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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
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    Default Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    My question involves landlord-tenant law in the State of: California
    I live in a 2 unit in which the neighbor lives in the unit above us. Three weeks ago the water pipe upstairs broke and flooded our unit. The water damage was not our fault. The landlord told my family not to worry saying that we should move to a hotel and the he would pay for all expenses and any of our property that was damaged with water. He also told us the he would not cash in the months check that we gave beforehand. However, he did so anyway. When we inquired him about this, he wrote us a check of the same amount. (We still have not cashed this check! We are not sure if we should or not. By keeping this check, would it help our situation?) We moved into a hotel for four day and then went back home but our landlord said that we had to move back into a hotel, so my family and I stayed at a hotel for another four days. We went back home to find that all of our belongings were moved into the living room where there was no water damage. The landlord moved all of our property without our consent and we were forced to move back into a hotel. We were not able to find most of our essential belongings due to the fact that they moved all of our property with out out knowing. Because we also had two dogs in which the landlord said he would also pay for, me and my family had to move to a more expensive hotel in which we spent more than $1800 in a week. Three days after we moved into the hotel we called the landlord and he told us that we would not be able to move in for another two weeks. Two days later the landlord gave us a call saying we would not be able to move in for another two and a half months. After a couple day we went to talk to the landlord in person and when we asked him how he was going to pay us back for everything, he said he wasn't going to because we didn't have renters insurance. We also said that we were going to move and that he should at least pay for the moving expenses but he also refused to do so. We are thinking of filing a complaint to the Housing Department. We are looking for compensation and don't know what action to partake in. Should we hire a lawyer? What is the best choice?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
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    1,995

    Default Re: Really Need Help and Don't Know What to Call My Situiation

    If I were you, I would hire a lawyer.

    I am a NY LL, and I now require in all my leases the tenant MUST carry "renter's insurance". The reason was early on, even I was not aware that my liability insurance DOES NOT cover a tenant's belongings. Only a policy a tenant buys can cover his belongings. Since a renter's policy back then ran about $200/year, I even asked my insurance agent if I could buy a tenant's policy to cover the tenant's belongings as it's only $15.00/month, and if I jack up the rent by $15/month, it is covered.

    My insurance agent's answer is I CANNOT buy such a policy for someone else's belongings because under insurance law, I can only buy insurance on something if I have an insurable interest in it, and I DO NOT have an insurable interest on someone else's belongings. For instance, I cannot buy insurance on YOUR CAR sitting in your driveway even if I figure you're a terrible driver and know one day, something happens, and you'll blame me. So I asked "what happens if a tenant's belonging's gets ruined?? The answer to that is my general liabilty only covers if it is my negligience, and in this case, I am not psychic and I cannot be negligient if a pipe in the wall suddenly bursts, and tenant's stuff get's ruined.

    As an example, a neighbor landlord two doors down who lived in the builiding with a tenant had a fire, and he and his tenant got everything covered.

    His tenant got "renter's insurance", so all of his belongings was covered. The LL's "gold plated" liability insurance includes paying for all hotels during the time the house is under reconstruction, and additional cost for meals during reconstruction which took several months. I was not aware that my own liabiilty insurance did not have such coverage, and after speaking to my own agent following my neighbor's fire, I upgraded my own policy. It turned out insurance companies had "furnished apartments" that they own and operate to handle such emergencies, and I learned it was cheaper for them to maintain these apartments at the ready compared to paying for hotel bills.

    One problem I find as LL is tenants assumed that when they move in to my place, or any place, the LL has insurance that covers their belongings, and if anything happens, pipes bursting, fire. a burglary, the owner rings up the insurance, and the check is in the mail. The answer is NO NO NO, so when I get new tenants nowadays,I explain various lease provisions to them, including the fact that I CANNOT buy insurance on their belongings, I got nothing to do with it, they have to buy "renter's insurance". Yes, some tenants are SHOCKED when I tell them this, but relieved when they learn "renter' insurance" only runs about $200.00/year.

    The reason why I suggest you get yourself an attorney is you'll have to show negligience on the LL's part, and it'll take some doing to show that a pipe bursted, and he is automatically negligient.

    At one point, I even ask for a "certificate of insurance" that the tenant has renter's insurance. I used to rely on a tenant's word he's got it. Then a tenant left his window open during a storm, and all his belongings in his bedroom was ruined, and he insisted I file a claim with MY INSURANCE. This is after he gave me a "certificate of insurance", but turned out he got the insurance to fool me, then cancelled it. And this was after I gave my speech, but his reaction was "of course every LL carries insurance". So I went through the excercise of filing the claim, have his claimed DENIED that I knew was coming, with the insurance company sending him the letter explaining to him what I already explained. Of course he was SHOCKED beyond belief that he was denied.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Michigan
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    28,658

    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Normally a water leak can be repaired, and an apartment cleaned and dried out, within a few days to a week. Do you know why yours is supposedly taking three months?

