What Constitutes a “Decrease In Services”?

by | Jun 2, 2010 | Tenant Law

I have lived in a particular flat in the Mission for about 3 years. It was in horrible shape when I moved in, but my partner and I cleaned it up. The landlord always comments on how great it looks.

The problem is that there are a number of maintenance issues that never seem to get addressed. There are some wiring issues in the front of the flat where the lights don’t work. The roof leaks in several places, as well as the windows. The linoleum in the kitchen is peeling and there is a chronic mold problem in the bathroom (tub needs to be re-grouted).

Also, it doesn’t appear that we have regular trash service as we throw it out on our back stairs and it doesn’t get taken away every week. He also has refused our request for our FREE recycling and composting bins. I’ve written a couple of letters and I pretty much get a flat out “no” (in terms of the lights, flooring, garbage bins) or it takes him months to get anything done (like the roof, which is still a work in progress).

I almost want to call an inspector to force him to make the fixes, however I’m afraid that we will have to move out for an extended period of time and we risk losing the place. Our landlord only owns one rentable property, the rest of the building is his small business.

His main excuse is a lack of funds, which I can sympathize with. However, I would like to know what our options are. As I mentioned, the place was pretty much in worse condition when I moved in so I’m not sure if a “decrease in services” rent reduction is the way to go.

Of course you have a decrease in services! You’re living in a unit with a leaking roof, faulty wiring, persistent mold and no garbage service. You could be describing a trailer in Mississippi as opposed to a flat in San Francisco and your rent should be reduced accordingly.

This may be difficult to fathom, but you could be living in a death trap. I recently spoke to a tenant who described similar living conditions that were a pain in the ass but bearable because the rent was cheap. Bearable until the electrical outlets started sparking and a fire broke out in her young daughter’s bedroom.

Your landlord is a classic Cheese Ball. He’s so cheap he squeaks. He’s not above collecting your overpriced San Francisco rent. He’s happy to take all of the tax write-offs that are available to him and not to you. He’s a shabby little version of an insurance company–he wants to take your money and provide nothing in return. Believe me, the landlords who cry poor, like insurance companies, are some of the richest ones out there because they’ve squirreled away all their dough. In the worst cases these landlords kill tenants.

As I describe in Wet, Cold, and Moldy, my first SF Appeal column, you have already notified the Cheese Ball and now you need to do something about it.

Call a housing inspector from the Department of Building Inspection. Check to see if the building has complaints or violations from the past.

What? No garbage pick-up? You throw the garbage on the back stairs? Are we still living in the 18th century? Landlords are absolutely required to provide garbage service for both residential and business tenants. San Francisco Health Code 291.1, et seq. (and following sections) is clear on this point. Landlords who fail to provide garbage service can be convicted of a misdemeanor.

Will you be forced to move from your apartment because of the repairs? I think it is unlikely because the repairs do not, from your description, seem to be extensive enough to render your unit completely uninhabitable.

You may, however, reconsider moving out when you get sick of the landlord coming over every day to “inspect” rather than doing any work on the place. For this reason I insist that landlords use licensed contractors and that they provide 24-hour written notice pursuant to Civil Code 1954.

When all the violations are in place you should certainly file a petition at the Rent Board to reduce your rent due to substantial decreases housing services or call a competent tenant attorney to considering filing a lawsuit.

Good luck. You’re going to need it.

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