Toilet Traumas

Toilet Traumas

Habitability

Toilet Traumas

I am a huge fan of your column, but because my property managers are usually pretty great and responsive to problems, I never thought that I would have a question for you.

However, I have an ongoing problem with the toilet in my bathroom, which has been “fixed” twice before already (I’ve lived in my place three years), but is acting up again.  The problem has to do with the hose that fills up the tank that holds the clean water; it gets clogged and then will suddenly spray water all over my entire bathroom–often when I’m doing things like….oh…trying to get ready for work in the morning.

Anyway, this same thing just happened again, for the third time. Since it happened on a Sunday, I had to call the “emergency line” for my property managers.  I left them a voicemail, but never heard back.  They will be in the office on Monday, and by the time you answer my question, I’ll have dealt with this issue, but since I’m sure I’ll have this plumbing problem again, I thought I’d ask for future reference:  If I have called several times and can’t get in touch with the property managers, and if the toilet is unusable (which it is), is it within my right to call a plumber myself, have that person fix it, and deduct that bill from my next month’s rent?

My other question is this: at what point can I get a “second opinion”about the plumbing (and I’m prepared for your answer to be “never,” if that’s the case)?  I feel that the problem with my toilet may even be the toilet itself, or even the pipes (the pipes in my neighbor’s apartment sprung a huge leak in Dec., sending a flood of water into the restaurant below his unit.  What I’m saying is that I have a feeling whatever “fixing” has occurred with my toilet may just be temporary “quick-fixes” designed to stave off replacing things (like the toilets and maybe even the pipes) that need to be replaced rather than “repaired.”  So…if I think that’s the case, can I call out a plumber to assess what’s happening with my plumbing and see how that person’s “diagnosis” compares to the one arrived at by the contractor who works for my property managers?

I’m channeling Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the irascible doctor from the original Star Trek: “Dammit, Jim, I’m a lawyer, not a plumber!” Except that I was a plumber of sorts in a past life. Back in my painter/handyman days, I crawled under a lot of toilets. No, I’m not going to regale you with any anecdotes about what you can find there.

Let’s face it; toilets are a big part of our lives. That’s why you should know how they work.

If you are experiencing a leak in the supply tube or supply line, the spray or dripping will likely occur at the fixture connecting to the tank or the pipe coming from the wall. There should be a valve at the wall as illustrated. If there isn’t a valve, the landlord should install one. If the supply line leaks, you should be able to turn it off.

In older buildings, the line could be ¼ inch copper tubing. Usually that’s the culprit. Copper tubing can crimp and bend at the fitting points and lose the ability to seal. When I was working in the trades, we routinely replaced copper tubing with flex hose. You can go to Cole Hardware or any plumbing supply store and find the appropriate length for about five bucks. Turn off the water, remove the old supply line and replace it with the flex hose.

Or print this and show it to the management repair person.

If the leak is or spray is coming from the valve, it should be replaced. It is unlikely that the line is clogging up. If it is that means there is something wrong with the water supply.

You’d likely see clogging in other faucets in the unit. That’s a problem, you’re drinking it!

Indeed, given your description of the neighbor’s leak, there could be serious issues with the plumbing.

California Civil Code §1942 provides that a tenant can “repair and deduct” if the tenant gives the landlord reasonable notice and if the amount is less than one month’s rent. The law presumes that reasonable notice is 30 days unless circumstances warrant otherwise.

In your case, it would be reasonable to call a plumber and bill the landlord because loss of the toilet could be considered to be an emergency. If, at the end of the month, the landlord serves a three-day notice to pay the amount you deducted, pay it. Then file a petition for decrease in services with the Rent Board.

You can always get a second opinion, just don’t expect the landlord to pay for it.Depending on other conditions in the apartment, you may want to call a Housing Inspector from DBI.

Next week I’ll talk about jiggling the handle and “Oh my God! What’s that?!”

Crow & Rose, Tenant Lawyers

605 Market Street, Suite 400
San Francisco 94105
Phone: (415) 552-9060

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The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice and the information is general in nature.

Seek the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.

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by Jul 21, 2010
I Stopped Paying My Rent Because Of Maintenance Issues, Now I’m Getting Evicted

I Stopped Paying My Rent Because Of Maintenance Issues, Now I’m Getting Evicted

Habitability

I Stopped Paying My Rent Because Of Maintenance Issues, Now I’m Getting Evicted

My landlord gave me a three day notice for not paying rent and I want to know if I should let it go and fight the eviction. We started renting the house four years ago, the first problem started the day we moved in with the heater not working properly this continued for a year until the landlord replaced the heater. Another time, the landlord took three months to fix broken flashing on the roof over my daughter’s bedroom. Every time it rained, it rained in my daughter’s room. I only me paid half rent during that time. The landlord and property management take their time on any request I make for repairs. Should I fight the eviction?

