Below are questions asked by rental property owners regarding California Rent Control Law followed by answers provided by San Diego landlord/tenant law attorney Franco Simone for the November issue of the AOA Magazine.
Q: I own an apartment building in Lemon Grove and one of my tenants notified me that the railing in the stairway is broken. The tenant told me it was broken by another tenant’s child who was misusing the railing. I spoke to the tenant about their child breaking the railing and requested that they have it repaired, however, they have failed to do so. If someone falls, could I be held liable for their injuries even though I have asked the tenant to repair it?
A: Yes, as a landlord you have a duty to maintain your apartment building and to take necessary steps to prevent any likely or possible injuries. As soon as your tenant notified you of the broken railing, you were put on notice of a potentially hazardous situation that you are required to fix as a landlord. If someone falls on the stairway because you did not fix the railing, then you may be held liable for any injuries. It is in your best interest to have the repair made immediately, then charge the tenant for the cost of the repair after the work is completed.
Q: I was not aware of a broken step at my rental property and a guest of my tenant fell and injured himself. I have not done an inspection of the property in five years, and no one notified me of this issue. Can I be held liable for their injuries even though I did not know about the broken step?
A: Yes. As the owner of a rental property, you have a duty to make routine inspections of your buildings and/or rental units to look for defects or other hazards like this. If you never inspect your buildings and a routine inspection would have revealed the broken step, then you may be liable.
Q: I own a rental home in Rancho Santa Fe and my tenant just informed me that she fell on a puddle of water in the house. My tenant believes the puddle of water was created from a roof leak that occurred during a heavy rain. My tenant is claiming she is injured and is requesting I reimburse her for lost wages and hospital bills. Should I contact my homeowner’s insurance company?
A: Yes. As soon as you are aware of a potential claim at your rental property, you should open a claim with your insurance company. It usually takes time for your insurance company to determine if you have coverage so the sooner you submit the claim to them the better.
Q: I have a lease with a tenant that states “RESIDENT HEREBY AGREES TO OBTAIN HIS OWN INSURANCE POLICY TO COVER ANY PERSONAL LOSSES.” The rental property recently was flooded due to faulty plumbing and my tenant just notified me that they never obtained renter’s insurance. Does this mean if the tenant’s personal property is damaged in the flood, I am not responsible for the replacement of these items?
A: Yes. In most cases a term in your lease/rental agreement that states that the owner is not responsible for damages to the tenant’s personal property and directs the tenant to obtain renter’s insurance to cover property loss will protect you from liability. However, this type of term would not affect your liability for personal injury.
Q: My tenant told me that they have COVID-19. This tenant lives in an apartment building and I am worried about the liability I might face if I do not notify my other tenants. Can I send out an email notifying the other tenants of the building that their neighbor has COVID-19?
A: No, you should not disclose to all the tenants that someone that lives in the apartment building has COVID-19. Disclosing information like this can result in privacy issues. A conservative course of action would be to increase the common area cleaning and send out a general information sheet on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These actions will help reduce your liability if the infection spreads to other tenants in your building.
Q: One of my tenants has a comfort animal that is a poodle. While typically this breed has not been known to be aggressive, I have seen this dog act aggressively and have received multiple complaints. If this dog was to bite someone on my property, would I be held liable?
A: If you know that a tenant has a dog that is vicious and you do nothing to remedy the issue, you could be held liable if the dog harms someone. You should take any necessary steps you can to have the dog removed or ensure that it cannot harm other people. Remember, it is best to do what you can and what is reasonable to prevent any known danger to others at your rental unit.
Attorney Franco Simone, of Simone & Associates and The Landlords’ Legal Center, has been doing evictions for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email [email protected].