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Thread: Retaliatory Termination of Lease?

  1. #1
    nhzero is offline Junior Member
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    Retaliatory Termination of Lease?

    California:

    Active Duty military due to move early next year. We had an electrical cord short in the middle of the night and cause a small burn mark on the carpet. I notified the landlord of the cause and that we would need to discuss the replacement of the >10 year old builder grade carpet. The landlord brought over an electrician to test everything and told me I was responsible for the bill without asking me beforehand whether I would pay or whether I wanted another electrician, etc. I disagreed and returned her bill with a letter explaining that the electrician charge was a landlord requested investigation and not a "tenant caused maintenance" (her words) item.

    The only reponse was a 60-day termination of lease, normal mail, not certified, to vacate no later than 30Sep13. The following info applies:
    - She is not returning my calls
    - There is very little housing available commercially in the area, especially with pets (Two 15-lb dogs, very good behavior)
    - 3-6 month waiting period for military housing
    - I have full documentation of all of the above.
    - My best case scenario would be to avoid two moves within the next 8 months.
    - My wife is currently out of the area dealing with a severely injured family member who may or may not die in the next 45 days. She may not be back in sufficient time to assist moving.

    A few questions:

    1) This appears to be retaliatory eviction/termination. Is it worth pursuing and can I pursue without black marks (so that I can rent at my next duty station?)
    2) I know I have the ability to petition for a stay of eviction under the SCRA, but that requires an eviction to be filed. I would prefer to avoid an actual eviction.
    3) Would it be worth hiring a lawyer to negotiate an extension?
    4) Do I need to pay rent until 30Sept if I move earlier than this date?

    Any other tips or advice?
  2. #2
    Zigner is offline Senior Member
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    You should have paid the bill. Now you will need to move at the end of Sept.
  3. #3
    nhzero is offline Junior Member
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    That's not what this thread is about, so let's keep things professional and on-topic. Thanks.
  4. #4
    tranquility is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by nhzero View Post
    That's not what this thread is about, so let's keep things professional and on-topic. Thanks.
    Well, it was rather on topic as the answer is not clear and that would certainly have solved things.

    The landlord has a duty to make repairs to make a unit habitable. Part of that is to insure the unit's electrical system is in good working order. A tenant has a duty to use electrical fixtures properly.

    You made a call to the landlord about damage to a carpet due to an electrical problem. Who's fault is it that an electrician came out? From what you said, the electrician found no problem with the overall electrical system so the fault was in the cord/circuit in some way. Was it your cord? Did you have the outlet/circuit overloaded? What caused the damage? That is the question as to who should pay for the electrician.

    The landlord, absent additional facts, thinks it is your fault the damage happened and expects you to pay for it--including the cost of the electrician. That is a good faith belief; again, absent additional facts not in evidence. By you not paying for that, he is terminating your tenancy with the 60 day notice to quit.

    1) This appears to be retaliatory eviction/termination. Is it worth pursuing and can I pursue without black marks (so that I can rent at my next duty station?)
    There is a presumption of a retaliatory motive on the part of the landlord if he starts such proceedings within six months of your complaint about the condition of your apartment. This would put the burden on the landlord to both provide evidence he did not have a retaliatory motive AND the termination is in good faith. While I don't know how a court would decide, not being paid for the damage you caused seems a good motive and, from the facts provided, certainly seems in good faith to me. It strains credulity that you are being terminated because of your complaint rather than because of your failure to pay for the damages.

    2) I know I have the ability to petition for a stay of eviction under the SCRA, but that requires an eviction to be filed. I would prefer to avoid an actual eviction.
    OK. See Zigner's first post.

    3) Would it be worth hiring a lawyer to negotiate an extension?
    It seems paying for the damage/bill would be cheaper, but, I would rarely tell a person a lawyer wouldn't help in a legal situation.

