Need a reality check about some language in a rental agreement.
May 25, 2020 11:40 AM   Subscribe

This in the US (California). The section about tenants' responsibilities in the lease of an apartment I applied for seems to be saying that almost all repairs and maintenance are the tenant's responsibility, regardless of what caused the problem. I don't currently have a lease agreement I can compare it to, and the last time I did I had a great property management company and I don't remember anything like this.

From the lease:

"Resident shall, at Resident's sole expense, keep the premises clean, in good order and repair, and free of trash, mold, mildew, pests, vermin, bedbugs, and unsightly material. ... All costs and expenses incurred in relation to clogged drains, toilets, leaking pipes, or any other plumbing stoppage or repair, shall be the responsibility of Resident, unless the stoppage or leakage is found to be in the main line. Resident shall maintain and repair the window screens, garbage disposal, window and door locks, and all interior fixtures and improvements, at Resident's sole expense."

It doesn't distinguish between something the tenant caused (e.g. shower drain that was clogged by hair) and something they didn't (e.g. leaky pipe). And also seems to be saying that the tenant would have to pay for pest extermination or mold remediation, regardless of the specifics.

I have already decided not to sign the lease, since there have been a couple of other things about this apartment/management company that have made me think twice. So this is more about what to expect next time. My questions are

(1) Is this normal and I should accept that I'm going to end up agreeing to something along these lines?

(2) If not, what can I do earlier in the application process to figure it out? Trying to minimize in person contact due to coronavirus means there's not as much chance to ask questions when seeing a place and I don't think I will be able to see the lease terms until after the application fee and credit check part of the process.
posted by dogwalker3 to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in IL, but this isn't normal to me. My lease says practically the opposite - that all repairs are the landlord's responsibility, unless I caused undue property damage.
posted by tiny frying pan at 12:07 PM on May 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In California, and most states, the landlord is responsible for upkeep of the building. That's a big part of why you're paying rent, not just because they have the up front money to buy property and you don't. They have to provide and maintain an inhabitable space, and that means stuff like fixing leaks, and keeping up the appliances, locks, and building lighting.

Local municipalities can add additional things the landlord is responsible for, so it's reasonable to check up on that. But I 100% agree with your decision to not rent this place. They're trying to break the law and it would be an unpleasant, difficult, and potentially expensive experience to try to live there and either make them comply with the law, or take care of all their crap for them.
posted by aubilenon at 12:11 PM on May 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: When I lived in Oakland our (generally wacky) landlord switched over to a new lease template (that was from East Bay Rental Housing Association, which is actually mostly a landlord advocacy group, IIRC) when we added a new roommate and it had a lot of similar stuff in it. I hadn't seen anything like that before and it was disturbing.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:17 PM on May 25, 2020

I might consider this IF the rental company would pay for me to hire an independent inspector to inspect the property (so I'd know if there were problems I couldn't see), and IF the rent was low enough that it was below what the owner would be paying in mortgage payments and significantly below market rate for a comparable apartment. Also IF I had time to deal with random repair stuff and/or if I preferred to handle this stuff myself. Oh, and I'd really like to talk to the past tenants to see if they knew about undisclosed problems. Also, I'd add language protecting me from being blamed and charged for damages from incorrect repairs, repairs I didn't make because I didn't perceive or correctly diagnose the problem, or repairs or modifications that I just wanted to make because I thought they would improve the place.

In other words, if the whole thing wouldn't end up costing me more money and frustration than just renting with a regular lease.
posted by amtho at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2020

Best answer: Abnormal, currently. That phrasing appears in rental forms used by the kinds of landlord-advocacy groups needs more cowbell mentions, as well as by companies backed by real-estate investor groups/trusts (which are on the rise, unfortunately); in California, the Duringer Law Group created some of those forms (note all the legal rights the tenant is expected to waive). Depending on where you're looking to rent in CA, you could check in with the local tenant advocacy groups for the management companies to avoid; you could also contact your previous "great property management company" for recommendations.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:49 PM on May 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Great info above, but it’s also important to understand that signing a contract with legally unenforceable provisions means you’re not on the hook for repairs. However, it will be a headache in time and money to get them to comply with the law.
posted by Automocar at 1:03 PM on May 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

