Should I Rent An Apartment That’s In Bad Shape?

Should I Rent An Apartment That’s In Bad Shape?

Should I Rent An Apartment That’s In Bad Shape?

I recently moved to San Francisco and I’ve been apartment hunting. So glad I started reading your blog through Curbed, since renting in SF is just a whole different world than the rental situation back home. I’ve never even heard of a security deposit before I came here.

I saw a studio near Dolores Park that’s reasonably priced. It is one of 3 units in a pretty old looking building. However, a large window in the unit faces the street, and it has a big crack in it. I asked the landlord if he would replace the glass at some point and he says he cannot do that because it’s so old, he would have to replace the entire window. He said he would just leave it as-is. There is also a hole in the dry wall at the corner of the room and he has no plans to fix that either. Is there some sort of rules/regulations that says the landlord has to keep his unit in reasonable condition? Is a cracked window reasonable?

The San Francisco Housing Code and and California Civil Code §1941.1 and other statutes define a landlord’s duty to provide a habitable or tenantable premises. In this case, both the cracked window and the hole in the drywall are likely violations and could be cited by a housing inspector from the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI).

The cracked window could leak and/or let in the cold air in the winter (or summer in San Francisco) and the hole in the wall could be an entry/exit for vermin.

Maybe you don’t understand how the free market works. Landlords are given an opportunity to increase the rents to market rate after rent controlled tenants vacate. To remain competitive in a free market, they will, naturally, fix issues like the ones you describe. Right?

Like many tenants searching for housing in San Francisco, you’re facing a common conundrum. Do you rent the unit, despite it’s relatively minor problems, or do you point them out to your prospective landlord and risk losing an opportunity to rent a reasonably priced apartment?

In this case (this is not a legal opinion) I would likely opt to rent the unit if I thought it would work for me despite the small habitability issues. That what I did when I rented the apartment in which I currently reside. I have some drapes for the cracked windows. I don’t have any holes, but I could fix them myself.

If you do rent the apartment, you should take photos of the cracked window, the hole and anything else, like wood floors that need refinishing, cracks in the walls, peeling paint, etc., to document the condition of the unit at move-in. For example, you will need to to prove that the window was cracked before you moved in when the landlord withholds your security deposit, claiming that you cracked it.

If the conditions get worse or begin to bother you, ask the landlord to fix them (in writing). If he refuses, call DBI to get a housing inspector out to violate the unit.

If the breaches constitute substantial decreases in service you can petition the San Francisco Rent Board for a decrease in your rent.

You may want to join and consult the San Francisco Tenants Union if you decide to file a petition at the Rent Board. They can help you determine the values for your decreases in services.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Is My Landlord Required To Replace My 25-Year-Old Carpet?

Is My Landlord Required To Replace My 25-Year-Old Carpet?

Is My Landlord Required To Replace My 25-Year-Old Carpet?

I live in a 1908 Edwardian building on Pine Street. There are seven units total over three floors.

I’ve lived there in a large two bedroom on the top floor for 17 years under a very reasonable rent control price: $1470.00 now. My landlord has increased the rent at the minimal percentage each year. He’s been more than cooperative when I’ve been slightly late with the rent. We’ve always communicated pretty well. When I moved in, there were three of us living there and over the years I have rented out a room many times. Right now it’s just me and my cats.

He has replaced my dishwasher before when requested, when it’s died. He recently replaced all my windows which were quite old and decayed.

My question is regarding the carpeting. There are two large rooms and two small rooms each with carpeting between 17 and 25 years old. Needless to say, it needs to be replaced badly. When I moved in 17 years ago there were two cats living in the apartment. There are two cats presently living there as well (not the same ones of course) Also the apartment hasn’t had any interior painting or improvements besides the windows in the entire time.

Can I replace the carpeting in the apartment and charge the landlord? Is he required to replace any or all of it?

Also, my bathtub and bathroom equipment is pretty worn out. Is he required to upgrade the shower or the toilet?

