Who's at fault in my rental dispute?
June 2, 2007 10:38 PM   Subscribe

The three bedroom apartment I just leased is supposed to be "fully furnished," but I've just discovered that one of the bedrooms is empty. Is my landlord in the wrong? What do I do now?

This is a total mess. Let me explain.

I just graduated from college in southern California in May. Two of my friends and I decided that we wanted to live together in Los Angeles for a bit. When school ended, we all went to our respective homes (I live in Maryland), and I took it upon myself to begin looking for apartments.

I found a listing on craigslist for a three bedroom house in Glendale, and the listing stated that the house was fully furnished. I asked a friend who was still in Los Angeles to go check it out and see what the house and the people who owned it were like. She was not one of the people who was going to be living with me in the house--just a friend doing me a really nice favor. She obliged, even taking pictures of the house to send to me.

The owners, a husband and a wife, were scheduled to leave the house at the end of May, so they were eager to find someone to rent it. My friend was very enthusiastic about the place, so I applied to rent it. The owners accepted our application, and we signed a lease.

Here's where it gets ugly. My first future roommate arrived at the house today, and the third bedroom is empty. There is nothing in it. No bed, no nothing.

The lease agreement states explicitly that the home is "fully furnished." It does not state that the home has three bedrooms, but the ad on craigslist and all of my correspondence with the landlord included mention of the "3BR..." home.

My two friends and I rented a place without ever having seen it. We did this mostly by my arrangement, because I trusted the judgment of my other friend, who had looked at the place and was very enthusiastic about it. She ended up not sending me the photos that she had taken due to of a combination of technical and personal problems, and I wasn't even that worried about seeing them because of her endorsement. There were also a few photos of the home in the craigslist ad, and it looked fine (and furnished) in those photos.

We called the landlord, and here's what he says: the sofa in the living room folds out and can be used as a third bed. He also says that my friend went and looked at the place, and she saw the room that was empty, so I should have known that it was.

Here's what I say (I'm really angry about this...): what my friend saw or did doesn't matter. She was doing me a favor and making sure that the place was not in disrepair and that the people were legitimate. We hadn't even seen the lease agreement when she was viewing the house, so there's no way it could have been her job to insure that the house met the terms of the lease. For all she knew, they were going to put a bed in that room before we got there. The ads said it's a three bedroom house, and the agreement says it's fully furnished. That means each of the three bedrooms should have a bed. Even if we take the couch out of the living room and move it into the third bedroom to use it as a bed, that would leave us with a living room that doesn't have a couch, which is certainly not fully furnished.

I think a fair solution is for the landlord to pay for a bed, and for us to pay prorated rent until the bed is not there in the amount of 2/3 of the rent stated in the agreement.

This has been quite the introduction to the real world. Help me (us) settle this. Who is right, and what is a reasonable solution? I plan on potentially showing this page to the landlord, just so you all know.
posted by holympus to Human Relations (22 answers total)
I am not your lawyer, this is not legal advice.
My gut says that your landlord is in the wrong, since it sounds like your friend was not empowered to act on your behalf and the plain language of the lease is in your favor. As to what you should do: go get a free futon from somebody and forget it. This is not worth the hassle. Your landlord should do this, not you, but only you can decide (or, really, the guy sleeping on the floor) whether you are willing to wait for him to do the right thing.

Cutting the rent by 1/3 is ridiculous, since the empty-room guy can presumably use the common areas and is only being deprived of the use of some furnishings.
posted by amber_dale at 10:56 PM on June 2, 2007

Don't ever short change a landlord unless they agree to it. It immediately puts you (legally) in the wrong.
posted by SirStan at 11:00 PM on June 2, 2007

IANAL, natch.

Okay. DO NOT shortchange the landlord unless you have this agreement in writing.

In actuality, sounds like your landlord is an asshole, and it's up to you how far and hard you want to fight this. Threaten to shortchange him all you want, but don't actually do it. He's in the wrong, yeah, but i'd bet that with a friend with a truck and some trolling on Craigslist and Freecycle, you can have this sorted out pretty easily, and painlessly.

I don't know your landlord, and I don't know you. But if you think it's worth it to fight to get him to furnish the third bedroom, by all means do it. I, however, would let it slide, considering you could probably get a whole bedroom suite in less than two weeks for the cost of gas, and a case of beer for the friend who has the truck, via the aforementioned Freecycle and Craigslist free section.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:56 PM on June 2, 2007

I think the onus is on you.

You failed to properly inspect the house and leased it sight unseen. "fully furnished" is still a subjective term.

You could easily push the matter and the landlord could easily find you a nasty old matress... so that wouldn't gain any real ground.

I would explain to him how extremely strapped for cash you and your friends are and that you had an expectation of having 3 beds to rest your head.

Suggest that you find a slightly used / cheap new bed and split the cost with him (his amount to come off the rent for one month).

