What do I do with this tenant in Oakland CA ? Lawsuit alert!

17 Replies

Hi All, 

My husband has a rental property in Oakland CA, where tenants are heavily protected by law. 

We recently hired a real estate agent to find a tenant. A lease contract was signed by both tenant and my husband already a week ago. The rental agreement starts in July 15th. 

So, after the contract was signed, this lady started making some "ridiculous" requests:  re-clean the whole place, repaint the whole property, and must  be with the paint that she approves. Then she wanted to replace all the blinds to the style she likes (she did say she can pay for it), and she tells us that she has lung disease (she is 65, retired and has a court order where her ex-husband paid her significant amount on monthly basis).

The realtor who has been on all the communication above told my husband she felt this woman would eventually bring a lawsuit to her and my husband. At first blush, I thought she was very demanding and clean freak, but now the contract was signed, what should we do to protect ourselves? any advice would be greatly appreciated.   

Joanne

Yikes, she sounds like a nightmare. Hopefully there's some verbiage in the lease about accepting the condition of the property as is. Even if she backs down on these items now, there's surely more to come. 

It sounds like you need a California RE lawyer to look over your lease, see if you have any way out. It's unlikely given how friendly the laws in California are to tenants. 

If the tenant and your husband already signed the lease, it's already a valid lease.  With that being said, I'd tell the tenant no to all of the requests you listed (i.e. re-clean the whole place, re-paint the whole property, replace all the blinds).  She agreed to rent the place "as is", so I wouldn't make any of those changes.  She's welcome to clean the place herself of course, but I personally wouldn't allow her to repaint the place - even at her expense. 

She might just be testing you to see how you'll respond.  New tenants often do.  Start by just saying no.  That might just be the end of it.

But if you're really that worried about it and/or end up deciding that you'd rather not have her as a tenant now, you could try offering to let her out of the lease before she moves in.  She might take you up on it or she might not.  If she doesn't, there's not much you can do because - like I said before - there's already a signed/valid lease.  But at least you'll get a sense of how much she cares about these "issues" she brought up.

If she ends up staying, I'd document the fact that she told you she already has lung disease so she doesn't try to later claim it was from some condition in the home that caused it and sue you.  You never know.

Good luck and hope it works out for you.

@Joanne Tsai The Lease is already signed she has already agreed to the property condition.

Tell her she can pay for and arrange for any of these things (and who performs the work) with written approval from the Landlord (Your Husband).

You make the rules not the tenant. If she decides against moving in then she is breaking the lease and not entitled to any refunds (confirm with your local laws)

You can get a quote for the blinds plus labor and have her pay for that up front before doing any of this.

I echo the sentiments of others here... the lease is signed so now you just need to stand up to her and let her know that it is YOU who run the show not her. She may be testing you and If you give into her now she will continue to walk all over you throughout this tenancy. Put your foot down now and set an example of how things are done.. IE. she cannot just make unreasonable demands and expect you to fulfill them.

You mention California is a very tenant friendly state and I see you are in Milburn. I grew up in Springfield, NJ and live in Watchung currently.

Are the laws in California more tenant friendly than they are here in NJ? If yes I Am just curious to see how so as I thought NJ was very tenant friendly..

Thanks and good luck neighbor!! 


Chris

So, if I understand correctly, the Realtor that screened and placed the tenant for you tells you after the fact that they feel the new tenant is a lawsuit waiting to happen? I find it difficult to believe that there were no red flags during the process. What the heck.

You need to fire the Realtor and find someone else to do your screening and placement for you, or do it yourself.

It is even more tenant friendly in CA than in NJ. For example, I used to live in Berkeley, CA, where it is extremely difficult to evict tenants, even when the owners want to move back to the unit, sometimes the city would ask the owner to find other homes if tenants have been living there for some time. I have seen squatters who invade someone's backyard and the owners needed to go through court to kick them out.
Now that woman is old and with disease if we aren't being careful, who knows if she would sue us for discrimination or making her condition worse. But really... the property is in good shape and well taken care of, after all, we are renting out our apt, not running a senior center where all her demands can be met.  


Originally posted by @Chris Masons :

I echo the sentiments of others here... the lease is signed so now you just need to stand up to her and let her know that it is YOU who run the show not her. She may be testing you and If you give into her now she will continue to walk all over you throughout this tenancy. Put your foot down now and set an example of how things are done.. IE. she cannot just make unreasonable demands and expect you to fulfill them.

You mention California is a very tenant friendly state and I see you are in Milburn. I grew up in Springfield, NJ and live in Watchung currently.

Are the laws in California more tenant friendly than they are here in NJ? If yes I Am just curious to see how so as I thought NJ was very tenant friendly..

Thanks and good luck neighbor!! 


Chris

Yes, she did say she talked to her previous landlord and they said she was nice. I don't really know what that means. 
She didn't make any of these requests prior to her signing the contract, after the contract, she brought her sister in law, her daughter, and everyone else there was giving her advice as to how to "improve" the apartment. 


Originally posted by @David O. :

So, if I understand correctly, the Realtor that screened and placed the tenant for you tells you after the fact that they feel the new tenant is a lawsuit waiting to happen? I find it difficult to believe that there were no red flags during the process. What the heck.

You need to fire the Realtor and find someone else to do your screening and placement for you, or do it yourself.