Yours is a common question that I used to hear at the Tenants Union about once a week. And it’s always a tough one to answer.

Shag carpets, hardwood floors that should be refinished, and dingy paint jobs from the last century. It’s difficult to require a landlord to repair or replace them unless they pose some sort of health or safety issue that could be cited by a housing inspector.

I lived in a building in the Richmond in which the living room and dining room were carpeted in 1970s bright orange (thank heaven, not shag!). In the right light that carpet could induce an acid flashback. Yet the carpet was remarkably durable. When I asked the landlord if I could remove it, he declined, noting that he want to keep the carpet to protect the hardwood floors.

After inquiring at the Department of Building Inspection, I learned that housing inspectors, given the scope and requirements of their job, can only cite a carpet if it is in disrepair, rising to the level of a threat to health or safety. They look for holes and areas so worn that they could be tripping hazards. They will also cite a carpet that is moldy.

So look around. Could the carpet be unsafe? You mention your cats, but if they have peeing on the carpet for years, that’s your problem. Ditto with them scratching and tearing up the carpeting.

Check your lease. It’s likely that the lease contains a “no alterations” clause that requires a landlord’s written consent to make repairs or to replace the carpet. If your lease doesn’t contain such a clause, you may have more leeway to replace the carpet, but on your own dime.

The other issues in the apartment should be approached in the same manner.

You mention that the bathroom and kitchen and worn out. If the plumbing leaks, that could be a violation. If the cabinets are falling apart, that could be a violation.

If the paint job in the apartment is simply old, it is unlikely that you can require the landlord to repaint. However, if the paint is peeling and cracking that could be a violation.

Before you approach your landlord, it would be wise to take some photos and bring them to the San Francisco Tenants Union to get a second or third opinion regarding the condition of the apartment.

When you understand all of your options, you should simply ask your landlord if he will replace the carpets and/or paint, etc. Maybe you make a deal with him to cover some of the costs.

Of course, you can always ask the landlord for his permission to paint or upgrade yourself. As you probably know, I rarely recommend that a tenant upgrade a landlord’s property, but small fixes and new paint may be justifiable because the benefits may justify the cost.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Can I Replace My Sink Without My Landlord’s Permission?

Can I Replace My Sink Without My Landlord’s Permission?

Can I Replace My Sink Without My Landlord’s Permission?

My roommates and I are in our 20s and rent in an 8 unit building constructed sometime soon after the 1906 quake. We know that old buildings have quarks and can be expensive to maintain, so we don’t expect our apartment to have luxury finishes and fixtures. It’s a rental after all, lots of renters abuse their spaces and the owner isn’t going to invest too much in finishes and fixtures. Everything in the building is technically up to code (we’ve looked into it) but it’s, well, ugly.

Our particle board kitchen and bath cabinets are slowly dissolving because the faux wood veneer is peeling. The linoleum and plastic counters in the bath and kitchen are sprinkled with cigarette burns from previous tenants. We have carpet that we can’t shampoo because it actually gets dirtier. We think the floor was not swept after the last carpet was removed and this one installed. Spots where plaster cracked or crumbled were just painted over repeatedly. These are the most annoying issues, there are many others. Everything is perfectly legal and serviceable, only hideous, which unfortunately is not illegal. We’re very clean but there only so much lipstick one can put on a pig. All of these things existed when we moved in but we took the place because it’s what we can afford.

My question is: What would happen if we were to change something without the landlord’s permission? Here is the story: Our friend is a contractor with fancypants clients. He recently remodeled a bath where he removed a perfectly good (and obscenely expensive) sink and cabinet that would be great in our bath. Normally he would sell it to a salvager who probably would sell it to a landlord. But he offered it to us! With installation! He could do it in a few hours and all we have to do is make a yummy dinner! How much trouble would we be in when we move out? Could we get penalized for actually improving the apartment?

