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If It Ain't Broke . . .

By Colin McCarthy, J.D., Robinson & Wood, San Jose, CA

Well, hello there and happy 2012 to you all. It has been a little bit of time since we have had a chance to chat. I will beg your forgiveness for being pre-occupied with year end duties, and a jury trial in Visalia, California that preoccupied my time and has prevented me from indulging in the blogging world. Now that I am able to focus, I want to talk to you about every one's favorite topic – repairs – from everyone's favorite perspective – a lawyer.

But before I do, I'll share with you how I spent my New Year's Eve. It's a story that pretty much exemplifies why it is important to have a good handyman at your disposal. And why it is important that you not rely on your father to do repairs at your home or your leased property.

As is the case with a lot of you, my parents came to see their grandchildren for Christmas. They did not come to see me or my lovely wife. They wanted to see my kids while they are still cute, and say and do precious things. I recognize this and accept it. My little brother will soon benefit from this phenomenon. For the first time, my parents will actually go to see him in the cesspool (I mean lovely city) that is Los Angeles*.

As payback for this parental neglect, I frequently use the visits as the opportunity to enlist my father in helping me with home repair. This time, I had a leaking external water spigot in the back yard that was opening the spigot – if you will – on my water bill. So I asked dear old Dad to assist, knowing (but always forgetting) how he does these things.

He waited until December 31, 2011 to start. He waited until 4 p.m. in the afternoon to start. He had a 7 p.m. dinner appointment with friends. After assessing the situation, he decided that we may as well replace the spigot in the driveway because it was the same vintage and bound to fail soon, too. So off to Orchard Supply we went and purchased our replacement parts. We successfully installed the new spigot in the back yard in about 10 minutes.

The driveway spigot proved more challenging. We could not get it off. Not easily anyways. We did manage to get some of it off – the rest remained rusted and in place. The problem with only getting part of the spigot off and not all of it was, in this case, that there was no way to stop the water from escaping. Unless we turned the water off. So we did.

Not a big deal. Except that we did not have the tools to get the rest of it off. Except that OSH was closing. Except that Dad was going to a dinner party in about 20 minutes. Except that OSH was closed on New Year’s Day. Except that we have three little ones that need frequent bathing. Except that we needed to be able to flush the toilets. Etc. So Dad goes under the subfloor looking for a close out valve for this particular water line. Mom is at the doorway wondering when she is going to the dinner party. My wife is wondering what is going on. Dad swears like its 1984 and he's working on the VW bus. Then throws his hands up and says, "I have to go to the dinner party."

Lucky for me, my neighbor, who is a handyman, was home and looking for some extra cash. An hour and a $150 later, problem solved. Negligent repair made non-negligent. Water on. Kids clean. Toilets flushable. McCarthy residence, habitable.

And so it is, too, your landlord’s responsibility to make your property "habitable" by competent repairs. A landlord's failure to maintain and repair the dwelling he has rented you entitles you to, in some cases in California, refrain from paying rent related to the dilapidated condition of the dwelling**. If the failure to repair interferes with the tenant’s ability to live in the dwelling, they may be free from rent obligations until the situation is corrected***.

So clearly, the lesson of this blog post is: do not let your father do repairs at your house or any rental properties.

*He's actually in Redondo Beach, which is cool. And where John Travolta's character in Pulp Fiction resides.

** Stoiber v. Honeychuck, 101 CA3d 903 (1980)

***Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 151 (1974).

This blog submission is only for purposes of disseminating information. It does not constitute legal advice. The statements in this blog submissions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Robinson & Wood, Inc. or its clients. No attorney-client relationship is formed by virtue of reading this blog entry or submitting a comment thereto. If you need legal advice, please hire a licensed attorney in your state.

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