(ps. you being "very angry" is a little overblown, approach this as an adult with compromise in your strategy. Also 1/3 rent withholding is obsurd.)
posted by crewshell at 12:07 AM on June 3, 2007

I think the onus is on you.

What are you basing this on?

If the lease says X, and you don't get X, then the landlord is in the wrong.
posted by delmoi at 12:13 AM on June 3, 2007

The fault is entirely yours. No matter what state the house is in, you signed the lease, thereby agreeing to take the house in the condition it was when you signed it.
'Fully Furnished' does not mean your landlord is obliged to provide beds for every room no more than it means he should provide a pool table or plasma tv. In estate agent terms, 'bedroom' just really means any room that isnt specifcally designed for another purpose - such as a kitchen or bathroom.
Just buy a cheap bed and move on, your friend can sleep on the sofa bed until you get one.
posted by missmagenta at 12:26 AM on June 3, 2007

I think the onus is on you.

What are you basing this on?

If the lease says X, and you don't get X, then the landlord is in the wrong.

Unless the lease specficially states an inventory of all the fixtures and fittings that are included in the lease then he's not entitled to them. There is no legal definition of what constitutes 'fully furnished'. If he had complained before signing the lease or stipulated a condition of signing was that the 3rd bedroom had a bed then he would have a case but he already signed, thereby agreeing to take the property - especially given that he had sent someone to inspect the property - he cant technically claim not to have known about the empty bedroom - unless that room had been furnished at the time and that furniture had since been removed - so yes it does matter what the friend saw.

Ask the landlord nicely to provide a bed for the 3rd room but witholding rent will put you in breech of contract not him.

My house has broken central heating but it was like that when we signed the lease and we were told about it therefore the landlord is not obliged to fix it
posted by missmagenta at 12:36 AM on June 3, 2007

Your not going to like my opinion, but I think you are being unreasonable. If the landlord was honest about the third room being empty when viewed, then I don't think you have a (moral) case. A landlord can't assume you were going to use all three bedrooms as bedrooms as obviously they didn't.

The place is otherwise fully furnished, so I would just chalk this up to experience and go by a cheap frame and a cheap mattress and be done with it.

Even if you don't like the result, you really have to take responsibility for not checking the place thoroughly, or at least getting an agreement on inventory.

You may be able to get some legal angle on this, but I think you'd be a jerk to do that when, for all intents and purposes, the landlord has not tried to hide anything from you.
posted by qwip at 1:20 AM on June 3, 2007

definition of fully furnished

From some of the hits therein:

means the basic lounge room, dining room and bedroom furniture is supplied along with basic kitchen and laundry appliances.

a bed and storage for clothes in each bedroom

3rd Bedroom
Wall / Ceiling lights
Air Conditioner or Ceiling fans
Single bed with mattress and bedsheet covers
Cupboard and Curtains to window

"The sofa folds out" = clearly bullshit. Ditto the part about your friend seeing it meaning anything.

However, "prorated rent until the bed is not there in the amount of 2/3 of the rent stated in the agreement" = clearly bullshit.

Google around and it looks like the law is squarely on your side. That doesn't make it worth it to pursue it too relentlessly, though.

Perhaps you might point him to the relevant definitions &c, and, if it's not too hard to find what's needed via CL & Freecycle, ask the landlord to foot the beer and gas needed to get the stuff.
posted by kmennie at 1:33 AM on June 3, 2007

In nearly every single link that lists what you should expect is also points out:
"There is no legal definition of what furniture must be provided or its condition if a property is let as furnished." the lists are just what is generally 'expected' not legally required.
posted by missmagenta at 2:35 AM on June 3, 2007

It boils down to this: can you convince the small claims court judge that a house advertised as three bedrooms and specified in the agreement as "fully furnished" should have, at the very least, a bed in all three bedrooms. I'm not a lawyer, but I bet you can.

Unless your lease agreement said that you were renting the house "as is," I don't think it matters that your friend saw the house. Even if you personally saw the house before signing the lease, I would still expect the defect to be fixed before move-in.

Don't withhold arbitrary amounts of rent. The most you can possibly be entitled to is the cost of a bed of equivalent quality (including age) to the other beds in the house. I personally doubt missing furniture is the sort of thing you are allowed to repair and deduct for.

What I'd do:
  1. Contact a tenants' association to get a more experienced take on things.
  2. Buy a used bed to go into the room
  3. Send the landlord a bill and receipt for the bed.
  4. If he doesn't pay, tell him you will take him to small claims court.
  5. Do so.
  6. ???
  7. Break even
But honestly, taking your landlord to court will be a hassle, and may not be worth it for the cost of the bed. It will also irritate your landlord further. You may want to drop it after step 3. Or just hold onto the evidence so you can sue him at a later date if necessary.
posted by grouse at 3:10 AM on June 3, 2007

Introduction to the real world, indeed. It is tough to say who is in the wrong; opinions so far seem to be split. What is important is how you react. You sound combative and you have stated that you are angry, and your proposed settlement is ridiculously slanted in your favor.