    4) Do I need to pay rent until 30Sept if I move earlier than this date?
    If you pay rent month to month rather than day to day, yes.
    Blue Meanie likes this.
  5. #5
    sandyclaus is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by nhzero View Post
    California:

    Active Duty military due to move early next year. We had an electrical cord short in the middle of the night and cause a small burn mark on the carpet. I notified the landlord of the cause and that we would need to discuss the replacement of the >10 year old builder grade carpet. The landlord brought over an electrician to test everything and told me I was responsible for the bill without asking me beforehand whether I would pay or whether I wanted another electrician, etc. I disagreed and returned her bill with a letter explaining that the electrician charge was a landlord requested investigation and not a "tenant caused maintenance" (her words) item.

    The only reponse was a 60-day termination of lease, normal mail, not certified, to vacate no later than 30Sep13. The following info applies:
    - She is not returning my calls
    - There is very little housing available commercially in the area, especially with pets (Two 15-lb dogs, very good behavior)
    - 3-6 month waiting period for military housing
    - I have full documentation of all of the above.
    - My best case scenario would be to avoid two moves within the next 8 months.
    - My wife is currently out of the area dealing with a severely injured family member who may or may not die in the next 45 days. She may not be back in sufficient time to assist moving.

    A few questions:

    1) This appears to be retaliatory eviction/termination. Is it worth pursuing and can I pursue without black marks (so that I can rent at my next duty station?)
    2) I know I have the ability to petition for a stay of eviction under the SCRA, but that requires an eviction to be filed. I would prefer to avoid an actual eviction.
    3) Would it be worth hiring a lawyer to negotiate an extension?
    4) Do I need to pay rent until 30Sept if I move earlier than this date?

    Any other tips or advice?
    Are you actually living under a lease at this time? If so, then in order for the LL to terminate the lease early, they would need good cause to do so. What you describe doesn't sound like it rises to that level.

    If not, then the LL doesn't need a reason to terminate your tenancy. If you've lived in the rental premises for a year or longer, they only need serve you with 60 days' written notice to terminate, which they have done. While such a mailing SHOULD be certified to have proof that you received it, that isn't an issue for you, as you already acknowledge that you have received the notice.

    Is retaliatory eviction worth pursuing? Maybe, maybe not. Is it worth hundreds or thousands of dollars to fight for a rental unit that you will eventually lose anyway?

    Sure, you can hire an attorney to negotiate - if there is anything to negotiate. I'm not sure there is.

    If you are living under a lease, you would be obligated to pay rent until the end of the lease, or until a new tenant is found to replace you, whichever occurs first. As California LLs are required to mitigate damages, the LL would need to make reasonable efforts to re-rent as soon as possible after you leave. If it happens prior to September, then you would owe rent only until the date a new tenant takes possession.

    In all honestly, a faulty electrical cord could have been the cause of the burn on the carpeting. If so, you are liable for the cost of the damages, which MIGHT include any electrical work necessary to restore the outlets and wiring. If the carpet really was as old as you say it is, then you shouldn't be held liable for replacing it, as it sounds as if it has far exceeded its useful life. If anything, you would be liable for the DEPRECIATED cost to replace, which for 10-year-old builder grade carpet, it shouldn't be much.
  6. #6
    Zigner is offline Senior Member
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    One thing I'd like to point out is that the OP could avoid paying rent through the end of Sept by giving a 30 day notice now. Then he'd only have to pay the prorated amount of rent during Sept until the 30 days is up. Of course, this is assuming that he is not bound by a longer-term lease.
  7. #7
    debtcollector` is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by nhzero View Post
    1) This appears to be retaliatory eviction/termination. Is it worth pursuing and can I pursue without black marks (so that I can rent at my next duty station?)
    Appearances are deceiving. It is not retaliatory. You refused to pay the bill due as a result of the damage you caused. You chose to negotiate - the landlord didn't. You don't have a cause to pursue. So, no it isn't worth it.
    Quote Originally Posted by nhzero View Post
    2) I know I have the ability to petition for a stay of eviction under the SCRA, but that requires an eviction to be filed. I would prefer to avoid an actual eviction.
    You might want to discuss that with JAG. You refusal to pay the bill was not affected materially by your serving in the military. SCRA doesn't apply here.
    Quote Originally Posted by nhzero View Post
    3) Would it be worth hiring a lawyer to negotiate an extension?
    Possibly. If your sole goal is to stall for eight months, it may be worth using an attorney to attempt it.Drive up the cost of evicting you and negotiate for time.
    Quote Originally Posted by nhzero View Post
    4) Do I need to pay rent until 30Sept if I move earlier than this date?
    This is where one of your NCOs should be knocking you upside the head using an impolite term. Of course you have to pay your rent. The lease was terminated on Sept. 30. You have to pay your rent until then.