As an attorney, I usually counsel tenants after everything has blown up and the landlord tenant relationship is ruined and wrong. With that in mind, you should know that I generally advise tenants against making any improvements to a landlord’s property, permission notwithstanding. I understand the desire to improve ones  living conditions, but that’s the landlord’s job.

At the very least, any permission to alter, repair or improve should be in writing as well as any other contractual provision providing for compensation or rent reduction.

I recently spoke to a tenant who, with the landlord’s permission, remodeled the entire house. The landlord verbally promised to compensate him for his efforts.  The tenant trusted the landlord and did not insist upon a written agreement. After the renovation was complete the landlord evicted the tenant using the Ellis Act.

First, take a look at your lease. Usually there is a clause or term prohibiting unapproved repairs and/or alterations. These clauses often require the landlord’s written permission to perform simple alterations. If you have a clause like this in your lease you will need to get the landlord’s written permission to install the vanity and sink. If your lease is silent on the issue, I still recommend that you get the landlord’s written permission.

If you don’t get permission when it is required by the lease, the landlord can evict you for breach of the lease. Just because you improved the property does not immunize you from eviction.

You have not considered another important issue–many alterations one might want to make on one’s apartment will require a building permit.

San Francisco Building Code section 106A.2 provides a list of alterations and repairs that do not require a building permit. The Department of Building Inspection also provides a pamphlet entitled, “Getting a City Permit,” that generally outlines when you need to get a permit and how to get one. Unfortunately, I don’t think you proposed improvement is on the list. San Francisco is notorious for requiring building permits for everything and I have a feeling that installing a new sink will be one of them. You may want to call DBI to confirm my suspicion.

Getting a permit to install the sink isn’t going to be a big deal, but is your friend willing to deal with that process and are you willing to pay for it? How yummy can that dinner be? Before you request the landlord’s permission, you should have an answer to that question.

If the landlord doesn’t care about  getting a permit, he must include that statement in his permission. Why? Because the landlord can later claim that you installed the sink illegally and that it will cost him thousands of dollars to pay fines and/or replace the sink. Yes, I’ve seen this issue too, but it usually comes up in quasi-legal, live-work arrangements.

From the landlord’s perspective, he has the right to know about and to approve of tenant improvements to a unit to minimize his risk down the road.

My short answer to your question is, yes, you must get the landlord’s written permission.

Without his permission, yes, the landlord can create a lot of grief, either by attempting to evict you or dunning you for your security deposit after you move out–all despite the fact that you made a simple, small improvement to the unit.

Some of the dilapidation in your apartment may rise to the level of a substantial decrease in housing services. Take a bunch of photos of the unit and bring them to the San Francisco Tenants Union to evaluate a potential Rent Board petition.

Tenants: At first blush, this idea seemed to be a no-brainer, an easy win-win for both parties, but you have to remember that you don’t own your unit. Rarely is it worthwhile to improve a property you don’t own. It never makes sense to improve a rental unit without the landlord’s written permission.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

A Neighboring Restaurant’s Rats Are Attacking My Apartment

A Neighboring Restaurant’s Rats Are Attacking My Apartment

A Neighboring Restaurant’s Rats Are Attacking My Apartment

I live above a restaurant in a one-bedroom I’ve had for over four years. There are two other residential units in the building. Lots of stuff breaks all the time in my place, and I’m sort of embarrassed to tell you that I’ve just gotten used to it over the years. The people who manage our building “fix” things pretty quickly, but stuff is never fixed for very long.

Anyway…while the constant plumbing leaks and appliance crap-outs are a nuisance, the latest problem is one that is, to me, downright dangerous. It appears we have mice or rats living in our walls (or, at least, traipsing through on a regular basis), and they have chewed through the wires of our doorbell buzzing system (more on that in a minute).

