Landlord Tenant Q&A with LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R)

LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Manager
Property Profiles, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. My husband has always handled our rental property, but two years ago he passed away. It seems that the tenant was trying to reach my husband on his cell phone to report a water leak at the unit. I don’t know why, but they left numerous messages there even though I had sent them a letter saying to send all rent payments, correspondence, etc. to me at my home address – and left my home number. Finally I received a call from the resident manager telling me that I had to get this leak taken care of – of course, this was the first time I heard of a leak. The leak was going on for a long time and caused damage to several units under our unit. It was discovered that the tenant was attempting to repair the water leak themselves. My problem is now my insurance won’t cover the claim because they said the leak wasn’t reported on a timely basis and the additional damage to the other units could have been avoided. I am stuck.

I will have to pay for everything myself.

What should I have done?

A. This is a terrible situation and it seems that many factors have contributed to the way events turned out. I don’t understand how messages could have been left on a cellular phone that is no longer in service – but maybe I don’t have all the correct details.

It is the responsibility of the tenant to report problems at a rental unit on a timely basis. Haw. Rev. Stat. 521-51 provides that the tenant maintain the dwelling unit. Each tenant shall at all times during the tenancy: 1) Comply with applicable building and housing laws materially affecting health and safety, 2) Keep that part of the premises which the tenant occupies and uses as clean and safe as the conditions of the premises permit,. . . 4) keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits . . . 8) Comply with all obligations, restrictions, rules, and the like which are in accordance with section 521-52 and which the landlord can demonstrate are reasonably necessary for the preservation of the property and protection of the landlord, other tenant, or any other person.

Therefore if the tenant was not able to contact you, the owner, (or hear back from you on a timely basis) then the tenant should have taken alternative measures to notify someone of the defect. In this case the resident manager would have been a great alternative. It seems that the tenant did have means of contacting you – since their rent checks were being mailed to you – so they, at the very least, had an address where they could contact you.

Owners do have a further remedy if they can prove that the tenant failed to maintain the unit properly. Haws Rev. Stat. 521-69 states that the landlord upon hearing of any such noncompliance and after notifying the tenant in writing of the noncompliance and allowing a specified time not less than ten days after receipt of the notice, for the tenant to remedy the non-compliance: 1) May terminate the rental agreement and bring summary proceedings for possession . . . 2) May remedy the tenant’s failure to comply and bill the tenant for the actual and reasonable cost of such remedy if the non-compliance can be remedied by the landlord by cleaning, repairing, replacing a damaged item, or the like, which bill shall be treated by all parties as rent due and payable on the next regular rent collection date, or if the tenancy has been terminated, immediately upon receipt by the tenant.

Owners must also take responsibility with their properties. If regular inspections were not done at the property (at least once a year), then little problems can very easily become overwhelming ones. Water damage is especially problematic and the resulting costs can be astronomical – as you are finding.

Hopefully there will still be an opportunity to file a claim with the insurance carrier of the condominium – even if your personal insurance will not honor a claim. I am sure there is a statute of limitations when it comes to claims but it must have been determined that this particular situation went on for a very long time. Unfortunate all the way around.

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