lived in." Unfortunately, what's considered suitable for some apartment dwellers may not suit other folks at all.

In California, electrical requirements include "Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order."

Of course, "applicable law at time of installation" doesn't help the modern renter who wants more up-to-date or increased electrical capacity for such things as computers and kitchen appliances.

Unfortunately, unless the wiring or the plugs are dangerous, the owner may not be required to update the system to meet your lifestyle.

For safety, the National Electrical Code is generally the model for state regulation that defines many electrical rules.

As for updating the electrical system, unless substantial renovation has been undertaken, most places are grandfathered in when it comes to current code regulations.

An exception may involve the installation of a ground fault circuit interrupter, a relatively inexpensive electrical device commonly used to replace a standard electrical outlet.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, interrupters installed in household branch circuits could prevent more than two-thirds of the approximately 300 electrocutions still occurring each year in and around homes. Because an interrupter detects ground faults, it also can prevent some electrical fires and reduce the severity of others by interrupting the flow of electric current. Ideally, all outlets within a few feet of a water source should have outlets changed to this type.

Updating by adding extra outlets should be handled by a licensed electrician and is usually not expensive. You might offer to split the cost with your landlord. Be sure to get whatever understanding you come to in writing and specify who will do the work and the cost of the job before work is authorized.

A call for help on lack of phone jacks

Question: How many phone jacks should a landlord provide? There's only one in my kitchen, and it's really annoying.

Answer: With the burgeoning need for multiple phone jacks, a consumer would hope there are sufficient choices of where to "plug in" at their home. Unfortunately most laws have not kept up with technology, some being silent on telephone access requirements, with others quite detailed.

In California, Civil Code 1941.4 gets the word across nicely by requiring the landlord to be responsible for "installing at least one usable telephone jack and for placing and maintaining the inside telephone wiring in good working order."

Also on the landlord's tab are repairs to "the portion of the telephone wire that connects the telephone equipment at the customer's premises to the telephone network at a demarcation point determined by the telephone corporation in accordance with orders of the Public Utilities Commission."

But technology has provided several solutions to your problem of only having one phone jack. Using a "sole jack" cordless system will enable you to plug several extensions into the line by using an electrical outlet with room for the charger base nearby. Check your local appliance store or online for choice of features and prices.

Other options include "piggybacking" the system with inexpensive telephone jack extensions and running wire to other areas. Whether you're planning to undertake any handiwork yourself or pay someone to alter the premises, be sure to get your landlord's permission first.

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Questions may be sent to hmayspitz@gmail.com.

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