Stop and think about the situation from your landlord's point on view. You should not be in 'fight' mode. You should be in 'negotiate' mode. You therefore need to make it easy for your landlord to agree with you. Offer him something he can agree to.

It is reasonable to expect a bed in the third room. If the sofa folds out, fine, but then it needs to be moved to the bedroom and you need a new sofa. Either way, you can ask the landlord to pay for a bed plus a small amount for your time and gas mileage in securing it. You must have his agreement in writing before you withold any rent. He may choose not to agree to this settlement. If that happens, I don't know what avenues you have. But it is almost never worth it to fight.

If your friend was so enthusiastic, then you got a great place to live. You can buy a used futon for $50. Share the cost among your roommates and it's minor. It is far more important to have a good relationship with your landlord, who you may wind up depending on in an emergency, than it is to save $50.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:22 AM on June 3, 2007

People are suggesting buying used futons? And no one's mentioned bedbugs yet?

It may be worth your while to consult with a lawyer. In the meantime, you should avoid being hostile or rude (always -- assume that the landlord is doing what he thinks is right, but is mistaken), but be firm and insist that the landlord provide a bed and, if needed, dresser for the bedroom. Do it in writing. If you don't get results that way, you might have a lawyer send a letter.

Good luck.
posted by amtho at 8:20 AM on June 3, 2007

From a distance this is an easy situation to give advice on. Your roommates get the rooms with beds. You buy a bed for yourself. Never ever think about this again. As a recent college graduate you have way more important things to think about. Don't forget to visit Venice Beach every once in a while. It is the last free entertainment in Southern California.
posted by snowjoe at 8:34 AM on June 3, 2007

The first thing you should do is write out your complaint, plainly and without emotion saying that you believe they are not meeting their end of the contract, and send it to them registered mail. You want to start the documentation of this NOW.

Then, I'd seek out a tenants' rights association, as recommended above. This will be annoying for you to deal with, but since the people you're leasing from don't appear to be professional landlords, I suspect that the merest whiff of legal hassle will cause them to quickly want to resolve this amicably.
posted by mkultra at 8:42 AM on June 3, 2007

registered mail

Actually you want to use certified mail. Registered mail is for valuable objects or papers.
posted by grouse at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2007

missmagenta: "The fault is entirely yours. No matter what state the house is in, you signed the lease, thereby agreeing to take the house in the condition it was when you signed it. "

I disagree. Typically I go to view rental property the occupants' possessions are still in it. There are other signs of life like dishes in the sink and bottles of shampoo in the shower. But when I sign the lease it's implicit that all that person's stuff will be gone to make room for mine. I'm not sure what the legal language is in Glendale, but I think generally speaking you don't sign a lease for "this property in its exact current condition."
posted by loiseau at 10:44 AM on June 3, 2007

sure, document everything and make your complain known in writing. but you signed the lease, therefore you agreed to what existed, whether you saw what was there or not.

and seriously, it's just a bed. withholding even part of the rent is a breach of the contract on your part; are you really going to create some animosity between you and your landlord over this? there are bigger battles to pick in "the real world."
posted by violetk at 10:45 AM on June 3, 2007

Legal stuff aside: From a 'handshake' perspective - it's not 1/3 of the rent. It's probably 1/11 or less.

You still have the room, it just doesn't have furnishings. Let's say that your place is 21% more expensive with furniture. So, each of the room's furnishings run about 7%. That's what that room unfurnished difference would cost. (I picked 21% to make the math easy.)

Of course, it'd be even smaller, based on that everyone shares furnishings in the common room.
posted by filmgeek at 10:48 AM on June 3, 2007

In my neck of the woods as soon as you escalate something like this to official (read: legally documented) channels of complaint, you have a record of being a problem tenant. Then it's that much harder to rent from someone else later, or even to get proper landlord service in the current location.

Suck it up and buy a bed (cheap, new, bedbug-free) and a couple of other pieces of basic furniture (craigslist/freecycle) and move on.

You'll be much worse off in the long run renting from a landlord who has reason not to be on your side.
posted by mccxxiii at 11:19 AM on June 3, 2007

you signed the lease, therefore you agreed to what existed, whether you saw what was there or not.

This is not true, unless the lease says something like "I agree that the current furnishings are acceptable" or specifies that the furnishings are provided on an as is basis only. I'm guessing it doesn't.
posted by grouse at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2007

Resolution: I told him I felt he should pay for the furniture, and he said he was not willing to and that the only thing he would accept was for us to pay for all of the furniture. I told him I couldn't accept that at that time, and he called later and forced us to terminate the lease under the threat of a lawsuit.
posted by holympus at 9:57 AM on June 4, 2007

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