    Quote Originally Posted by nhzero View Post
    Any other tips or advice?
    Yes. You really should have paid the bill you caused. Learn from this and start packing. You can get free fry boxes from McDs is you are nice to the manager.

    DC
  8. #8
    Gail in Georgia is offline Senior Member
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    Couple of questions here...

    "We had an electrical cord short in the middle of the night and cause a small burn mark on the carpet."

    Whose electrical cord did the damage (Yours or the landlords)?

    " I notified the landlord of the cause and that we would need to discuss the replacement of the >10 year old builder grade carpet."

    Who contacted the landlord regarding the repair issue (and easy answer; you did)?

    " The landlord brought over an electrician to test everything and told me I was responsible for the bill without asking me beforehand whether I would pay or whether I wanted another electrician, etc."

    What makes you believe you have the legal right to choose another electrician?

    " I disagreed and returned her bill with a letter explaining that the electrician charge was a landlord requested investigation and not a "tenant caused maintenance" (her words) item. "

    Again, who initiated the repair request?

    What type of lease are you on (yearly or monthly)? If a monthly, you do understand the difference between an eviction and a termination notice, correct?

    Gail
  9. #9
    nhzero is offline Junior Member
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    There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding. I will clear up some issues:

    1) "I" (technically, my 6 month old electrical cord plugged in as the only thing on the outlet) did the damage. Therefore, instead of hiding it, I told the landlord and requested that we begin discussion about how much I would need to pay for the carpet. There was a comment about her not wanting to negotiate; in hindsight, that is absolutely true. Her attitude has been that anything with the house while it has been in my possession is automatically my fault and that if I take a more nuanced view, I'm being a "problem tenant."

    2) The landlord requested an electrician to check the outlet. I didn't need an electrician to check the outlet, because the outlet wasn't at fault, the cord was. I don't purport to have "the right to choose another electrician;" I purport to have the right not to pay for charges that are completely unneccessary and that I was not told ahead of time that I would be responsible for, especially when they didn't do any maintenance at all, either to the plug or to my cord.

    3) As far as the rent, I am not asking to stay rent-free; I am asking whether I must stay (continuing to pay rent) until 30Sep considering that the landlord stated NLT 30Sep, or can I move to another house, turn over the keys, and then quit paying rent, which would be my ideal scenario. Otherwise, it makes it extremely difficult to find a place to live in a 5-10 day window where I'm minimizing the double rent I am paying, especially since these and previous actions on her part make it very clear that she has no intention of giving me any of my deposit back, regardless of how clean the house is.

    I've seen a lot of "refusal to pay 'your' bill" comments. When someone sends you a bill that you consider unrelated (e.g., you fall on the sidewalk, skin your knee, and an ambulance straps you down involuntarily), you don't just pay it because someone says so. It's not neccessarily your bill just because the ambulance driver thinks you need treatment. If you didn't call the ambulance, and you weren't offered any notice of cost or refusal, it's no your bill, just like it's not my bill just because the landlord decided to independently investigate. I fully acknowledge the hindsight wisdom of paying the bill to reduce the cost and hassle of moving, just like paying a $500 speeding ticket for 2mph is the better choice than throwing it away, but that doesn't make it right what the landlord is doing, and if I paid everything anyone ever asked me, I'd be broke.
  10. #10
    Gail in Georgia is offline Senior Member
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    You have failed to answer the important question of what type of lease you currently have.