I happened to hear the rats last week, just as I was getting ready for an out-of-town trip for work. There was definite gnawing and scratching so loud from between my bathroom wall and the wall on the outside of the building that I was expecting to see an animal break through my wall at any moment. As soon as I heard it, I thought about our doorbell system, which has been “fixed” three times this year, and is broken again. Hmmm…

The property managers don’t have email, so I called them (I know you like to have everything in writing, and going forward I will do just that, but I was hoping you’d have some tips for me on things I definitely need to say in a forthcoming letter to the managers). They sent out an exterminator who determined that the rats/mice/whatever were coming up from the restaurant that makes up the bottom floor of our building. Our property managers told me they have “no control over commercial space,” and that the best they could do was send a “strongly worded” letter to let the restaurant know that someone would be calling the Health Department (and then they told me I would have to be that “someone”).

When I got home, I did call the Health Department, twice. I have not heard back yet, though it was Thanksgiving week, so maybe Anita (the person who I was supposed to speak with) was away. Anyway… At the same time that this was going on, PG & E pink-tagged my heater, saying it was unsafe due to a valve that was leaking gas, so I got a new heater. This meant contact with an electrician–the same electrician who has determined that, at long last, our doorbell system does not need fixing, but rather complete rewiring. When I asked him if, by chance, the wiring was shot from rodent damage, he replied, “Oh, most definitely. You can see it.”

1. While the rats may be coming from the restaurant, shouldn’t my landlord be doing something to ensure that our building is safe?

2. How can I make sure the Health Dept. responds to my complaint, if this coming week goes by and I still don’t hear back? Should I be making a paper trail for those conversations, too?

3. What are the “must-says” in my first letter to the property managers (besides recapping what has happened on my part–and not happened on theirs–so far)?

4. If nothing gets done once I start a paper trail with our property managers, what can I do?

A last bit of info that may or may not be relevant: The building owner lives in another city; the people I deal with are the property managers, whose office is near my apartment.

You can sign me “Frustrated and Out of Ideas,” ’cause that’s what I am.

Dear Frustrated,

I am frustrated too, frustrated with so-called property managers who refuse to do their job. What? Your property managers don’t manage the entire building? I find that hard to believe. Of course they have control over the commercial space. They should be relaying your complaints to the restaurant, as should you. They should be made understand that the landlord, their client, could eventually be sued. They could also be sued as the landlord’s agents.

Rats and mice are a well known public health problem. The San Francisco Department of Public Health has a special Rodent Abatement Program which is both proactive and complaint based. One can complain to the DPH about a variety of public health issues including rats mice and bedbugs. You have already called them but note that you can email them as well.

You didn’t mention if you contacted the restaurant. I think you should write them a letter as well. You should also look into “reviewing” them on Yelp, Urban Spoon, CitySearch, and any number of internet review sites out there. Remember if the rats made it up to your place there are plenty more in the restaurant downstairs. I frequent many restaurants and I don’t want to have to guess if that thing in my salad is a currant or a turd.

You should also copy all of your correspondence to the owner of the building. He or she may not know the whole story given the sloppy management.

Stay vigilant with DPH and also complain about the restaurant if they refuse to take steps to abate the problem.

Given the condition of the building and the inadequate repairs, you should also call a Housing Inspector at the Department of Building Inspection. Make sure that you are able to show the inspector everything you think may be a problem. If there is evidence of rats or mice, the Housing Inspector will note that too.

Take photographs. If you can trap a rat and snap a photo, there isn’t much more dramatic evidence. See for yourself at my blog post, Every Tenant Has One.

As you develop evidence make sure the managers and the owner get copies. Continue to press them to repair and exterminate. You should also demand that they partially credit your rent for decrease in services.

Finally, if the landlord’s response is inadequate or nil, file a petition for decrease in services at the Rent Board.

As usual, I recommend that you bring all of your documentation to the San Francisco Tenants Union to develop your overall strategy.

