Don’t fall for these 10 crazy landlord claims
6. Landlord’s claim: ‘It’s in the lease.’
Tenant’s response: “Sorry, but did your Uncle Fred draft that lease? Let’s check state and local laws, too.”
“Just because someone prints it on paper doesn’t make it valid and binding,” says Steven R. Kellman, a tenant lawyer and director of the Tenants Legal Center in San Diego.
Does an illegal clause invalidate the entire lease? No, probably not. But a tenant cannot be held to an illegal demand simply because it’s contained in a legal document.
“A lot of these tenant laws are not negotiable,” Portman says. But many professional leases will “ask people to waive their rights to habitability,” or their repair rights or the landlord’s notice to enter.
“What’s really creepy is that the landlord didn’t write the lease, a lawyer did,” she says.
In short, don’t buy this line. Research the question yourself. There is no such thing as a “standard lease,” and many, even from apartment groups, will contain errors, lawyers say.
“It’s a business. It’s not a public agency. And the last I checked with landlord-tenant law, greed is still legal,” Kellman says. “Tenants need to protect themselves.”
7. Landlord’s claim: ‘I can’t afford to fix it.’
Tenant’s response: “Gee, sorry to hear you’re having money problems, but, um, can you tell me again how that’s my problem? Wait, here’s an idea: Why not use some of the rent I’m paying to bring the unit up to code?”
The landlord will say he is too strapped to fix the water, “but of course the landlord has hot water. What an amazing thing,” Kellman says.
“They don’t negate their obligations to provide habitable dwellings because they don’t have the money,” Kellman says. “If they can’t afford to be a landlord, get out of the business.”
8. Landlord’s claim: ‘No one else complains.’
Tenant’s response: “Wow, what a lucky landlord you are! You’ve found tenants who don’t mind the smell of mold and the drip of leaky faucets! And what good news for me: By now you must have a hefty fix-it fund saved up!”
Sigh. This whopper is such a routine psychological ploy it might as well be printed on the bad-landlord’s business card.
“You’re the only person who complains about the water pressure.” “You’re the only person who complains about the heat.”
“They’re minimizing the problem,” Fry says. “If you’re the only person who’s complaining about it, it must not be very significant. Well, start comparing notes with other tenants in the building. They’re complaining about the same thing. It’s a lie.”
9. Landlord’s claim: ‘I don’t do repairs.’
Tenant’s response: “Oh, you don’t? So does that mean I don’t have to ‘do’ rent?”
Only in very few, special cases – such as when a manager is hired or drastically reduced rent is offered – may a contract be drawn up that arranges for the tenant to make repairs. But these are not regular leases, and they are rare, Portman says.
“Generally the landlord cannot shift obligation to the tenant to provide habitable dwelling,” Kellman says. “That’s the landlord’s responsibility. That’s what they’re getting paid for.”
And if you signed a no-repairs provision in the lease? See No. 7. The clause in the lease is likely illegal, Portman says.
10. Landlord’s claim: ‘I lost my house and have nowhere to live. I need the apartment back.’
Tenant’s response: “Well, I’m sorry that you haven’t been able to pay your mortgage, but I have been able to pay my rent, which means until the lease is up, it’s my home, not yours.”
Unfortunately, tenant advocates have been hearing this one a lot lately, as real-estate investors lose their shirts and suffer foreclosure. But, again, the issue hangs on elementary contract law. The landlord agreed to sell the space for a specified time. No take-backs.
“I think it’s a cultural perception that if you own something you can do whatever you want with it,” says Alouise Urness, a community organizer with the Tenants Union of Washington State. “That’s why we have laws to assure that people who aren’t in an ownership class are protected.”
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