This is a great question. I hear versions of it all the time. My first response, without knowing all the facts, is almost always no.

We have a saying in the lawyer business, “It’s better to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit than a defendant.” Even though you may have a viable defense based upon what looks like the landlord’s violation of the implied warranty of habitability, the cost to defend an unlawful detainer could run tens of thousands of dollars and there is no guarantee that you will win.

Believe me, there are still judges out there who do not understand that breach of the warranty of habitability is a valid defense to eviction for nonpayment of rent, more than 35 years after the seminal 1974 California Supreme Court decision in Green v. Superior Court.

Your case could also be compromised by the fact that the landlord seems to have compensated you for some of the decreases in services by accepting less rent when the house was less habitable. The landlord is going to claim that he always repaired the conditions (eventually) and that he discounted the rent fairly as consideration for your inconvenience.

You don’t mention if you have notices of violation from the local code enforcement agency, nor do I know if all of your complaints have been made in writing. Those are key elements to a defense to an eviction. That’s one of the reasons why I harp on communicating in writing and calling a housing inspector.

If you live in San Francisco, you have an excellent venue to adjudicate your habitability claims–the San Francisco Rent Board. If you file a petition for decreases in services, you become the petitioner (“plaintiff “) in the case and the landlord has to defend against your claims. You don’t have to hire a lawyer to make your case at the Rent Board. In San Francisco, it is almost always preferable to pay the rent during the notice period and then file a petition at the Rent Board.

If you do not live in a city that has rent control, that’s usually a more compelling reason to pay your rent during the notice period. In general, courts in non rent controlled jurisdictions are even more hostile to tenants than they are here. If you pay the rent, then you will have time to strategize about how to make the landlord accountable, rather than only three days to figure out how to defend a lawsuit.

I should mention here that many landlords’ lawyers arrange to serve three-day notices to pay or quit on Fridays. Why? Because Saturdays and Sundays count. That way a tenant only has Monday to consult an attorney. Luckily the San Francisco Tenants Union is open on the weekends. But if you see me there, it’s very, very likely I’m going to tell you to pay your rent.

Crow & Rose, Tenant Lawyers

605 Market Street, Suite 400
San Francisco 94105
Phone: (415) 552-9060

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The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice and the information is general in nature.

Seek the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.

You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Crow & Rose unless we have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this blog with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

If you are seeking legal representation from Crow & Rose please respond by either calling us at (415) 552-9060, or going to our contact page and filling out the form.

by May 19, 2010
How Do I Get My Landlord To Pay For Property Damage They Caused?

How Do I Get My Landlord To Pay For Property Damage They Caused?

Habitability

How Do I Get My Landlord To Pay For Property Damage They Caused?

The neighbor below me had the ex-apartment manager work on her radiator and he didn’t put the parts back together correctly. He still works for the management company, Laramar S.F. Urban. She turns it on, and leaves for the day. The pipe to the radiator wasn’t sealed correctly, so steam filled the apartment for more than 8 hours, saturating the walls and ceiling, causing the kitchen linoleum to peel, and when the fire alarm finally went off as the front door was opened, the hallway filled with so much steam, it was raining.

Laramar scraped some paint, put down some tile and want her to move back in. She’s terrified that that the lead at 380 ppm (she had the radiator water tested) means it’s going to outgas lead and who knows what else, and mold is growing, and Laramar has done nothing for her; she’s living at her office. This happened January 7th, 2010 and she’s faithfully paid her rent. DBI says the work done so far is substandard and not enough.

What should my neighbor be doing to get paid back for all of her things, and get moved into a different unit? She doesn’t want to move back in to the old place, it’ll take too long for them to really do the right kind of repairs, and now she’s scared of the place. In part, because she saw the men scraping away at the bubbled paint, and realized none of the lead safety procedures for repairs were being followed. I should tell you this is a person takes immaculate care for her place, pristine custom white carpets and padding, that sort of thing. Thanks, the upstairs neighbor, wondering about his lead exposure….

This happens more than one might think. I have represented two clients with similar fact patterns. In one case the repairman forgot to install the safety valve on the radiator. My client was gone for the weekend and the apartment got a steam bath for two days! Yikes, the photos were frightening…sheets of paint hanging from the walls and ceilings; floorboards popping up; electronic equipment dripping water.

