Best way to leave a crazy landlord
December 8, 2010 9:27 PM   Subscribe

We found a new apartment. Just gave our thirty days notice to our landlord and got a furious tirade in response. Basically she said that we cannot give thirty days notice at any point during the month. It has to be during the first of the month and that because it is close to Christmas that our giving notice now is unacceptable.

She was, quite literally, infuriated with us and was behaving as if we were trying to swindle her out of her money. She threatened us with her attorney instead of speaking to us rationally. We were both very calm with her but I think that the simple act of us wanting to leave has thrown her over the deep edge. To be fair we've known she was slightly unstable with this sort of thing since we had seen her do something similar to another tenant.

The California tenant laws state that she is incorrect in this assumption and that we can give our 30 days at any point during the month. But she is highly unreasonable and prone to aggressive posturing (one of the reasons we wanted to leave).

What is the best way to go about handling this situation?
Immediately bring to her attention the tenant laws?
Wait and hope that she cools down and her own attorney tells her she is full of shit?

One caveat is that the landlord for this new place still needs to call our current landlord to do a reference check. Although we are model tenants (never late rental payments, never discourteous to our neighbors, always treated the property with respect) after how she behaved tonight I am worried about what lies she may tell this new landlord.
posted by teamnap to Law & Government (20 answers total)
Don't lawyer up. That's the last resort. The first resort is to work something out. Instead of giving notice, work together to decide what is acceptable. Mention that you are within your rights, and remind her that the law is on your side (if you're sure it is). Then, also mention that you can leave and that you can not write her a check, so it's really Too Bad that she doesn't want you to leave.

Work together. If that fails, document that you are in the right, and then leave (preferably with documentation that you are not occupying the apartment anymore). This will be the end of it, 99% of the time. If she sues you, THEN get a lawyer. But really, you don't need to get to that point. Try being reasonable first! Then, try complying with the law in a non-confrontational way. If that fails, only then do you need to involve lawyers and courts.

Can you just pay her for another week so you're really giving 40 days notice instead?
posted by jrockway at 9:40 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Give her written notice by FedEx or Express Mail with signature confirmation, spend the $ on an hour of an attorney's time in case he/she's needed. Tell your new landlord about your current landlord's actions and offer to show proof of paying rent on time, etc. Then go ahead and move as planned. Your problem landlord may turn out to be all noise and no action -- but if not, you'll be prepared. Good luck with the move.
posted by northernlightgardener at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2010

Can you just pay her for another week so you're really giving 40 days notice instead?
I would not do this. Don't give in to her antics.

IANAL, but I would start by sending a certified letter giving your notice and citing applicable laws. Ex: Per section X of the Whatever Code,, which permits tenants to give 30 days notice at any time of the month (or whatever it says) we are giving our 30 days notice... Keep it as non-confrontational sounding as possible so as to hopefully avoid setting her off any further.

If she pushes back from there, talk to an attorney. There's a good chance she's bluffing about getting her attorney involved. Lawyers aren't free, even for people who already have one that they work with.
posted by elpea at 9:49 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

What she can do is withhold your security deposit to fuck with you. She then has either 30 or 60 days (I forget which) in which to provide you with an itemized list of what damages/repairs/wear & tear above and beyond reasonable she claims you caused, and how much it will cost to repair.

If she with holds an unreasonable amount/doesn't give you an itemized list in time/gives you a bullshit list/withholds the whole damn thing, then you take her to small claims court. In California you can seek up to $7,500 in damages. Play it stand-up and the law is on your side.

If the landlord calls up the old landlady and she bad mouths you, make sure he checks your credit report. And if she slanders you, lies about you, or other bullshit, you can sue her for that as well.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:50 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

What happened in the situation with the other tenant?

This is not legal advice (rather more, uh, life-derived advice) -- she may be hoping that her tirade will scare you into giving her the extra time she's asking for. If everything is as you say (& I'm not familiar with CA tenant laws, nor am I a lawyer, nor have I looked at any lease you may have), then she really has no legal leg to stand on. This means that in practical terms, it's going to be a lot of extra trouble for her to actually do anything to you. Is there any power she holds over you besides the reference? (A deposit or anything?)

