Do I really have to do things their way?
November 9, 2010 7:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm a tenant. My garbage disposal is broken, and the lease specifically says that the landlord won't repair it. Landlord is saying I have to, and that I'm not allowed to do it myself. I'm in California. Anybody have any advice?

It's not immediately clear to me based on a reading of the lease whether I have to repair the thing at all (the rest of the plumbing works OK and I'm fine with just not having a functioning garbage disposal), but since it was working when I moved in, they claim that I'm responsible for the cost of the repair. It seems utterly ridiculous that I'd have to pay for ANY appliances in a place I don't own, but whatever - I'm willing to suck it up and buy the new disposal. (And to head off any questions: yes, it really is broken.)

The bigger question: a garbage disposal is not that hard to replace, and I'm confident I can do it myself. Landlord, however, doesn't want me to. They claim that for (vaguely stated) reasons of liability and insurance, an "approved" contractor must do the work. I'll buy the new disposal, but I absolutely do not want to pay someone else to do the work.

YANML, but... is there actually a legal/insurance problem with me replacing the thing myself? Am I really going to get screwed into a massive plumber's bill for such a simple job? What are the ramifications if I just go ahead and do it anyway?
posted by captainawesome to Law & Government (20 answers total)
My lease had a rider about garbage disposals (oddly, my apartment doesn't even have one), but it specifically outlines tenant responsibility for damage caused by misuse of the disposal. Normal regular use, and problems from natural wear and tear = landlord's responsibility. Me dropping utensil or other stuff down disposal causing problems = tenant pays. You don't say how your disposal broke, but it might be worth thinking about and taking a close look at your lease. Look it over before making any promises with your landlord. If yours is similar to mine (ie, about misuse, and depending on what caused the disposal to break), I'd just deduct the cost from the deposit.
posted by raztaj at 7:42 PM on November 9, 2010

It probably says you need an approved contractor because there are a lot of fly by night handymen who couldn't find their butt with both hands and they don't want people like that working on your place. It sucks-you probably really can do this-but I would be surprised if your lease really didn't require someone certified.

I'm wondering if you are going to need to prove to them it was fixed? In other words, how are they going to know who you got to fix it? Is it a question of them picking the workman but you paying? Because when I worked for a rental department that is how it worked.

My question to you is this: Do they KNOW your disposal is broken? Would they KNOW you replaced it yourself? And-and this is crucial-do you REALLY know what you are doing? If you are being sanguine about your abilities I wouldn't risk it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:48 PM on November 9, 2010

This is an interesting question!

- Call your local housing landlord/tenant whoever authority... especially in California, I know I can write it into the lease that you must keep monkeys as pets, but state and local law trumps - so no monkeys for you!

This may apply to appliances. If it is in the unit, he may be liable to fix it no matter what rider he wrote into the lease.

- Sadly, especially in California (I know by copious experience), there are plenty of folks who claim to be contractors or skilled in a particular area, but they are usually just handypeople willing to do stuff on the cheap and may not even be skilled in the areas they claim expertise. Most landlords use these guys, so your landlord's desire for an "approved" contractor is a bit unclear to me.

Did he give you a list of folks he "approves"? Did he specify he wants a licensed plumber or contractor??

If you are in LA, MeMail. I'm sure I can recommend someone appropriate and reasonably priced for the install if you must end up paying for this. But you are right - it is super easy to do and does not require a plumber.

Good luck.

Upon preview, raztaj makes a good point - if the tenant breaks it through specified misuse (as per the rider) rather than normal wear and tear, the landlord can and will pass on that cost onto the tenant. But in this case, the landlord has his guy come in to do the work and then presents you with the bill. If you don't pay, he can then just take the cost from your deposit when you move out. The point being his "approved" person does the work, you pay the penalty for throwing a teddy bear into the disposal. Since this is not the situation you specifically described, I don't know if it applies.
posted by jbenben at 7:50 PM on November 9, 2010

He's presumably worried that you'll screw it up and that your deposit won't cover what he'll have to pay a plumber to fix it before he rents the unit to another tenant. (He may well have had problems with tenants claiming they could fix stuff themselves in the past, and some of those problems may have been expensive.)