Living above a restaurant is never easy. One always runs the risk of rats, cockroaches and other vermin attracted by the food. There’s also noise and ventilation grease and late night activity. I would never live above a restaurant unless the establishment and my apartment were separated by several stories. And the rent would have to be cheap.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Our Landlord’s Sawing Is Making Life Miserable

Our Landlord’s Sawing Is Making Life Miserable

Our Landlord’s Sawing Is Making Life Miserable

Landlord’s sawing.

For 16 years my wife and I have lived in the lower unit of a rent-controlled two-unit Victorian flat, built around 1875 in Hayes Valley.

My landlord has a woodworking shop in the basement. Several days a week he is there from around 1:00 PM to about 5:00 PM, using a table saw, sander, and other power tools which are very loud.
I work from home and my office is directly above his table saw.

Because our rent is so reasonable, and we have always been on very good terms with him, I am hesitant to complain about the noise.

Furthermore, he is a retired lawyer.

I feel that it is time to confront him and want to know where I stand legally before I do this.

Also, my wife suffers from MS and often requires a nap during the day to relieve her constant fatigue.

How should I approach this issue?

In San Francisco various city departments enforce specific areas of the San Francisco Noise Control Ordinance, Article 29, San Francisco Police Code. The Department of Public Health provides a list of the departments and noise enforcement for which they are responsible. For example, the Department of Building Inspection looks into construction noise and the Police Department is responsible for stereo, television, music, party, and animal noise.

Your landlord isn’t really making construction noise nor is he blasting his stereo. I think his noise is more related to “personal” noise that interferes with quiet enjoyment related to enforcement by the Police Department. In my experience, the cops are going to be reticent about investigating the noise as you describe it. Don’t call the cops yet.

Let’s step back for a moment. You say, “Because our rent is so reasonable, and we have always been on very good terms with him, I am hesitant to complain about the noise.” Here’s a learning moment for us all. Let’s take your statement apart.

First, your rent is reasonable because it is regulated by the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. That has nothing to do with your landlord. He may not like it, but he may not care if he has owned the building for a long time and he’s making a reasonable return on his investment. He certainly cannot evict you because you complain about the noise.

Second, you’re on good terms with the landlord. Is the only reason you’re on good terms because your rent is low? If that is true, it suggests that your civility is predicated upon fear. I guess one could make the argument that all human civility is based upon fear of punishment, but we have been out of the caves for awhile now. I have a feeling that you are just treating the landlord as would treat others–with consideration. Guess what? Your landlord doesn’t know why you’re civil to him, he just knows that you are civil.

One of the biggest problems for landlord and tenant relationships is that both landlords and tenants often have ulterior motives to be civil, rather than just respecting the relationship for what it is–a business relationship. If you have an ulterior motive for acting civilly, but you’re really just seething with anger and hate, you’re likely practicing a passive-aggressive approach that is destined to thwart any rational discussion with the landlord. That’s a waste of human energy more properly reserved for lawyers.

You have an opportunity to be powerful here. I’m not talking about the power of, “I’m going to sue your ass, if you don’t stop building your stupid little toy trains or whatever the hell you’re sawing.” I’m talking about the power of genuine human interaction.

Retired lawyers can be good communicators and maybe, just maybe, they are sick and tired of the adversarial process. I often would rather deal with older, more experienced lawyers because they don’t need to posture and they understand the value of settling an issue rather than duking it out.

I suggest that you simply talk to the landlord. Tell him that you didn’t have any problem with his work in the garage before (if that’s true.) Tell him that you work more from home now and that your wife is sick and needs to sleep during the day. Listen to him. Try to work out a schedule that will accommodate both your needs.

If the landlord acts like an asshole, walk away. Then look into writing him a request for a reasonable accommodation based on your wife’s disability. Request that he limit his noise during certain hours of the day.

Go to the San Francisco Tenants Union to discuss other options including filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

My Landlord’s Trying To Punish Me For Complaining About Lead Paint

My Landlord’s Trying To Punish Me For Complaining About Lead Paint

My Landlord’s Trying To Punish Me For Complaining About Lead Paint

Lead paint.