This is pretty much a "I plan to be a slumlord" announcement and you should avoid signing one if at all possible. Note that some or all of these provisions may be unenforceable under state or local law, but if someone tells you they're going to be a shitbag exploitative landlord up-front, believe them!
posted by praemunire at 3:04 PM on May 25, 2020 [12 favorites]

Strong, strong, strong, strong cosign to praemunire. Would you win at the rent board or in small claims court? Quite possibly, but you'll probably move first. Don't sign.
posted by peppercorn at 5:07 PM on May 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Pretty sure this isn't anything close to normal, even in California... and I kind of want you to forward the information to the local housing authority so they have a heads-up. Someone who doesn't know better is going to sign that lease and get screwed because they don't know that it's not legal.
posted by stormyteal at 8:07 PM on May 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has published A California Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities that includes a general discussion of the "implied warranty of habitability" in the "Dealing with Problems" section that you may find helpful to review, and it is also linked from the California Courts Responsibilities of Landlords overview.

The CA DCA also offers a toll-free telephone line for consumer questions at (800) 952-5210, Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. except the first and third Wednesday of each month when they open at 8:30 a.m. The CA DOJ offers a list of resources for tenants, including "Tenants Together, California’s statewide renters' rights organization for information about tenant issues. It also provides a local resource directory."
posted by katra at 8:32 PM on May 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have a place I rent to others in California. The lease we use is from the Nolo Guide for Landlords in CA (or some title like that) and doesn't have much language like that. It runs counter to my understanding of where the lines of liability fall, trying to put all gray area into your area of responsibility. I'd find some other boilerplate language and propose it instead, or just cross it off before you sign it. I'll send you screenshots of relevant sections of our lease.
posted by slidell at 9:08 PM on May 25, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone for the perspectives and info! Although I already felt that not signing it was the right decision, it's a bummer to have to start over again and find another place, so it helped to have that decision validated.

Thanks especially for the pointer to the "implied warranty of habitability" section in the CA court docs and for clueing me in to the real estate/landlord advocacy group templates. Many of the sections in my unsigned lease are word-for-word identical to those in the Duringer Law Group form Iris Gambol linked. (It's kind of baffling/troubling to me that a law firm would produce these forms that really do seem to contradict the landlord's responsibilities as indicated in those court docs).

stormyteal - thanks, I had a similar thought of wanting to warn other people too. It turns out this company manages a number of apartment complexes in LA and Orange counties. When I have a chance I will look around to see if there are local tenant advocacy groups that might keep info about this kind of thing to warn people away. (I looked at the local city housing authority site and it seems to be more about managing public housing, and there's not an obvious contact person or department to send this kind of heads up to.)
posted by dogwalker3 at 9:36 PM on May 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I had a prospective landlord show me a similar lease. I told him I would not be renting from him because a number of the clauses, including those similar to the ones you're showing here, were illegal. Don't rent from someone who does this.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:40 AM on May 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

(It's kind of baffling/troubling to me that a law firm would produce these forms that really do seem to contradict the landlord's responsibilities as indicated in those court docs).

When I worked as a legal aid attorney representing tenants in another state, I used to be baffled by things like this, too. But then a mentor suggested it could be related to how we only had the capacity to appear in a small percentage of cases where people without the privilege to avoid these types of leases or worse would end up living due to a lack of other options. That's why people like you noticing lease provisions like this and asking questions can be so important, so thank you for considering the rights of tenants and the possible options for contacting local advocacy groups to alert them to this issue. I bristle at the idea that a waiver of the implied warranty of habiltability could exist, and I wonder if potential consumer fraud claims are available, but I can't make a determination about what exactly is going on in California - a consultation with a lawyer (MeFi Wiki) in California would be needed for that.
posted by katra at 11:05 AM on May 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

(It's kind of baffling/troubling to me that a law firm would produce these forms that really do seem to contradict the landlord's responsibilities as indicated in those court docs).

As someone who's been a tenant in California for 30+ years, I cynically think they do it deliberately because many people will take the contract language at face value and not even think to question it.

And as far as I can tell, if a tenant or prospective tenant does raise the issue, the landlord might correct that individual contract, but there's little chance they'll change the contract going forward and zero chance they'll contact current tenants to let them know that the clause in question is not valid.
posted by Lexica at 1:42 PM on May 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

relevant podcast
posted by aniola at 8:40 PM on May 26, 2020

« Older Good scientific voices on reopening   |   Community Lego sorter? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments