Advisory Regarding Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Agents should be very careful when asked whether a landlord will accept pets.  Both Federal and State law require a landlord to reasonably accommodate a tenant’s disability.  Disability is defined very broadly to include any mental or physical disorder or condition that makes it difficult to perform a major life activity.  If a tenant requests that the landlord permit a service animal or emotional support animal because it is necessary to accommodate the tenant’ disability, the owner would be required to allow the tenant to keep the animal in most situations.

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Recent Survey Shows A Majority of Landlords and Tenants Have An Inadequate and Incomplete Understanding of Basic Rental Laws

Zillow recently reported that a majority of landlords and tenants show a fundamental misunderstanding of basic landlord-tenant laws. For example, 85% of tenants and 76% of landlords are unaware of the laws pertaining to security deposits and credit checks. 77% of tenants and 69% of landlords lack understanding of privacy and access rights. 62% of tenants and 50% fail to understand the laws on early lease termination.

Many agents are now becoming involved in rental properties by virtue of the increase in rentals in the marketplace. Agents are encouraged to stay out of disputes between landlords and tenants. If such a dispute arises, agents are encouraged to refer their clients to attorneys knowledgeable in rental laws.

Jury Finds Against Property Manager for Negligently Maintaining a Ceiling

Plaintiff, an 87 year old woman, was injured after a large portion of a ceiling fan fell on her.  She sued her property manager claiming that the ceiling was negligently maintained causing the ceiling to weaken and collapse.  She suffered significant lacerations to her right leg and fractured her big toe.  The defense claimed that her injuries were related to her Alzheimer’s disease and not to the ceiling fan.  The jury disagreed and awarded the plaintiff $275,000.

Jury Holds Landlord Not Liable for Tenants’ Injuries

In 2010, a fire started in a condominium in Southern California. The fire started in an exhaust fan that was not working. The tenants were injured and filed suit claiming that the landlord should have replaced the exhaust fan before the fire occurred. The tenants also claimed that the landlord retained an uncertified restoration company to perform repairs causing them to be exposed to friable asbestos. The landlord claimed that the tenants had never complained about the exhaust fan prior to the fire and she had no knowledge of it. She also claimed that upon testing of the ducts in the condominium, there was no friable asbestos located. A Ventura jury found in favor of the landlord.

Court Allows a Real Estate Agent to Hold Open Homes on Sunday Over a Tenant’s Objections

In Dromy v. Lukovsky, a California appellate court recently allowed a landlord to hold a leased condominium open on Sundays over the objections of the tenant. In Dromy, an owner of a residential condominium, which was leased to the defendant, wanted to sell the condominium. The tenant allowed the Realtor® to show the condominium to prospective purchasers by appointment only. However, the tenant refused to permit open homes on weekends. The landlord sued the tenant asking the court for a finding that the landlord was permitted to hold open homes on weekends with reasonable notice. The trial court issued a ruling finding in favor of the landlord with certain conditions. The appellate court affirmed.

The court evaluated Civil Code §1954, which permits a landlord to enter a dwelling unit to show the premises to prospective purchasers during “normal business hours.” The landlord was seeking an order from the court that normal business hours included Sundays. The court agreed, but subject to conditions. The court found that the landlord and the agent may limit the open houses to twice each month during limited afternoon hours. The court also required advanced notice. The tenant had the right to propose alternative days for open homes. The judgment also included safeguards pertaining to protection of the tenant’s personal property.

Court Holds that a Landlord in an Unlawful Detainer Action is not Required to Conduct an Extensive Investigation of All Possible Whereabouts of the Tenant Prior to Serving Notice by Posting

In Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University v. Ham, a California court of appeal considered whether Code of Civil Procedure Section 415.45, which governs service of summons in unlawful detainer actions, permits service by posting and mailing after multiple attempts to effect personal service on the tenant have been unsuccessful.  The court held that in the particular circumstances presented, the landlord exercised “reasonable diligence” in attempting to serve the tenant.

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Interesting Jury Verdict Regarding Premises Liability

A Sacramento jury recently awarded a woman $90,499 for lower back injuries after she slipped in a bathtub of the duplex that she rented.  The plaintiff claimed that she and her live-in partner sent letters to the property management company complaining about the bathtub not draining properly and being slippery.  She claimed they did not respond to her correspondence and did not address the issue.  She slipped in the tub injuring her back.  The defense claimed that her back injuries were due to her lifestyle and that medical treatment would not have been necessary if she had lost weight and modified her work environment.  The jury agreed with the plaintiff and awarded more than $90,000.

New Landlord Disclosure Requirements

Imagine this scenario: your client is a prospective tenant and is looking to rent a residential dwelling of between 1 to 4 units.  Your client completes the rental application, provides the landlord with a security deposit and begins his tenancy.  Within a month or two of moving in, your client receives notice to vacate from someone claiming to be the new owner.  Upon investigation, you discover that the landlord with whom your client entered the lease agreement failed to inform you or your client that as the rental application was being completed, he had already received a Notice of Default (“NOD”) and was facing a foreclosure sale.  Now the successful bidder at the foreclosure sale wants to move in and your clients are forced to leave.  Ouch.

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