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Renters' Rights?

Original post made by Neighbor, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 30, 2013

Our neighbor is living in subpar conditions: windows from the 1950s, mold growing, things not working. The owners live overseas and the prior renters complained of the same and had to use their own money for improvements. And the rent, no doubt, is high. Is this a take-it-or-leave-it? Quite upsetting to know that my neighbors have to live this way while I live in a house I own and am not a slave to a slumlord. Do the renters have any rights?

Comments (26)

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

YES! Renter's have rights. The mold problem alone is a sign of a crappy landlord. Unfortunately, Palo Alto treats renters are third worlders, but tenants have many rights. An out of town landlord is NO excuse for poor conditions. Here is a PDF of the state handbook that should help. The Palo Alto-specific ordinances should be online, also. Web Link


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Turns out that Calif is one of the few states w/laws specific to mold in a rental unit. Web Link Here is an excerpt:
Mold growth is classified as a factor of inhabitable conditions and is required, by state law, to be taken care of by landlords according to Civil Code 1941.1, Green vs. Superior Court. This includes having proper inspections done by licensed mold inspectors and then having the mold removed from the property by qualified contractors. As tenants we have the right to hire inspectors ourselves to get this work done and take the cost out of the following month's rent. However, you must give your landlord notice that you are having this work done and give him/her a proper amount of time to fix the issue.

It is also necessary for the mold growth to have been caused by faulty conditions to your home. Mold growth often occurs because of a leak from a pipe, roof or window. If the leak is slow and goes unnoticed for a long period of time, mold growth is practically a give-in and will need to be removed.

Mold growth can also be caused by your lifestyle as a tenant. If you have a lot of stuff in your home, or don't properly ventilate while cooking and/or showering, condensation can build up in your home and cause mold growth. If this is the case, your landlord is not responsible for funding the repairs. However, if proper ventilation devices are not available in your home, then that is your landlord's responsibility.

A properly licensed inspector should be able to find the cause of mold and you can figure out who's at fault and should fund the repairs from there.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Thanks, Hmmm for the info. I think the mold is due to single-paned windows. These renters just moved in a couple of months ago. We had mold in our master bedroom because the windows were 1950 originals. Even though we aired out the bathroom after showering, mold would still grow. Since replacing with double-paned windows, no more mold.

I know the manager and she denies everything. The issue here is if the renters complain, can they get evicted?


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

No, they canNOT be evicted for complaining, because it would be considered harassment. Many landlords don't know the letter of the law re their responsibilities, so they need to be held responsible.

The renter needs to complain, make note of complaints, and go from there. If they've already done so & the landlord won't do anything, the tenant may be w/in their rights to withhold rent. HOWEVER, I'd never advocate that unless they had no other options. They should now contact a city of county building inspector or the health dept to find out best next steps.

In the work I've done, landlords somehow become amenable when a city or county agency gets involved. Given that winter is approaching, if I were the tenant, I'd immediately make calls to find out the best agency to get involved - health or building inspection. They often work hand in hand. For a shortcut, I'd advise they contact Code Enforcement for the city, if they still have that dept.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Thank you for the tips, Hmmm. I spoke with someone in Palo Alto mediation: Web Link

Here's another website he referred me to: Web Link


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I'm familiar w/both of those orgs, but frankly, I think that the mediation thing isn't appropriate. Neither is a housing org given that the mold is a substantive issue which may be causing health problems. I don't think mediation would help. That's why I suggested building inspectors or code enforcement. My experience tells me this landlord needs to be legally compelled to take care of problems. In EPA, those are the orgs I'd contact. We have a very busy but helpful code enforcement. Doesn't Palo Alto?

Is the tenant a senior, by chance, or belongs to any protected class, such as disabled?


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Here's the link to Code Enforcement in Palo Alto. You are a good neighbor!

Web Link


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Neighbor - I am happy to help further if I can. I can be emailed at: iamhmmm (at) yahoo.com.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Under what cases can the tenant NOT be evicted. It would seem to me that if the lease was month-to-month they could very well be evicted at any time for any reason. Perhaps the landlord is unable or unwilling to fix the problem, or in lieu of fixing the problem just wants to remodel the whole house or even sell it. Under those circumstances I think the tenant could be evicted. Complications would arise if there was a lease in place, and if the tenant made an enemy of his landlord and is getting what would be below market rent, they might get evicted when the lease terminates.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Single pane windows do not cause mold. Moisture and minimal air movement is the issue. You can have old windows and a dry environment if the windows are properly caulked and sealed.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Neighbor - it's best to disregard Crescent Park Anon's uninformed pov on the tenant's rights because they may wrongly cause undue worry. A landlord harassing a tenant who attempts to correct the types of problems you've mentioned is illegal, whether the tenant is on a month-to-month or longer lease. Hopefully the links I gave you will help.