In his case, he was able to make and settle a claim with the landlord’s insurance company. Unfortunately, your case might not be as easy: I am currently working on a case involving Laramar. It took the DBI housing inspector a week to find out where he even needed to send the notice of violation. But whoever and wherever they are, they’re still liable for you neighbor’s damages if they made the defective repair.

Notwithstanding the difficulty dealing with the landlord, I’m still perplexed that your neighbor “faithfully paid her rent” for three months, while, if you are correct, there were substantial uncorrected violations cited by DBI.

Civil Code 1942.4 essentially provides that a landlord may not demand rent or collect rent if, 1) the unit is substantially uninhabitable; 2) a notice of violation has been issued; 3) the conditions have not been abated for 35 days beyong d the service of the notice; and 4) the tenant did not cause the defective conditions.

Now, am I telling your neighbor to stop paying her rent? No. But could she have legal justification to do so? Yes. You neighbor should seek the advice of a tenant lawyer or a knowledgable tenant counselor immediately. She should go to the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Given the facts as you have stated them, it is clear that the landlord should, at least, pay for any damaged personal belongings and any expenses she incurred staying away from the premises.

We all know that lead in the environment is especially harmful to children. If you have children and the landlord wants to repair this type of damage in the unit, you should immediately call the Childhood Lead Prevention Program of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. If they write a violation they require that it is abated by a licensed lead removal specialist. Those guys wear HAZMAT suits!

Lead is also harmful to adults. The only way to determine if the “offgassing” is harmful would be to test the unit thoroughly. I tend to think that you are not in danger, but it would be interest to test other areas of the building to rule that out.

The bottom line is that your neighbor must become more proactive. She must develop a strategy to deal with this that may include terminating her lease and suing for constructive eviction. She will likely have to sue for damages anyway. Sure, it may be difficult to collect, but caving into fear, or inaction and faithfully paying the rent affirms a landlord’s belief that they are above the law.

Crow & Rose, Tenant Lawyers

605 Market Street, Suite 400
San Francisco 94105
Phone: (415) 552-9060

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Ask yourself four questions:

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The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice and the information is general in nature.

Seek the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.

You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Crow & Rose unless we have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this blog with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

If you are seeking legal representation from Crow & Rose please respond by either calling us at (415) 552-9060, or going to our contact page and filling out the form.

by Apr 8, 2010
Pigeon Poop Problems

Pigeon Poop Problems

Habitability

Pigeon Poop Problems

Now that the weather is getting warmer, I’d like to open my windows and get some fresh air in my apartment. The problem is that the windows and building are filthy grimy and covered with pigeon poop on the outside. The ledge and the side of the building are too. If I open the window the soot all blows into our apartment and I don’t even want to know what diseases could come from the poop. Are landlords required to wash the facade of a building? What about windows? I can still see out of them, but just barely. And if a landlord is required to do this, how can I get mine to do it? Our landlord does the bare minimum to maintain our building.

My friend, Emma, is two and a half years old. She’s a big girl now and doesn’t need a diaper. But three or four months ago she could fill a diaper as well as any 6’5″ sailor who ate all the beans in the galley. I’m talking arm pits to knees! Where does it all come from? It’s as if small children are packed with adult-sized digestive systems. Same with pigeons; they generate a remarkable volume of poop given their size. Maybe it’s because they will eat anything, including the bodies of their fallen comrades.

Everyone who lives in a city has a pigeon story. I used to drive an MG convertible. I remember waiting at a stop light on Division Street. I happened to look up and from the steel girder above I noticed a pigeon’s ass maneuvering to drop a bomb. I couldn’t go anywhere! I ended up with what seemed to be a bucket load of shit running down the back of my shirt. Needless to say, I don’t believe any of wives’ tales about pigeon poop bringing good luck.

In fact pigeon poop is dangerous. There are several diseases associated with p-scat. Pigeons are the subjects of eradication programs throughout the world’s large cities.

In San Francisco, we have laws prohibiting the feeding of pigeons. The San Francisco Department of Public Health has a program devoted to dealing with pigeons and their excrement. If you have already complained to the landlord about the problem in writing and he has done nothing, call them.

I am not aware of any specific legal requirement for landlords to wash windows or facades of their buildings. But I’m willing to bet that there are other issues with the building and your apartment, given the lack of maintenance. Take a look around and check to see if there is peeling paint; windows that won’t open (sealed shut with shit?); cracks in the walls; leaks; other safety hazards, etc. If you believe there are violations, inform the landlord in writing. Again, if he doesn’t respond, call a Housing Inspector with the Department of Building Inspection, make a complaint and arrange for an inspection.

If the landlord tells you there is nothing he can do, maybe he needs a diaper.

