The 6 Best Tips For Landlords to Fight Habitability Claims Before They Happen
Updated: Jan 5
Habitability lawsuits are the new personal injury lawsuits. I have seen a rise in these lawsuits and what I find so peculiar is that a lot of the time tenants are usually responsible for the unusual wear and tear in units. Tenants' poor housekeeping can result in a myriad of problems from warped floors, insects and pests, mold and other maintenance nightmares.
Los Angeles landlords with buildings under LA's rent control get inspected about every two years under the SCEP program. However, tenants usually call both housing and LA County Public Health on landlords for habitability claims and the landlord more often than not is found responsible. This is the case even when at the beginning of the tenancy the unit was in near perfect condition.
Whether you are a current or new landlord, self managing or a professional property management company- good repair and maintenance records are a landlord's best friend. I have found following these 6 tips from the outset will help landlords fight these habitability lawsuits more effectively.
Take photos and videos of units before leasing.
This is the easiest. When a unit is vacant take photos of everything and do a video walkthrough. Use these photos going forward to reference what repairs were caused by the tenant or are not usual wear and tear.
Always do a pre-move in walkthrough checklist and have the tenant sign it.
This checklist when signed by the tenant evidences that the tenant acknowledges they moved into a habitable and clean unit. The tenant is responsible for keeping the unit in a neat and sanitary condition until the day they move out. Departures from usual wear and tear will be subject to security deposit deductions on move out.
Take photos of repairs before and after.
When your handyman, contractor, pest control company or other vendors arrives to address an issue make sure they take a photos/video of the conditions of the unit and problem area before their work and after the repair is complete. Get copies of the photos/video of the before and after so you can assess if the repair is the result of the tenant's own negligence or poor housekeeping.
Keep receipts and when possible designate the receipt for the applicable unit(s).
I can't speak for all hardware stores, but I know Home Depot when you ask they can put notes on the bottom of a receipt. Put the apartment address and unit on the receipt when possible so you can track the expense of specific repairs going forward. This is also crucial when you intend to bill the tenant for the repair.
Keep all inspection reports.
Inspection reports are great records for landlords. They seem like a pain at first, but they actually help evidence the habitable condition of the unit. Housing reports often rate a repair and give the landlord time to cure. Other inspection reports that are good to keep are those from pest control companies. If a pest control company enters an individual unit they often report what causes the pest control. And surprise! it is usually poor housekeeping. When your pest control company notes the tenant's living conditions are creating the pest problem pass that information to the tenant.
Pass on tenant caused repairs to the tenant.
Landlords all over are losing a lot of money by absorbing the costs of repairs that are tenant caused. When you set precedent early on with a tenant that they will be billed for the damage they cause to a unit they tend to be more careful. Tenants use R&M as a means to punk landlords around. Landlords should be assertive and can do so with good documentation. You want a paper trail showing you don't admit fault to the repairs you believe are tenant caused. Further, when you assert your rights early on there is less room for a tenant to later claim retaliation against you when you try to get them out for nuisance.
By having good R&M records landlords have a fighting chance to defend against frivolous habitability lawsuits or even get tenants out on nuisance evictions. Landlords carry the burden of proving tenant fault so it is best to keep records as much as possible.
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The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.