If no, do you have other previous landlords you can use as references? Would your new landlord, who has presumably already met and liked you well enough to agree to have you live as their tenant, be open to getting the references elsewhere? If they're a reasonable person, they may be sympathetic to your side of the story.

All told, you seem to have the upper hand here, and she seems to have little to work with besides her anger. Honestly, I wouldn't even lawyer up or worry too much about making another move unless she responds with something more actionable than being pissed off & crazy.
posted by alleycat01 at 9:52 PM on December 8, 2010

(Although ... on post-posting, other people have better, more concrete ideas about FedExed letters and such, documenting everything. You should probably do that as well as hoping for the best.

Good luck! You'll be out of there soon!)
posted by alleycat01 at 9:54 PM on December 8, 2010

What is the best way to go about handling this situation?
Immediately bring to her attention the tenant laws?

Yes, in writing, by registered mail. Basically send a letter stating that in accordance with California tenant law cite and cite, you are hereby giving 30 days notice on 123 Main Street.

You may or may not ever hear from her attorney. I wouldn't worry about it at this point; simply serve the 30 days notice you are obligated to serve.

For your new landlord, I would go back through all of your bank statements and give him or her evidence of prompt and consistent payments. I would also get references from any prior landlords you can reach, and any other references you think might support your case. Your crazy current landlord is not likely to act as a good reference at this juncture.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:58 PM on December 8, 2010

Best answer: Before you involve a lawyer, start documenting everything. It's a wait and see at this point.

Your landlord is reacting irrationally and has no legal right to determine the date you wish to give 30-day notice. I've had similar situations in the past with landlords for whom my moving out was inconvenient to them, got pissy about it and then made the next 30+ days miserable. Sounds like your landlord is unhinged enough to go this route.

I doubt she'll actually contact a lawyer. She's trying to intimidate you. If she brings it up again, tell her you're aware of the landlord/tenant laws and also reference the lease agreement if it's a typical month-to-month lease that stipulates 30 days notice -- not 30 days of convenience! Since most people move in/out the last or first day of the month, she's probably upset about that finding someone to move in Jan. 8th is more difficult, plus, it's so close to the holidays where people presumably are too busy celebrating than moving. I moved out a week before X-mas last year and my landlord guilt-tripped me the whole 30 days of notice. It sucked.

Depending on how understanding your new landlord might be, tell him/her you've notified your current landlord of your intent to vacate but that it's been poorly received. Anybody who freaks out, starts screaming lawyer might not have enough finesse to convincingly sway your new landlord to deny your application. Especially with a heads up. You're not going to be able to predict or influence her behavior (since she doesn't sound like Ms. Rational) but you can try to mitigate the fallout. Follow up with the new landlord after the reference check.

Also, start taking pictures! Document the status of your apartment before she begins to have access to it for viewing in the event she's just crazy enough to create problems for you. Make sure you document every interaction with her, take pictures and have witnesses if possible all the way through the moment of turning your keys in. I had go the small-claims court route with a landlord because she withheld my deposit. I documented. I prevailed.

Good luck with your move!
posted by loquat at 10:02 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

You have a lease, right? It should spell out what you can or can't do pretty clearly. That she is irrational doesn't really need to enter in to it, unless you really need that deposit back (which I know is a big deal). I've never seen a "close to Christmas" clause in any legal agreement, so you're probably clear there.

Tell your next landlord that she's crazy and unreasonable, and that this is the reason you decided to go elsewhere. It's not really unheard of, and I don't know that you need her recommendation.
posted by Gilbert at 10:05 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

In California, if your landlord fails to return your deposit within 21 days without proper action and documentation, they may be liable for up to three times the deposit if you show they acted in bad faith. This talks a little bit about it.

Now she may still be a pain. But at least you have some rights.
posted by bsdfish at 10:06 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You definitely do not need a lawyer. Relax!

Where are you in California? I'm asking so that you can get in touch with your local govt's landlord tenant service - not that I think you should even need go that far - but it might help your peace of mind to check in with them.

Your landlord is incorrect if you are month-to-month, you may give notice at any time. I'm assuming your original 1 year lease has long ago run out and you've continued tenancy month-to-month, am I right?