Don’t give in to any of her demands and Fire that realtor ASAP! Document all your communication with her via  email or mail preferably mail she has to sign for. Because of her age, illness, and the overly tenant friendly laws here in Oakland you are stuck with her until she wants to move or breaks one of the very few just cause laws. It cost me 30k which consist of 9 months of mortgage payment plus a few thousand cash to get rid of a squatter. To top it off the squatter told the judge that they was squatting!! 

A good environmental consulting company can help by providing things such as a mold survey of the unit (before she moves in).  You could also have them test for fine dust levels, even VOCs.  Then give her the report with a long list of findings showing no problems.  Yes, you will need to spend $1,000 - $3,000.  Without data, you are open to all kinds of baloney and tricks.  The company I own provides those services, but not on such a small one-time project far from us, but you will find many consultants in northern CA who can help.  

@Kyle J. is right. Offer her the "happy clause" to mutually terminate the lease AND deny her requests.

If she takes you up on it, consider the bullet dodged. If not, at least you are setting the relationship back on track - hopefully no more issues.

If your realtor is telling you to be worried, I wouldn't dismiss that opinion.

@Joanne Tsai did you consider the possibility that the house is dirty and needs to be cleaned? In my experience it is very rare that a tenant leaves a house clean enough that I would move into it. Rather than cleaning the entire place, I would ask her to walk through and point out specific things that need cleaning and have her take photos. Then have those items cleaned. As far as painting, that can be a gray area. Was the property vacant and "rent ready" when she viewed the property. If it was vacant, then I tell the tenant they accepted it "as is" as far as visual condition. Of course you still need to fix anything that may be broken. If she viewed the property when another tenant was living there, then it is a grey area. They could argue that they expected visual deficiencies to be corrected after the old tenant moved out.

Either way, you are stuck with her. Just follow the law and be responsive. Fix broken things quickly, but things like paint are visual. I don't think a tenant in any state can withhold rent demanding you repaint a wall, unless it is correcting damage caused by something outside the tenants control.

She viewed it when it was vacant. The realtor had someone paint part of the walls and clean the carpet before showing.
We used to live in the unit and it's only been rented out for about a year, everything was in good condition when the realtor inspected the unit.   

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :

@Joanne Tsai did you consider the possibility that the house is dirty and needs to be cleaned? In my experience it is very rare that a tenant leaves a house clean enough that I would move into it. Rather than cleaning the entire place, I would ask her to walk through and point out specific things that need cleaning and have her take photos. Then have those items cleaned. As far as painting, that can be a gray area. Was the property vacant and "rent ready" when she viewed the property. If it was vacant, then I tell the tenant they accepted it "as is" as far as visual condition. Of course you still need to fix anything that may be broken. If she viewed the property when another tenant was living there, then it is a grey area. They could argue that they expected visual deficiencies to be corrected after the old tenant moved out.

Either way, you are stuck with her. Just follow the law and be responsive. Fix broken things quickly, but things like paint are visual. I don't think a tenant in any state can withhold rent demanding you repaint a wall, unless it is correcting damage caused by something outside the tenants control.

Well.....while you have a valid lease since both signed, you are not required to meet or complete any of her demands. I would simply tell the tenant the rental she accepted the rental is as is where is. I hope you have a no modifications allowed without prior written permission clause. I’m assuming it’s not some slum and you have a clean maintained unit.

Like stated in prior posts simply say no and offer her the option of cancelling the lease. Document the fact  that she stated she had lung disease prior to moving in. And you’ll probably be dealing with a problem tenant but you never know. She may turn out ok. 

This is a good reason to only do month to month leases. I do them all the time. In fact I only have ne lease that’s a year (well 9 months now) but the tenant is really a good tenant. Most are worried about the rent going up so I write in a no rent raise guaranteed for 12 months. 

Some tenants like to push to see how far they can go. A simple “no that’s not allowed” let them know how far I can be pushed. .

I would let her know that you will not be making any changes to the property and that if she is no longer interested in moving in that you will let her out of her lease without any penalty. Also remind her that you do not allow any modifications to the property including paint without your written permission.

Hopefully she will agree to cancel the lease. Bid not do not agree to any changes to appease her and make regular inspections of your property after she moves in.

Tell her no to ever request now and going forward, make it clear she rented as is and she will not be permited now or in th efuture to change anything. Let her know you will release her from the lease.

Fire the realtor then figure out a way to fire the idiot tenant , probably not easy to do in the people’s republic of California . Atleast do as already suggested and let her know that A your not doing ANY of those requests and B you hold the power position and inform her you won’t be taking ANY crap from this point forward

1) Fire the realtor. They should have done their due diligence in placing a non-problematic tenant in your property. Their job is to maximize your investment, not cost you money. The realtor's communication with this tenant does not seem to be helping. 

2) If she actually moved in, it is 95% likely she may have additional tenant protections due to her age and medical condition. That does not bode well in your favor in regards to any potential future evictions issues.

3) If you are scared the tenant may bring legal action (or if she did move in, since the contract has already been signed), I would contact landlord attorney Clifford Fried of Fried Williams (https://www.friedwilliams.com/clifford-e-fried). I'd be happy to connect you directly. 

Even if you aren't considering legal action or evicting her yet, it would be prudent to have an attorney's viewpoint on this matter. He is a VERY landlord-friendly attorney who has dealt with thousands of landlord concerns in SF and Oakland.