    "When someone sends you a bill that you consider unrelated (e.g., you fall on the sidewalk, skin your knee, and an ambulance straps you down involuntarily), you don't just pay it because someone says so. It's not neccessarily your bill just because the ambulance driver thinks you need treatment. If you didn't call the ambulance, and you weren't offered any notice of cost or refusal, it's no your bill,"

    This is inaccurate. It would be your bill and failure to pay it can have long lasting financial repercussions.

    Gail
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  11. #11
    OHRoadwarrior is offline Senior Member
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    Further, you have no knowledge regarding the effects of heat/resistance on electrical switches and outlets. Landlord has no idea how long your cord was shorting and overloading the outlet, prior to completely shorting. It could have damaged the outlet, causing a poor internal connection and creating the future potential of the outlet causing another short and/or fire.
  12. #12
    FarmerJ is offline Senior Member
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    HOW much time is left on the lease ? or are you month to month ? if you are month to month you have been given a proper notice for a renter of more than one year in a unit in y9our state . Not one you can fight. If you have time left on a set lease ( as in more than 60 days like 3 to 4 months or more then if you still dont have much to fight LL with other than to argue that things ANYone plugs in are plugged into circuits that are supposed to have fuses or circuit breakers of the correct size to prevent damage to the actual wiring it self so unless a breaker or fuse has been changed out to allow a over load to the landlords wiring NO matter whose appliance it was should not have needed to be looked at by a electrician, so what was it a window air conditioner cord laying on the floor that over heated because the ac was being over worked ? ( ive seen window air conditioners have plugs them self get over heated and soften because the machine was over working and the manufacturer could have used a larger gauged cord but didnt ) No matter here, If it was me would not have called a electrician out and at this point its totally up to you if you want a fight, Your LL did ask you to leave so if you really want to stay and have multiple months left on a written lease its very very big crap shoot here trying to convince a court that the LLs reaction was not warranted since the LLs electrical system it self is designed to prevent damage to the wiring.
    Last edited by FarmerJ; 08-03-2013 at 12:02 AM. Reason: a fix
  13. #13
    OHRoadwarrior is offline Senior Member
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    FarmerJ, respectfully, you are incorrect. Electrical switches and outlets are protected from one time power surges by breakers/fuses. A constant, abnormally high resistance, from a partially shorted power cord or items such as a ceiling fan, are not sufficient, by design to trip breakers/fuses however the resistance can cause gradual deterioration of non permanent contact points such as the actual switch mechanism or in the case of a plug, the contact points where the plug and outlet engage.
  14. #14
    FarmerJ is offline Senior Member
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    I am perfectly aware of what happens to insulation on the actual wires in OLDER homes where a circuit has been run right up to the point of a fuse blowing or a breaker tripping over a long long period of time, I have changed light fixtures and outlets in ancient places and seen the insulation crumble or where it had become brittle. Ive known tenants who still used too small of AC unit to cool down too much space, or when electric heaters are used set as high as they can go, ive seen more than one owner occupied home and rental that had its wiring run right on up to the edge, Ive also known more than one landlord who has re wired and insisted on using 12 gauge wire on 15 amp circuits with the logic that the wiring itself would be at lower risk of damage. Housing units routinely see aged wiring even from the 1920s still in use because codes allow electricians to re connect branch circuits from a home with a 30 amp two wire electric service to a new breaker panel a 15 amp circuit is considered at capacity when 12 amps is drawn, at 13 and 14 amps a fuse or breaker is warm and with 14 ga wire ill bet the wire is too. Electrical circuits are protected from overloading too thats why breakers and fuses have limits thats why they trip but NO landlord Ive ever known has ever written into a lease a definition of overloaded wiring SO until landlords do that or until actual code changes enough to force new breakers or fuses to be installed that are rated lower or code changes that mandate change that requires the use of heavier wire and outlets that have higher ratings there still are going to be home owners and renters who will plug in and use what ever they are going to with no further thought about it until the fuses begin to blow or breakers begin to trip ( and Ive known more than one home owner and renter who will cease using one or two smaller things in order to keep that ac on even if that means the breaker/ fuse is still warm but not hot enough to trip. I still think this tenants landlord over acted bringing in a electrician and that its not very good odds of this tenant actually convincing a court that the LL is being less than fair.

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