I'd say if you're confident you can do it, replace it. If you do screw it up, hire a plumber. I don't think he'll complain if it's working when you move out.

This is practical advice, not legal. I have no idea what it says in your lease
posted by nangar at 7:50 PM on November 9, 2010

What are the ramifications if I just go ahead and do it anyway?

Depends. Are you planning on fucking it up? If not, just tell them it magically started working again. Fight idiocy with self-help, that's my non-legal advice for the day.
posted by thejoshu at 7:53 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did you know that there is a circuit breaker on the bottom of most of them? Could be simple to fix.
I have installed many disposals. It is pretty easy if you are comfortable connecting the wiring.
When you replace the drain, use plummer's putty to set it in the sink.
posted by lee at 8:13 PM on November 9, 2010

*plumber's (and most of the disposals I have installed have been for landlords, I have never heard of a tenant having to fix their own.)
posted by lee at 8:15 PM on November 9, 2010

Here's the thing...yeah, you could fix it, and probably do a decent job. But think of this from a legal risk perspective. If you do not have paperwork proving that a qualified professional repaired it, and your lease requires it, you could get screwed.

Imagine 1-2 tenants later and something screws up with it and causes major plumbing damage and maybe water damage to the unit or other units. Suddenly, faced with the huge expenses of fixing it, the landlord might say "hey, I wonder if that old tenant has proof that he had a certified professional to fix it. If he doesn't I'll bet I can try to sue him."

I know jack shit about this kind of law and IANYL but something to think about.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:39 PM on November 9, 2010

I should clarify a few things... the disposal actually works. It whirs, it disposes. The problem is that the casing is cracked, so it leaks when you actually use the disposal. Just running water through the sink seems fine.

The relevant section of the lease: "The following items of personal property are included in the Premises without warranty and Landlord will not maintain, repair, or replace them: [obnoxious list that includes garbage disposal]" There's also a bit about how if the tenant doesn't fix something he's responsible for, the landlord can do it for him and charge them. There's nothing about who fixes it.

I'd do this myself, with the help of my (non a contractor, but engineer-and-handy) father when he's here over Thanksgiving. I'm not 100% sure that I can fix it, but I know that he can. In the unlikely event that it gets screwed up, I'll hire a professional to take care of it. But this is not rocket science, and I don't want to pay a plumber to do it.
posted by captainawesome at 9:12 PM on November 9, 2010

If you're confident in your ability to fix it (with your dad's help), and you're prepared to hire a professional if you screw it up, just do it yourself. This is not legal advice. But how can the landlord possibly have a problem with that? And more important, how could he know and what could he do? (My guess: he couldn't, and nothing.)
posted by J. Wilson at 9:40 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you read this?
posted by zombiehoohaa at 9:49 PM on November 9, 2010

Oh! I think you are fine here.

If you want a working disposal, go ahead and let your dad do it. Never mention the broken disposal or who fixed it to your landlord ever again.

OTOH, if you can live without a disposal... I would take detailed pics of the cracks in the casing, document that the pipes work but the casing leaks (maybe a mailed unopened letter to yourself stating the facts w/ pics enclosed??) and then move on with my life.

Lastly, if it turns out the law is on your side on this - make your landlord perform the replacement via legal remedies!


Basically, the questions are (a) normal wear and tear vs. misuse, and (b) who originally installed the appliance.

- IMHO, that sort of damage (cracks in the casing) is normal wear and tear. Check with your local housing oversight bureaucracy to confirm your rights, but I believe you are NOT responsible to repair or replace anything covered by normal wear and tear rules, especially if the item has been in the unit throughout multiple tenancies prior to you moving in.