Crow & Rose, Tenant Lawyers

605 Market Street, Suite 400
San Francisco 94105
Phone: (415) 552-9060

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Ask yourself four questions:

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The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice and the information is general in nature.

Seek the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.

You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Crow & Rose unless we have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this blog with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

If you are seeking legal representation from Crow & Rose please respond by either calling us at (415) 552-9060, or going to our contact page and filling out the form.

by Mar 24, 2010
Roach Recourse?

Roach Recourse?

Habitability

Roach Recourse?

I moved into a studio apartment about three months ago, and am having a few problems with pests. First of all is a persistent ant problem.Of greater concern (to me) is a total of three cockroach sightings: one adult, and two that looked like babies. I have notified my landlord in writing whenever I’ve seen a roach; he also knows about the ants, but I’m sure he can’t do much about them. Our building is sprayed semi-monthly. In a past column you mentioned that pests aren’t covered by San Francisco housing code. Do I have any recourse if I keep seeing roaches? I’m not sure if I can live with them!

I need to set this straight. While I reported that pests are not necessarily covered by the housing code, they are certainly covered by California Health and Safety Code 17920.3 (a)(12), which provides that any building or unit in which there is an infestation of insects, vermin, or rodents as determined by the health officer that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety, or welfare of the public or the occupants thereof shall be deemed and hereby is declared to be a substandard building.

The question is: Will a health officer, an inspector from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, find that an ant infestation rises to a level that endangers the life, limb, health, property or safety? I honestly don’t know. You have to contact a health inspector (which you can do via 311) to find out. As I pointed out in Tenant Troubles: Ant Infestation “[A]nts do not carry disease, nor do they make it a habit to bite people unless they are molested.” The San Francisco Department of Public Health does not list ants as a health code violation.

Cockroaches, on the other hand, do carry disease and are uniformly recognized as insects that do endanger safety and welfare. Contact the DPH (again, via 311) to report a complaint if you see that your cockroach infestation is becoming a problem. Frankly, I’m not sure that a three cockroach sighting amounts to one. DPH will tell you what comprises an infestation worthy of concern to them.

Frankly, it seems like your landlord may be trying to be vigilant, given the fact that he sprays for pests on a semi-monthly basis. I’m not so sure that you could demonstrate a decrease in services for purposes of a Rent Board petition, given the facts as you have stated them.

Crow & Rose, Tenant Lawyers

605 Market Street, Suite 400
San Francisco 94105
Phone: (415) 552-9060

Is This Legal Advice?

Ask yourself four questions:

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The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice and the information is general in nature.

Seek the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.

You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Crow & Rose unless we have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this blog with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

If you are seeking legal representation from Crow & Rose please respond by either calling us at (415) 552-9060, or going to our contact page and filling out the form.

by Mar 10, 2010
Are Broken Elevators Against The Law?

Are Broken Elevators Against The Law?

Habitability

Are Broken Elevators Against The Law?

The elevator at my building has been out of order for more than a month, and we have no indication that repairs will take place anytime soon. This situation has made life miserable for people on the upper floors, who must lug laundry and groceries up to six flights. And I have to believe that older people living in the building are, for the most part, stuck in their apartments.

Surely the landlord is violating safety laws by failing to make the necessary repairs!?

Evidently the folks at The San Francisco Appeal have been receiving quite a few questions about elevators since they began their coverage of some of the ongoing CitiApartments atrocities in Tales of the Citi. Last July they asked Who’s Responsible For Elevator Inspection? and in August reported about a CitiApartments building in Six Floors With No Elevator.

In her article about the Lembis and CitiApartments, “War of Values” in this month’s San Francisco Magazine, Danelle Morton quotes an email sent to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, “Our situation is dire at 808 Leavenworth, with many senior and disabled renters on the upper floors…. CitiApartments has had the elevators shut down for three days and will have the water off tomorrow. I’m fearful many senior and disabled renters will die without food, medication, and water. Many tenants are afraid to complain for fear of reprisals. I’m afraid people will die if we don’t get some intervention. Please tell us how to proceed.”

Of course the landlord is violating safety laws by failing to repair the elevator!

Section 713 of the San Francisco Housing Code states: “In all R-1 and R-2 Occupancies, with building heights exceeding 50 feet, which are required to have an operable elevator per the Fire Code, said buildings shall have at least one operating elevator for the residential occupants’ use. Housing Code §1002(b) declares that a building is substandard if lacks elevator service as required by section 713.

So, as I have outlined for other habitability conditions in other columns, if you live in a building that is required to have an elevator, the elevator is broken and the landlord fails to repair the elevator call a San Francisco Housing Inspector to file a complaint and schedule an inspection.