I have been living in my apartment in Oakland since August 2009. When I moved in with a roommate, we had one property management company, and now we have another (the second one bought the first one out). About 8 months into my residency here, my roommate moved out and my boyfriend and his young daughter moved in. We went to our property management company and filed an addendum but we cannot locate our copy of this. We also paid a $35 credit check fee in cash. Not long after this, we received a letter that we have a new property management company, and to send our checks there. When my one year lease was up, they requested that we come in to the office to sign another addendum. We did, and we entered into their log book that we did. They told us that their copier was broken and could not give us a copy at that time, and with a hyper 2 year old becoming less easy to contain by the minute, we agreed. At this point, we’ve now filled out the paperwork twice to add my boyfriend to the paperwork. This was in about August 2010. We never received anything in the mail, and they kept cashing our rent checks.

This month we noticed that our bathtub was chipping (our building is from 1924). We bought a lead test kit and found that it was dangerous to bathe the kid. In the back and forth with maintenance and our property management company, they all of a sudden stopped talking to my boyfriend about the problem, saying that he is not on the lease or any other paperwork for that matter. The last time I talked with the owner of the prop management company, he was quite literally screaming at me that if we don’t come and fill out an application and pay the $35 credit check fee within 24 hours, he will process eviction paperwork for us because my boyfriend is ‘squatting’.

Our checks that we pay rent with have both of our names with our current address on them. Does this give my boyfriend any sort of tenancy? Is it possible to be a squatter if you have been paying your rent on time every month?

I really believe that they are upset at us for complaining about lead paint (not only in our bathroom, but throughout our entire apartment as we have now found out) and are retaliating by looking through the paperwork to find anything wrong, or by ‘losing’ the paperwork all together. Is there anything we can do? I have been laid off and we are struggling to make ends meet, and I have no idea what we will do if we lose our apartment with our rent controls. Please help us. Is there anyone that we could even talk to?

Isn’t it interesting that the management company conveniently lost any evidence of previous consent to your boyfriend’s tenancy only after your complaint about a serious problem? This is a classic retaliation by the landlord as prohibited in California Civil Code 1942.5.

Before I discuss any legal remedies or defenses you may have, I can’t be emphatic enough, YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM POTENTIAL LEAD POISONING! Lead is especially harmful to children and can cause many health problems including brain damage.

You should immediately call the local enforcement agency for the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch of the California Department of Public Health. The website shows that Alameda County Community Development Agency is the local agency for Oakland. The website indicates that Maricela Narvaez-Foster, RN, MA is the Coordinator and can be reached at 510-567-8294. Her email ismaricela.foster@acgov.org.

My experience with the San Francisco program is that they are very responsive and very concerned about the child’s safety. When they write a Notice of Violation it has some teeth.

I also recommend that you call Oakland Building Services to complain about violations of the Oakland Housing Code. I’ll bet your unit and your building has more violations than peeling paint.

You may also want to call the Environmental Protection Agency Hotline at 1(800) 424-5323, to learn more and to ask if the EPA can provide you with any help.

If you have some well-documented complaints, and hopefully, some violations on the record, the law presumes that the landlord is evicting you with a retaliatory motive. Any notice to quit or unlawful detainer served within 180 days of your complaints creates the presumption, as long as you keep paying your rent.

Speaking of documentation, if you read Tenant Troubles, you know I always tell tenants to communicate with their landlords in writing. I also tell them to insist upon receiving receipts when they pay for something in cash. California law requires a landlord to give you a receipt for a rent payment.

For future reference, if a landlord cannot give you a copy of your lease, or in this case, an addendum to lease, because the “copy machine is broken,” tell them you’ll wait while they go to Kinkos to get a copy.

Oakland Measure EE which provides for just cause eviction, clearly provides that that a landlord’s consent to a sublet is presumed if the landlords fails to respond to a tenant’swritten request to sublet after 14 days. The problem is that you don’t have a copy of a written request.