You know what you should do right now? NOTHING. Just ignore your landlady's histrionics and keep moving forward with your plans. As long as you've given written notice to your landlady, she can't stop you. (more on how to handle the fallout towards the end...)

Go ahead and let your new landlord in on the situation asap. Stick to the facts and remain professional. Your new landlord might decline to call under the circumstances, and believe me, your situation is not that unusual! There are all sorts of reasons tenants warn their new perspective landlord about that reference call. If you have other references and/or can offer bank statements proving you've paid rent, do offer additional reference info and docs when you speak with your new landlord.

Now to the nitty gritty...

Hopefully you get the new place and sign a lease. Make sure you clean your old apartment thoroughly and TAKE PICTURES once the old unit is empty. I mean it. You must triple document the condition of the apartment upon move-out.

If you do not physically return the keys to your old landlady, make sure you post the keys to her via mail with a letter stating the keys are enclosed. Go fedex or return receipt with that package so that you have documentation that the keys are returned. Return the keys is legally part of dissolving your month-to-month agreement, so do this part right.

Make sure you include a forwarding address in your last letter to your old landlady so she can mail your deposit. YOUR DEPOSIT MUST BE RETURNED WITHIN 20 OR 21 DAYS PER CALIFORNIA STATE LAW. Yes, there is a penalty if she doesn't return it in a timely fashion. The website will have more info on this.

If your landlady deducts for cleaning or damage, she MUST provide an accounting of the deductions and receipts for the completed work.

By law you may request a walk-thru of the premises prior to your departure with your landlady. Technically you are allowed to correct any defects in the unit to avoid deductions on your deposit. Do this if you feel confident in your landlady's ability to stay reasonable. Take the pictures of the unit whether you decide to do a walk-thru with her or not. Trust me on this. Take those pics!

If you are unhappy with the return of the deposit, you have a heaps of options. Google is your friend or check back here. I'm hoping the deposit return goes smoothly, however.

Lastly. Your landlady may calm down in a few days once she gets over the shock. If you haven't given written notice, do so. Then just proceed as usual and remain professional. You're in the right.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:08 PM on December 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

BTW - she's bluffing. If she is a landlord she knows the law is not on her side here and what she is claiming is bullshit.

Do not negotiate with her to come up with something more "reasonable." Just cover your ass with the right letters and documentation and go happily about your business.
posted by jbenben at 10:11 PM on December 8, 2010

Also, California state law trumps stipulations in your lease.

Another way of saying it is this: California State Landlord Tenant Regulations take precedent over any crazy lease requirements should a disagreement between landlord and tenant end up in court.
posted by jbenben at 10:16 PM on December 8, 2010

Argh! Once last thing!

The California Court considers email a perfectly valid way of giving notice. If you've already emailed her the notice, make sure you reference the date and time in your snail mail letter containing the 30 day notice. If you've already given notice via email, then the 30 day count down starts from the date of your email notification.

Everyone above who advised sending additional written notice via fedex or return receipt is wise. Just want you to know that doesn't set the clock back if you've already delivered notice via email.
posted by jbenben at 10:26 PM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for the advice. Seriously, it is very helpful and we appreciate it. I went ahead and sent an email to our -hopefully- new landlord briefly explaining that our current landlord did not take us giving notice very well and that she may be unpleasant to speak with. Hopefully our current landlord will not badmouth us too much but in case she does we will be prepared with our documentation and additional references.

Actually, in the time since I posted this original question she has called my husband. She admitted, after examining the lease agreement we signed over three years ago, that we are correct that we can give notice at any time during the month. So that is nice, although she didn't apologize for yelling at us and basically calling us liars and thieves. Whatever, take your victories when you can get them. She did seem somewhat more rational and calm (although that is all relative) and asked us to take photographs of the place so she can rent it more quickly. It is not our responsibility but we will do it anyway if it means a shot at a more civil dissolution to this dysfunctional relationship.

As for the deposit...I am fully preparing myself for the eventuality that she will try to keep most if not all of it, even though this place is in better shape now than it was when we rented it. I will be taking lots of pictures and requesting a walk-through as was suggested.