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Posted by A landlord
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:26 pm

If the landlord gave the tenant notice after a legitimate complaint, that might be considered a "Retaliatory eviction". Now the tenant should be showing due care to avoid mold growing in a humid space like a restroom. That might be considered the fault of the tenant not properly caring for the building. Nolo Press puts out some excellent books on landlord - tenant law. I think the library has some copies.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Hmm, in case you didn't notice I was asking a question. Just because you looked up a few URLs doesn't make you Perry Mason.

Harassment is different from ending a contract. Yes, if the landlord turned off the power, or heat, or entered the house or did harass the tenant in some way that would harassment and be illegal, but saying - I can't do anything about the mold so I will be forced to take the unit off the market for a while, you are welcome to find another place to live, if the tenant does not have a lease does not seem illegal to me?

I admit I don't know, and rather than say you don't know either you just attack me. [Portion removed.] If you think the law is your friend, go talk to a lawyer and ask them how much they want to represent you ... bet it's more than 2 months rent.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm

> Single pane windows do not cause mold.

True. If properly cared for there is way for the condensed water to drain or evaporate it will build up until it drips or soaks into the wood or surrounding trim or framing. Aluminum windows have little "weep" holes for water get plugged with dust or dirt and water can collect in them. If you see water collecting in there like a little tub look for tiny little plugged up holes and unplug them.


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Posted by A landlord
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:56 pm

"Things not working" is too broad a category. This could be an issue or not depending on what the thing is.

Anon, this would be a small claims action, assuming there is a basis to sue. I.E. no lawyers. Suffering metal casement windows does not a lawsuit make however. Suing or withholding rent over the inconveience of single paned glass might backfire on the tenant. Might make more sense to just move to a better rental.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Thanks ALL.

Every once in a while you hear horror stories of landlords having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a tenant who has been "wronged" ... associated with mold. You hear it on the AM radio ads occasionally. I think it is bait for the gullible to go pay for a lawyer thinking they are going to get to live free and collect money. I am sure there are big problems with mold ... so, if there is mold, and it requires major work, is the landlord no responsible for paying for alternate lodging for the tenant? Some mold contractors can rip and rip and keep finding mold ... what then?

If someone wants to reasonable solve a problem I think you should work with your landlord, and if they do not want to do that with you, follow ALL's advice and find a better place to live.

Len Tillem used to say "the reasonable enjoyment of your living space" was the measure of a significant problem. Like, no heat, no hot water, faulty electricity, mold, leaks in the roof, rats. You can find mold anywhere though, mold is all over the place.

Is what's being discussed here superficial appearances or health problems or just a neighbor's opinion on their friend's premises?


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Crescent Park Anon - [Portion removed.] I happen to know a fair amount about tenant-landlord law. [Portion removed.] My pasting those URLs demonstrates just a bit of my knowledge, because those are very relevant URLs that can help the tenant & their helpful neighbor. What the landlord above wrote is pretty silly - ignoring the information about mold & merely suggesting that the tenant move. [Portion removed.] Expecting a tenant to pack up a household & move, so that a crappy landlord can continue to ignore their responsibilities is repellent.

It's truly unfortunate that your city has so little regard for tenants that they don't have anything useful to suggest beyond mediation that is voluntary. If I knew more about this particular tenant's specific issues, I could be more helpful [portion removed.]

Is the law my friend? [Portion removed.] My advice to the helpful neighbor to ignore your posts is relevant & helpful. I also suggest that they ignore that ignorant landlord's post, too. Crescent Park Dad's post is helpful.

[Portion removed.] Let me make this really clear: A landlord who attempts to evict a tenant who is attempting to compel a landlord to correct habitability issues is harassing that tenant, and it's illegal, whether the lease is month-to-month, or longer. I've seen many different types of intimidation and harassment from landlords on tenants and some tenants get scared and leave. Others don't, and they successfully fight the landlord. Some landlords, once they receive a firmly worded letter from the tenant's attorney, get their act together and make the necessary fixes. I think that this strategy, as well as going to Code Enforcement and/or a building inspector, can get the fastest results. But, since I haven't actually seen the problems in this house, I am surmising based on the description and my experience. You are merely opining w/out being informed. That's fine for shooting the breeze, but useless for this tenant and their neighbor.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Hmmm:
[Portion removed.]

Honestly, legal eagle, what do you think is going to happen if major mold is found and requires walls to pulled open and framing to be replaced? I am asking a question, I have no experience with that, do you?


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm

By the way I've been a tenant in both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto and nowhere is it easy to resolve any problems. Problems in this case fomented by a neighbor no less.