Given the severity of these complaints, I also suggest that you call the San Francisco City Attorney after the inspector issues a notice of violation.

With evidence of your complaints, you can either sue the landlord or you can file a petition at the Rent Board to reduce your rent due to a decrease in services.

I get very angry when I hear about vulnerable people trapped in the upper floors of a building because the landlord will not repair the elevator. This is a quintessential public nuisance and those charged with the duty of public safety should react swiftly and harshly.

It remains a mystery to me that reckless endangerment on this level isn’t criminally prosecuted.

Crow & Rose, Tenant Lawyers

605 Market Street, Suite 400
San Francisco 94105
Phone: (415) 552-9060

Is This Legal Advice?

Ask yourself four questions:

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The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice and the information is general in nature.

Seek the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.

You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Crow & Rose unless we have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this blog with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

If you are seeking legal representation from Crow & Rose please respond by either calling us at (415) 552-9060, or going to our contact page and filling out the form.

by Dec 30, 2009
Ant Infestation

Ant Infestation

Habitability

Ant Infestation

This is probably something a lot of people are going through with the cold weather: ant infestation. I rent a half-submerged basement in-law, and the landlord lives in the upstairs part of the house. I’ve lived here over four years and know the LL well. I also know the ants well, and have been vigilant this year. I have watched a giant swarm in the back yard walk over our Grants for Ants stakes for weeks, while spraying Orange Guard all around the base of the house and windows.

Then, at the beginning of the cold snap, the ants were gone. My stomach sank. I knew they were in the house. A few days later they made their ingress at the base of our food pantry, and there were suddenly hundreds of ants swarming on those food shelves, and over to more food shelves on the other side of the house. Luckily we double ziplock and tupperware most of our food, but it was a sign of doom as far as I’m concerned. I took pictures, cleaned, and left the LL a voice message. He told me to spray raid and that an exterminator is very expensive. Now they are in my bedroom and in the bathroom, going after crumbs from lunches long ago and morsels of catfood. I’m still cleaning and photographing, but nothing short of an exterminator is going to make them go away at this point. What are my rights???

I read a little factoid the other day that stated the combined weight of all the ants in the world is approximately the same or greater than the combined weight of all human beings. Ants are the perfect Stalinists. As we all know, ants are omnivorous, industrious, well-organized little creatures that could devour the whole world if they were as large as say, golden retrievers. They are also smart enough to go inside when it gets cold.

When I read your question, I was not convinced that an ant incursion rose to the level of a housing violation because ants do not carry disease, nor do they make it a habit to bite people unless they are molested. We’re just too big for them to eat. I asked a San Francisco housing inspector if it was their policy to write a violation on a unit with an ant infestation. He confirmed my suspicion and told me that they do not. In fact, he reminded me that pests in general are not covered in the Housing Code.

He pointed out that when ants do emerge as a complaint, housing inspectors can refer the complaint to the Environmental Health Program of the SF Department of Public Health, which in turn, assigns a Health investigator or inspector to perform an inspection. When you click on the site, notice that ants are not mentioned in the list of pests. So my general advice to tenants with ants is that you can make a complaint, but I’m not so sure that much can be done to make the landlord exterminate them.

You, however, have a bigger problem! My guess is that you are living in an illegal unit. If you share your electricity with the landlord or your utilities are included in the rent it is very likely that the unit does not have a Certificate of Occupancy. Generally it is not a good idea to call housing inspectors because they could notice, for example, no secondary means of egress, and violate the whole unit. The landlord, to abate the violation, would have to give you a 60-Day Notice to Vacate, pay you half of the
href=”http://www.sfrb.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=1928 “>statutory relocation fees,
pay you the other half when you vacate, and remove the kitchen from the unit.

You need to discuss this with a qualified tenant counselor before you begin to make complaints about your landlord. Go to the San Francisco Tenants Union or the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.

I hope I’m not sounding too flip, but in the meantime, try Raid. I use it very effectively in a building that houses at least a billion ants. I just spray at the point of entry. Granted, my unit is not below ground level, but Raid works for me.

Crow & Rose, Tenant Lawyers

605 Market Street, Suite 400
San Francisco 94105
Phone: (415) 552-9060

Is This Legal Advice?

Ask yourself four questions:

Have you spoken or written to us personally?
Did we respond?
Did you sign a contract with Crow & Rose?
Did you pay us?

The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice and the information is general in nature.

Seek the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.

You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Crow & Rose unless we have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this blog with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

If you are seeking legal representation from Crow & Rose please respond by either calling us at (415) 552-9060, or going to our contact page and filling out the form.

by Dec 23, 2009