QMy landlord started some major work on our building's roof and deck. We were notified of the starting date of the demolition in writing only a week before it started. The landlord has not told us how long construction will last or when somebody will come into our unit. It is in the second week already. We have all the deck furniture and the barbecue in our apartment, no use of the deck and limited use of the garage. Do we have to pay the full amount of the rent for these periods?
The landlord has the right to make repairs, improvements and renovations. You also have the right to a quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the rented space and to have any habitability defects corrected.
When the rental has significant problems regarding habitability, the tenant may be relieved of the obligation to pay the full rent. Under some circumstances a tenant can even withhold rent pending repairs.
In your situation, the unit may not have habitability defects, but your use of the space is being severely hurt. The work on the roof and deck is forcing you to use the apartment for storage, which means it cannot be used as living space.
Such construction can be a significant inconvenience with noise and debris. (Also, workers legally cannot just walk into your unit without proper notice.)
Based on what you are going through, it appears that you should not have to pay the full rent for the affected time. If the landlord will not voluntarily reduce the rent, pay the demanded rent "under protest" to protect your rights. You can then take your landlord to small claims court for reimbursement of rent and any other damages suffered.
Before signing a one-year lease, we asked the agent and the owner if the owner intended to sell the property and expressed our desire to stay in the home. They said he did not intend to sell. Two months later, the agent put the home up for sale. Are we obligated to stay in the lease or can we break it since we were misled? We are now at the mercy of the owner. If he sells the property prior to the expiration of the lease, must we move? What are our options and obligations?
Tenants' attorney Kellman replies:
It is unfortunate that you may have been misled about the sale. The owner will claim that he changed his mind about selling right after the lease was signed. What a surprise. Some owners will lease a home during a sale to keep money rolling in while others prefer the home vacant for quicker sale.
Normally, a home can be shown only upon proper notice, during normal business hours. The showings cannot be excessive. Of course it is better to be up front about it so that the issues about showing the place can be handled before it becomes a problem.
You have a one-year lease for that property. Unless the lease has a termination provision upon sale, you have the right to live there for that year, even if the home has been sold.
Generally, owners do not have to inform tenants about possible intentions to sell in the future. I think an owner should, however, disclose if the home is already under contract and awaiting the close of escrow.
It may be difficult to break the lease because of the sale if no one disturbs you during the lease period. It could be different if there are many buyers coming over to see the place. If so, you could seek to break the lease based on a misrepresentation and the harm suffered because of the disturbance of your peace.
If you had been informed before you moved in of an intended sale so early in the lease period, you probably would not have leased the home or you may have required a different type of lease. Seek legal counsel to protect your rights before you act.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold and San Diego lawyers Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant's Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords. E-mail your questions to Griswold at email@example.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.
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