In the flood back whenever we had water bubbling up into our rented Eichler's living room floor, and the landlord said we could move. If you know what it's like to move a whole houses worth of stuff while working full time, and.or trying to deal with a lawyer and an unhappy landlord you want to help you - you might be a bit more humble about your expertise. In EPA I had a bathroom wall that moved and eventually had bugs flying out of it until only half-assed fixed it, before I moved. I know just a little about having a life and having to deal with problems like this.

Thankfully, now I am my own landlord ... maybe I should sue myself.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] I never said resolving these problems would be easy, which is why I suggested skipping mediation and going for something more efficient. [Portion removed.]

Yes, I know what happens if major mold is found. If that's the case w/the tenant who's the subject of this thread, I'm happy to help if I can. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2013 at 12:30 am

[Portion removed.]

The problems with rent control in EPA have brought about a lot of problems, a lot of pain for tenants and landlords and perhaps may even have created an opening for some of the abuses you may have been talking about in terms of tenant law. I'm suggesting that making a big deal about this like in EPA may not be so relevant as you think since you don't know the problem or that there is one.

Anyway, aside from very completely documenting the problem and making a full-time job out of making a landlord miserable, my "obtuse" suggestion would be to find out complete information before you go referring people to lawyers and East Palo Alto/San Mateo country tenant law that does not apply and complaining about Palo Alto's tenant law that doesn't work or do very much. Most often it is not worth it, unless you have a serious axe to grind and lots of free time, and putting someone you do not even know has a problem on track to a wild goose chase is really not that helpful.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2013 at 12:42 am

[Portion removed.]

As far as mold, the mold is on the windowsills even in the top windows that are unreachable. The house was built in 1955 or so and no windows or closet doors have been replaced. Does a window last nearly 60 years without needing to be replaced? The seal breaks down by then, thus our mold issue left when we replaced our original single-paned with new double-paned windows.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2013 at 1:01 am

If windows are maintained they can last indefinitely. My house was built in the 20's and until a few years ago when i replaced them they were serviceable - a pain in the neck, but serviceable. My neighbor just repainted and puttied his original windows ... from the 20's. Paint and putty for wood windows, a little soap to lubricate the action. Are these windows wood or metal?

For metal windows, they have drainage holes or if they leak the need some kind of gaskets or seals. What kind of windows?

Neighbor, are you talking mold or mildew? Does the roof leak? How are the closets showing mold? Doors should last forever ... how does a door get mold? Is water leaking on it.

Do you feel sick or sneeze when you go in there? Is it dust or mold/mildew? You really need to be a bit more descriptive and specific.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2013 at 1:02 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

Neighbor - it's hard to tell re the mold w/out seeing it. It could be a problem w/the casements or something else. Mold in the walls obviously is a serious problem and needs to be assessed, as it can really affect the tenant's health, the health of pets and children and any visitors, espec. if they have asthma or any other bronchial or upper respiratory issues. This is why I encourage you or the tenant to contact Code Enforcement, to see if they're the right place to start with in getting the place assessed as to habitability issues and what is the responsibility of the landlord, according to law. There may be things that the tenant thinks are the landlord's legal responsibility but really aren't.

An example would be a discarded tub or shower. It might be clean and free of mold and mildew, but just old and discolored. That's not a habitability issue. A stove that doesn't work, windows and doors that don't open or close properly, those are all examples of habitability issues that the landlord is responsible for. It's not the age of the door or window (unless lead or asbestos are involved, or something else now that can't be used). For example, an old, refurbished door may be perfectly acceptable if it's in good working order.

Another example: If the place is that old w/out having had much maintenance done and has been painted over, there may be old lead paint under the current paint, and that should be checked, so that's a potential issue. If the doors and windows are okay, but it's the the casements or jambs which aren't in good working order and prevent them from opening and closing properly - again, a habitability issue, which is the landlord's responsibility.

It may be easier for the tenant to make a list of problems and get the habitability issues, such as mold, dealt w/first, even if it takes legal action such as an inspection. In order to determine which is a habitability issue, the Palo Alto tenant-landlord handbook is useful, but imo, not the greatest. It's an ok place to start, along w/the Calif. handbook, the link to which I posted.

If the tenant is in a protected class, they may be able to get assistance w/this via that avenue.

Years ago, when I had habitability issues that my landlord refused to take care of, I hired an attorney w/experience in this area. Suddenly, the landlord was legally compelled to pay attention and fix the problems.


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Posted by A landlord
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2013 at 8:18 am

Hmm,

I was not suggesting the tenant ignore real habitability issues and just move, but as described the issues are vague. They could be real or superficial. I spoke to both possibilities.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Landlord - thank you for your clarification, & I apologize for not understanding it before.


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