You boyfriend is a tenant under Measure EE, and given the facts as you state them, I think a jury would be loathe to evict you.

You should be ready, however, to respond quickly to any notice you receive for the landlord. Check in with Causa Justa in Oakland and the East Bay Community Law Center to prepare yourself for a three-day notice and possible unlawful detainer (eviction lawsuit). Begin to put together a folder with any evidence you may need to defend yourself.

Tenants: This is a cautionary tale. Always communicate with the landlord in writing, email is fine. Always get and save receipts when you pay cash. Always get and save a copy of your lease. It’s unfortunate that tenants have to act like lawyers, but that’s realty in a rent controlled jurisdictions theses days. Landlords will do anything, including flat-out lying, to evict you and increase their cash flow.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

My Sink Stinks

My Sink Stinks

My Sink Stinks

I live in a very old building (circa 1924) and like many old buildings it has problems. Right now I’m having one where for some reason, my sink is bubbling up water and sludge like a geyser every few hours.

I had a similar problem at a similar vintage building. I called the management company, they had someone on the way within hours, and made sure the problem was fixed (it has to do with the vent system for the pipes.) No problem.

Here, however, the manager on site is taking longer to get this fixed. In the meantime I can’t use my sink to do dishes and the smell is awful. It’s not entirely the manager’s fault – the landlord (who lives far away) does not like to hire good contractors and has to approve big projects (in this case requiring the roofers to unblock the vent they accidentally blocked) thus dragging out what the manager has said is a fairly easy problem to solve.

Question is this: if this keeps up I’ll haven not had the use of my sink or my kitchen for at least a week. Do I have any recourse, financially or otherwise? It seems a bit much when I’m paying over $1000/month for a studio to have to put up with this too.

(and yes, I’ve taken photos, etc. and documented all of this).

Back in Florida, or wherever, your landlord thinks he has done enough. He reroofed the building for christsakes, what else do you want? He’s pissed that he had to spend the money, but he also thinks, “Hey, I’m a hero.” After all, how many landlords ever reroof their buildings? For more on this feel free to read my blog post, “A Cave By Any Other Name.”

This issue is more common than you might think. It happens with new tar and gravel roofs. The vents for the sewer pipes usually rise a couple feet over the roof. Yet somehow, either during the removal of the old roof or the application of the new, tar and gravel gets into the vents and falls to the bottom of the pipe assembly. The drains become clogged in the manner you describe. I don’t understand why this happens. Perhaps one of our roofer readers can help me out.

The stinky sink could become a health issue as well as a breach of the warranty of habitability. You have to get into “making a case” mode. It’s good that you have documentation. You should also begin to communicate your frustration to the manager or owner or both in writing. As I’ve said before, emails will do the trick. Tell the manager that you will be calling a Housing Inspector at the Department of Building Inspection if the problem isn’t solved in a couple of days.

You might consider hiring a plumber to repair the clog and deducting the cost from your rent, but that can get dicey. Civil Code §1942 governs the process, but you must make sure you have ample documentation to prove the landlord unreasonably delayed or refused to repair the problem. The code also provides that you cannot deduct more than one month’s rent. This remedy could come back to bite you because the landlord could try to evict you for nonpayment of rent. You don’t want to be a defendant in an unlawful detainer lawsuit, because, even if you’re right, it will cost an arm and a leg to defend the suit. And I rarely think it’s good idea to try to represent yourself in an eviction.

The better, although slower, approach is to call a Housing Inspector. She will definitely write a Notice of Violation for the problem you describe. Usually that gets the landlord to act because he could be fined by the City if he waits. An NOV also starts the clock for you to consider not paying your rent. Civil Code §1942.4 essentially provides that you can refuse to pay your rent 35 days after the NOV, if the landlord hasn’t done anything to fix the problem.

Join the San Francisco Tenants Union. They can help you evaluate your case and decide upon the best strategy to get the drain unclogged and to recover your damages. Good luck.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060