- If the landlord installed the disposal, he is generally responsible for repairs/replacement as necessary due to normal wear and tear. He claims it on the lease as "personal property" you say? Then he probably installed it, the disposal stays when you move out, it's legally his property and he claims it on the lease as such... therefore he is responsible for repairs or replacement (as long as you didn't break it, which I believe you did not.)


I think the list of "personal items provided but not under warranty" referenced in your lease sounds awfully fanciful on the part of your landlord in terms of California state law - but I am not a lawyer. Go ahead and confirm your rights before you decide how to proceed.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:35 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's also a bit about how if the tenant doesn't fix something he's responsible for, the landlord can do it for him and charge them.

You just answered your own question, right there. You and your dad can fix it.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:17 PM on November 9, 2010

Are you in San Francisco? The SF Tenant's Union will probably have some answers on the landlonrd rules -
posted by bartleby at 11:28 PM on November 9, 2010

I don't think this sounds like a problem you caused, and I can't see how it's your responsibility no matter what the lease says. That said, does the lease also say you must use an "approved contractor," and define that term, or is the landlord just inventing that requirement now that something's gone wrong?

It does seem plausible that you are not guaranteed a working garbage disposal, but you are guaranteed working pipes. If the failure is not your fault (abuse, negligence) then I'd bet it's your landlord's responsibility to somehow make the sink functional again, either by replacing the disposal or by removing it and installing ordinary pipes where the disposal used to be.

nthing check with a local tenant's rights org.
posted by jon1270 at 2:45 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

A cursory read of the California Department of Consumer Affairs website linked above suggests that the landlord can indeed decline to repair items not related to habitability: "Generally, the landlord also must do maintenance work which is necessary to keep the rental unit liveable.134 Whether the landlord or the tenant is responsible for making less serious repairs is usually determined by the rental agreement." So, I don't think you can force him to pay for repairs.

I also have serious doubts about the landlord's ability to legally force you to make repairs to anything that is broken as a result of normal wear and tear, no matter what he said in the lease. It would likely turn into a drama bomb because they would try to charge you and take it out of your security deposit, so you could end up in court, but I like your chances if you did go to the mat. If you broke it due to misuse, that would be something he could go after. If it was just old and broke down under reasonable use, he can't charge you. This is similar to a landlord attempting to collect for routine repainting or carpet replacement due to normal wear and tear -- they can't do that.

In terms of the landlord's suggestion that you use an approved contractor, if it doesn't say that in the lease, it means absolutely nothing and I'd ignore it completely. Even if it was in the lease, I think its quite dubious. If you intentionally damaged the walls and then repaired them yourself, the landlord's recovery would be limited to whatever he had to pay to make it right. If your repair works, they have no damages.
posted by Lame_username at 3:08 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not *your* lawyer -
I question the basis for requiring an "approved contractor" and I question where that term is defined.
The lease says the Landlord won't fix the disposal - does it say that the Tenant *will*?
My non-legal but practical choice would be to get my dad to help me do it and be done with it, if I were going to fix it at all.
posted by mrs. taters at 5:59 AM on November 10, 2010

+1 for just fixing it with your father. The only think I would never do is leave it to the land lord to take out of your deposit. I just paid a land lord to replace the light in a refrigerator that had burned out; he charged $27, $14 was in installation; the guy charged me $14 to SCREW IN A LIGHT BULB. Take care of it before you move out. Also, disposals are easy.
posted by Felex at 9:30 AM on November 10, 2010

I'm not sure how relevant this is, but the garbage disposal is almost certainly not 'personal property'. It is installed and permanently attached to the property, and so is a 'fixture'. This is in no way the same as a floor lamp that the landlord happens to leave for you at the property. That would be personal property. It makes me wonder if that part of the lease is even in any way enforceable. Real estate law is quite clear on these definitions, and your landlord deciding to call it personal property doesn't make it so.
posted by juggler at 9:31 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, do call the local tenants rights number.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:06 PM on November 10, 2010

« Older What I'm looking for is what I would describe as a...   |   SQL learning exercises Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.