  4. #4
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    Mar 2008
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    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Quote Quoting aaron
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    Normally a water leak can be repaired, and an apartment cleaned and dried out, within a few days to a week. Do you know why yours is supposedly taking three months?
    In my case, when my tenant's rooms got flooded after the storm, the insurance company supplied blowers and ran them for over a whole week before it was dried, and they were satisfied there wouldn't be a mold problem. After that, all of the carpeting was taken off revealing slight buckling of the plank floors below. It wasn't that noticeable, and it's a rental, so I chose not to repair it, and had the carpets nailed back down. It was over and done with a little over a week.

    But I known of cases, one with a co-worker, where bursting pipes from the second floor caused such extensive buckling of the wooden plank floors that all the floors on the first floor, including the kitchen, that planks had to be taken up and nailed back down and refinished. Imagine reflooring the whole first floor including redoing the kitchen?? I don't know if it's new planks or simply the original ones, but in this case it took several months. But because I declined to make a big project out of my buckled floor, it was over in a week. But repairing them, which I probably should have done, would have taken much much longer.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2011
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    4

    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Quote Quoting aaron
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    Normally a water leak can be repaired, and an apartment cleaned and dried out, within a few days to a week. Do you know why yours is supposedly taking three months?
    It's an old house and the water leaked into the walls so in order for them to dry the walls completely they had to tear down the walls.

    Is negligence the only charge I can accuse against my LL? And is so what proper measures must I take?

  6. #6
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    Mar 2008
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    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Quote Quoting Gene.bhang
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    It's an old house and the water leaked into the walls so in order for them to dry the walls completely they had to tear down the walls.

    Is negligence the only charge I can accuse against my LL? And is so what proper measures must I take?
    Yes, negligience is the only avenue. If you get some free consultation with a local attorney, he might come up with a plausible theory. I owned an old rental, and there were constant water leaks, and I was told that piping in old houses had to be replaced beyond the 50 year limit as that is the life of pipes. You might want to explore whether old pipes ready to burst should already be replaced, as one plausible theory.

  7. #7
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    Jul 2011
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    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Is it also possible to sue the landlord for not providing us with a habitable place to live in?

  8. #8
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    Mar 2008
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    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Quote Quoting Gene.bhang
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    Is it also possible to sue the landlord for not providing us with a habitable place to live in?
    Under the law, he'll have to come up with a "hard number" to the damage, and justify it. I can't put a number on a "habitable place to live while looking for a habitable place to live in". The simplist way is to show a hotel bill which is what a short term habitable place would be.

    Under contract law, others are relying on your promise to perform, i.e. provide a place to live in, and if your lack of performance leads to specifiable damages, which they are obligated to mitigate, then the onus falls on you to make good. This means they can't stay in a 5 star hotel taking their sweet time looking, and then bill you.

    And in the example where someone may have to fly cross country again to find another home to relocate to, because of your inability to fulfill your promise, then the added travel expenses can be attributible to you as well. So if this comes before a judge, the issue is you should've known all of this. This reminds me of scenes in the Laurel and Hardy comedy routine, when another screwup occured, the chubby guy goes: "looks like another fine mess you got us into".

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Has your landlord released you from the lease, and told you that you are free to move elsewhere - and if so, as of when? Or is he holding you to the lease and expecting you to move back in when the apartment is fixed? If it's the former, you have a duty to mitigate your damages by finding a new place to live. If you have been released it would likely be difficult to raise a habitability claim for damages as the condition was caused by an unexpected problem, you have not demonstrated that your landlord was negligent, and it appears that your landlord is doing the best he can under the circumstances.

  10. #10
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    Mar 2008
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    Default Re: Landlord's Responsibility if an Apartment Becomes Uninhabitable

    Quote Quoting Gene.bhang
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    Is it also possible to sue the landlord for not providing us with a habitable place to live in?
    Sorry, I got your thread mixed up with another I was answering this morning. I was referring to a landlord wanting to cancel a lease on a tenant who hasn't moved in yet.

    Thought I clear it up if the last answer made no sense.

    In your case, as Mr. K said, you'll need to mitigate damages, but unfortuantely, you did not buy renter's insurance, which certainly would have mitigated damages. If you don't buy renter's insurance, it's almost like not buying fire insurance on your house, or for your car and saying "don't worry, if this place burns down, or the car crashes, I'm sure someone else is to blame, and I can always sue him".

    In fact, when my tenant had the flood, I was thinking of turning around and suing the tenant for negligience, and if my insurance had to make major repairs to the buckled floor, they can try to sue the tenant and his insurance for negligience under subrogation. I am not saying you are in any way negligient here, but here you are living in a home, even in the bad shape that it might in, is worth quite a bit of money, aside from your belongings, you can accidently start a fire, a flood, whatever, all accidentally, and easily have the landlord come after you.

    All the landlord's obligation is to provide a place for you, but not guarantee it's existence forever, or a keeper of your belongings. If the house was blown away in a hurricane, you're not going to stand there and say, "where' my house, what are you going to do about it"??

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