Thanks again. Your advice was all very helpful.
posted by teamnap at 10:34 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the first option here was not to get a lawyer or to cite code sections at her but to read the lease. It was entirely possible--though unlikely--that notice was restricted to being given on the first of the month. That's not a provision which is likely to stand up in court, but if it was in the lease you'd need to get a lawyer to fight it.

So yeah, next time just read the lease and see what's in there. This is actually the correct answer for just about every landlord/tenant dispute.

As far as the deposit goes, definitely take pictures. The landlord wants them for her purposes, but you also want them for yours. If she decides to be unpleasant about it, remind her that you took pictures and thus have evidence that the apartment was okay. If she is cagey about giving your deposit back, learn about your legal rights. The burden is on the landlord to prove that deductions from deposits are justified. If she withholds all or part of it unreasonably, you can take her to small claims court. If she was actually acting in bad faith, i.e. she knew she couldn't keep it but did anyway, you can be awarded a bad faith penalty up to 100% of the deposit.

It's probably worth mentioning that to her, but only if she decides to keep your deposit.
posted by valkyryn at 5:55 AM on December 9, 2010

One other suggestion, use a (decent) video camera and make a thorough record of the property's condition when you move out. That way you'll have evidence against whatever 'damages' she might claim as a means to withhold your security deposit (some, all or even try to charge you more). I wouldn't just use a low-res cell phone camera. You want details.

This is a good idea for folks to do twice, once on moving in and then again when moving out.

You also have to decide what's the appropriate thing ethically. What the lease says, what the law says and what you feel is right should all be taken into account. You're certainly not obligated to pay more than is justified. But it's worth thinking about what it's worth to get out of the situation without being a jerk about it.

The landlord may not have done much to earn your respect but that doesn't mean you have to stoop below your level of acceptable behavior. This may be a foreign concept to some of the more self-centered folks out there...

Good luck in the new place!
posted by wkearney99 at 6:35 AM on December 9, 2010

When you take pictures to document the condition, make sure to photograph the inside of the oven and the refrigerator, also inside all cabinets, and the bathtub. In my experience, those are some of the things that often get cited as "needed to be cleaned after tenant left".
posted by CathyG at 7:39 AM on December 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't know from California lease laws but I do think you might want to consider that your lease may be month to month, with each month you are essentially signed up until the end of the month. In such case if you give 30 days notice in the middle of the month you can not terminate your payment obligation in the middle of the month. You give notice on Dec. 8 you are still there as of Jan. 1 and thus for that whole month. You don't need a lawyer to work this out. A tenant's rights organization should be able to answer easy stuff like this.

When you send your written termination it may help to state it as a confirmation of your oral notice indicating the date of that notice so that it is effective as of the oral notice not when the letter is received. If written notice is required this may not work.
posted by caddis at 12:19 PM on December 9, 2010

I had the same problem with my last landlord, who acted unreasonably, threatened me with her lawyer, and who I know didn't have easy access to my security deposit, since I knew she had cash-flow problems.

I just made sure I did everything to the letter of the tenant agreement, with documentation. I sent her written 30 days notice via certified mail, spotlessly cleaned and repaired anything she could remotely try to blame on me, took pictures and had a friend come over to witness, and also had both of us sign and date a document (in duplicate so we both had a copy) upon completion of the walkthrough, which stated that she found no damage and we both agreed that everything was in working order.

My new (lovely) landlord had informed me that landlords have a set amount of time (I think in CA it's 30 days?) from the date of the walkthrough to return your security deposit. So, I knew if I had to take her to court, all I had to do was bring the pictures and the signed and dated walkthrough document to prove that she was in breach of the tenant agreement.

She ended up being a little late on the repayment of the security deposit...I was being lax but finally had to put my foot down. After a few weeks of calling and letting her know that I knew the law, I finally left her one final message that on Monday I was going to file in civil court and I got the check the next week.

It may sound like overkill, but I was always comfortable that no matter what she tried to pull, I had the evidence in my favor. And it really wasn't that much of a hassle. MeMail me and I'll send you the walkthrough doc I made her sign, if you want to get an idea. Good luck!
posted by buzzkillington at 11:28 PM on December 9, 2010

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