Landlord Tenant Q&A

RICHARD VIERRA (B), RMP
Principal Broker & Director of Property Management Hawaii Reserves, Inc.
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Regional Vice President / Past President, Oahu Chapter

Q. A couple has rented from me for a long time in a second story walk-up. The wife is now having a problem walking and I am afraid that she may fall. I do not want to renew their lease based on this. Otherwise they pay on time and take good care of the property. Am I within my rights to make them move based on her declining health?

A. This is a very good question because these kinds of circumstances confront landlords more often than we realize. In our litigious society, landlords are very conscious of potential personal injury lawsuits and property liability claims. Such concerns often put a landlord in a position to have to make a quick decision in order to avoid claims and protect his or her interests. Occasionally though, landlords decide too quickly.

Let’s take this case. Your tenants are a couple who have in every way appeared to perform their responsibilities as stated (we assume) in their rental agreement. Through no fault of the property owner nor the property itself, and certainly through no fault of the tenants, one of them is aging and now is perceived to have difficulty walking up the stairs.

What makes this interesting is that rather than, for example, installing railings, non-slip walking pads, or better lighting, the property owner has first considered terminating the rental agreement. This may be a defensive maneuver to preempt legal action in the event of a slip, fall, or other personal injury. But there is value in performing all or some of the above repairs anyway, which are not only constructive steps to make the property safer and easier to access for tenants, no matter their age or physical condition, but also could add value and safety to the property.

But for the sake of discussion, the specific question that needs to be addressed is whether or not the landlord is within his or her rights to make the tenant move based on her failing health. To answer it properly, a key component of the case needs to be provided that is the type of rental agreement currently in place. For example, if this is a fixed term lease, let’s say for a 12 month period and now in the 7th month, then it would be difficult to make the tenant move due to failing health.

Whether or not the tenant would claim discrimination based on age is unknown, but terminating a tenant during a fixed lease based solely on the landlord’s perception that the tenant may fall is precarious. If, however, this is a month-to-month lease, then the landlord has only to give the tenant a 45-day notice to vacate and does not have to give a reason to the tenant. In the end, if a landlord desires to have a tenant move, then it is best to review the rental agreement and act as the law prescribes.

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