|Palo Alto Online Real Estate
Uploaded: Thursday, April 19, 2012, 4:35 PM
Can landlord oust a tenant to make room for mother-in-law?
|Q I own two houses, both on the same street. I live in one and rent the other. Right now the tenants in the rental house have seven months left on their lease.
My problem is that my wife's mother has just moved here after her husband died. She needs a place to live and I would like to move her into the house I have been renting so that she can move out of my house. Will I be able to do that?
A A lease is an agreement that is binding on all parties to it, tenant and landlord. Some leases have "escape clauses" that allow either party to cancel upon giving notice, typically 30 days. However, if the lease agreement you used for this rental does not include an escape clause, you have no general right to unilaterally cancel the lease.
You may have a very strong desire to move your mother-in-law out of your house, but that type of reason is not good cause to terminate a valid existing lease. Personal or economic changes in life are never good cause to cancel.
If your current tenant violates the terms of the lease and fails to comply with a three-day notice to pay rent or otherwise correct the violation, you can terminate the lease. However, if the tenant then refuses to vacate, you would need to bring an unlawful detainer eviction in court.
Your other option would be to convince the tenant to voluntarily terminate the lease and voluntarily vacate. You should expect that you will need to offer a financial or other incentive to obtain the tenant's consent. Your local mediation program can help in the process to negotiate a mutual termination.
Q I am the local manager for an apartment community with 16 units. When one of our residents first moved into her apartment, she requested permission to install grab bars in the bathtub.
We could tell from looking at her that she was disabled and needed these bars to be able to use the bath tub. She offered to pay the installation cost. I said yes, and we noted the grab bars on the rental agreement.
Two years later, she gave her notice of termination. When we did the pre-departure walk-through, I asked her what she was planning to do about the grab bars. She said she was removing them.
The next time I was in the apartment was after she had vacated, and when I looked in the bathroom, I saw four large holes in the wall where the grab bars had been. Can I charge this resident's security deposit for our cost to repair the wall where the grab bars were located?
A Under the fair housing laws, tenants with disabilities should be allowed to make reasonable and necessary modifications in order to have equal enjoyment of their units. A reasonable modification is either an internal or external structural change to existing premises.
Reasonable modifications are similar to accommodations in that there needs to be an identifiable relationship between the disability and the request. However, there is an important difference between an accommodation and a modification. The burden of shouldering the cost for a reasonable modification will usually fall on the tenant. The same is generally true for any costs associated with maintenance and upkeep of the modification.
In this case, the issue revolves around damage caused by the removal of a modification. A tenant is responsible for restoring the area where the modification was located, if it is reasonable to do so. A tenant is not, however, obligated to pay for damage caused by general wear and tear that would come along with the modification.
Based on the facts of this case, the four holes could not be deemed reasonable wear and tear. Rather, it was damage directly caused by the installation of the handle bars and its subsequent removal. Therefore, you can deduct the cost of its repair from the resident's security deposit.
Q My son has severe allergies, including being allergic to cat fur. To keep him safe, I moved my family to a community that was advertised as pet free. Then, six months after moving there, I noticed a cat on the balcony of my next-door neighbor. When I asked the manager if the cat lived in the next unit, she said yes. She said the community management had no choice because the cat was a companion animal necessary to mitigate that resident's disability.
That may be great for my neighbor, but what about my son who is in danger of needing emergency medical care if he has an allergy attack?
A Persons who are deemed disabled under the fair housing laws are entitled to accommodations that are reasonable and necessary in order to have equal enjoyment of their units. One such accommodation can be an exception to a "no pets" rule being enforced in an apartment complex. Landlords should accommodate such requests, provided that the tenant sufficiently establishes a nexus between the disability and the request.
The problem then arises when granting a tenant's accommodation request potentially aggravates another tenant's disability. Your request sounds like it is certainly necessary, but the competing rights here require the parties to engage in an interactive process to find a solution that is reasonable. For example, the parties could decide to explore asking the cat's owner to prevent her cat from roaming near your unit.
In the event that this is not a feasible solution because of the difficulty controlling the cat's outdoor activity, you and your landlord could discuss allowing you to transfer to a different unit within the complex, away from the animal.
If there is no other workable accommodation, you might be able to request that the landlord allow you to terminate your lease early without being charged an early lease termination fee. The important principle is for the parties to explore possible solutions on a specific, case-by-case basis.
Q I am the regional manager for a company that provides property management for several rental communities. We have a limited pet policy in all our properties, meaning that residents can have pets only if we approve the specific animal. We have this policy so that animals unsuited for an apartment community because they are too large or too noisy can be excluded.
A resident in one of our properties gave us a note from his doctor stating that he needed a service animal to help with his disability. We agreed that he was entitled to a companion animal, but now he has a very large, very aggressive German shepherd living in his unit. Frankly, I am afraid of this dog and I am worried that some other residents will be frightened or even attacked by this dog.
Do we have any right to require the resident to remove this dog?
A The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from discriminating against applicants or tenants because of their disability and requires that they make reasonable accommodations to afford such persons equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. This includes adjusting rules or policies, such as exemption from a weight restriction for pets, for a person who requires the assistance of an animal for a disability-related need.
However, tenants are still responsible for the actions and behavior of their companion animals, regardless of their designation as such under the law. It is important to remember that reasonable accommodation requests differ for each individual and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Fair housing law does not protect persons whose tenancy creates a nuisance or "direct threat" to the health or safety of other individuals. Your concern about whether this animal may cause a nuisance should not be based on fear or speculation but rather, on an evaluation of trustworthy objective data. A large dog that looks menacing because of its size and reputation may not be a good reason to require the resident to remove his dog.
However, a long or recent history of aggression towards other tenants may justify its removal, unless actions are taken to eliminate the threat (i.e., muzzling the animal when outside the owner's apartment). Other issues relating to the animal, such as noise or waste removal, should be handled in the same manner that you would with non-disabled tenants.
If problems do arise, you are required to engage in an interactive process with this tenant to explore a reasonable solution to the harmful impact from this animal.
Martin Eichner edits RentWatch for Project Sentinel, an organization founded in 1974 that provides landlord tenant dispute resolution and fair housing services in Northern California and administers rental-housing mediation programs in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. Call 650-856-4062 for dispute resolution or 650-321-6291 for fair housing or email email@example.com.
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