Should I move out since there is no water?
June 7, 2008 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Should I move out since there is no water?

Sigh. I'll make this quick.

Subletting a room in a large house in Berkeley for the summer. Top floor has 5 bedrooms, bottom has two apartment units. The landlord lives in one of the rooms on the top floor, as do I and two other people. The two apartments have families in them, including a woman with a disabled daughter.

I just moved in last Wed. (May 28) from SoCal after corresponding with the landlord via email and phone for a few weeks. A Cal student needed someone to sublet the room before she moved in in the fall for school. Spoke with her too, but I couldn't come up and visit before moving in.

On Tuesday, the water was shut off by the city because they said there was an outstanding $1300 water bill. They have not turned it back on yet because...

The day before (Monday) the landlord left for vacation in Europe for two weeks, said he would be unreachable by phone but would check his email frequently.'s 5 days later and he has yet to respond to a single email from anyone who lives here! We called his cell phone only to hear it ringing from his bedroom.

He left the name of a property manager, but when we called her she said she was only standing in as a favor to him and really couldn't do anything. She tried to reach the landlord's business partner, but hasn't been able to. The landlord said he won't be back until June 14.

Can I/should I move out? I tried to get him to sign a lease before I moved in, but he said he wanted to handle it once I got here. My housemates on the top floor moved in early-to mid-May and said he hadn't signed a lease with them either. When I got here on last Wednesday, he was away on business (he said). I didn't meet him until Sunday morning and then he left on Monday.

I sent him a full month's deposit and paid for half of May, even though I was only here from the 28th. I don't want to lose my deposit and don't want him to sue me for the remaining 2.5 months we agreed I was subletting (via email, not official lease).

It's Saturday so it'll be hard to find official help today.

What do you think I should do? Can I move out ? Where can I look for more information?

(I looked up similar questions but they were in other states.)
posted by PinkButterfly to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
Best answer: I would see if I could get the water back on by paying the water bill today, then deduct it from future rent. IANAL, but I doubt any judge would take the landlord's side on this if they indeed sued you for something (it is illegal for a rental unit not to have running water). You're in Berkeley which has strong tenants rights protection, as well as it taking at least three months for any formal eviction to take place as long as you sit tight.

Whether or not the water is back on by then, call the Berkeley Rent Board on Monday morning.
posted by rhizome at 9:29 AM on June 7, 2008

Oh, I just saw that it was $1300 rather than the $300 I originally read it as. The Rent Board site has some information on the laws regarding repair and deduct, but maybe a collection could be taken by the tenants (documented on paper and signed) so that no one portion is greater than one month of anybody's rent.
posted by rhizome at 9:32 AM on June 7, 2008

You should look at this page to see what remedies are available to you for breach of the "implied" (now codified in CA) warranty of habitability. Though the California Civil Code makes clear that your landlord has breached its provisions, you should still contact a lawyer.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:36 AM on June 7, 2008

Call the city and see what they can do about it. He's violated his agreement with them, but it's your health and safety that is being jeopardized.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:22 AM on June 7, 2008

I don't want to lose my deposit and don't want him to sue me for the remaining 2.5 months we agreed I was subletting

There is no way he is going to sue you for "breaking a lease" or whatever on your sublet. It would cost too much, which is one of the reasons tenants must pony up for a deposit when they move in - so that the landlord can recoup costs in case someone leaves early. And you don't have a lease, anyway.

If it seems like the city won't turn the water back on in a hurry, you're going to need a place to live anyway, so you might as well start looking now. Perhaps a MetaTalk call for help in the Berkley area might work.

If you're worried about moving out and loosing your damage deposit, well, your current landlord has it now anyway. Even if you followed the "rules", there is probably little chance he will fork it over in the end anyway. I suppose you're left with arbitration (if they have that where you're from) or small claims court. Either way, it's a lengthy process, and you need to find a new place to live NOW.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:20 AM on June 7, 2008

Best answer: I suppose you're not a student, but the ASUC Renter's Legal Assistance organization will still help you. They are familiar with all the relevant Berkeley laws, and will know exactly what you should do. I would wait to contact a lawyer before speaking with them, which I would do as soon as possible.
posted by Zach! at 11:49 AM on June 7, 2008

If you want to stay give EBMUD (East Bay water authority) a call and explain the situation and see what the minimum payment is to get water turned back on, but as you're not in a lease I would invite you to take advantage of it and get out of there. It's not worth it renting from a landlord like that. You'll be able to get your deposit back via small claims court, but also talk to the rent board. Berkeley as noted above does have a very strong tenants rights group independent from the city and should be able to provide better advice. See here for the rental unit safety board, there is a contact number at the bottom.

From what I have read regarding city policies I would make plans to move out, if the landlords are that behind on water it's only a matter of time before they get in trouble with the city, start looking for a new place now.
posted by iamabot at 11:59 AM on June 7, 2008

I suggest you hunt down a tenants' rights organization of some sort: they will know not just the law but also the practical application of the law in this kind of situation.

I think this depends on: do you want to leave (and have to find another place to stay) or, if you can get this situation straightened out, would you just as soon stay there — the landlord's not great but hey it's only 2.5 months?

In Seattle, where I live, there is not just "repair and deduct", but also the option of simply not having to pay rent for the period (if you've informed the landlord and they haven't done anything, etc etc; there are conditions) — this is a Seattle law but Berkeley might have something similar.

IANAL, of course, but I suspect that you'd be entitled to leave now and expect your deposit back, and possibly any rent you've paid for the time the building is uninhabitable. The same verbal contract under which you owe rent means that they owe you a place to live. You might have to fight for it, yes, but that's what small claims court is for. Though there's also the possibility that the landlord never returns from their "vacation" in Europe...
posted by hattifattener at 12:09 PM on June 7, 2008

If you end up deciding to look for another place, feel free to send me a mefimail. I subletted a room in Berkeley for the summer but may end up leaving the area.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:31 PM on June 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. I will be making some phone calls on Monday.

My landlord magically reappeared via email yesterday and basically said my bad, I didn't check my email all week......


And claimed he had no idea about the outstanding bill but that nothing could be done until Monday. I don't really want to move, but I'm going to see how this plays out over the next day or so and decide.

Again, thanks everyone.
posted by PinkButterfly at 10:59 AM on June 8, 2008

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