Whose Side Am I On Anyway?

John H. FischerBy Dr. Rent

As indicated last week, I have been busy so I first now got the chance to read last week’s City Pages.  And there I was, what a surprise!

Normally I know if I am going to be in the City Pages or the Daily Herald or on TV because they called to ask questions.  But not this time.

It was on a small article where a landlord was taken to court for withholding a tenant’s deposit, and the tenant won.  I was mentioned in the article pretty much on the side of the tenant.  So, why I am out there making life more difficult for landlords?  After all, I am the former president of the local apartment association.

I get calls every week from people who heard from a friend of a friend that I give free advice.  Some of the calls are from landlords, some are from tenants, and every now and then a get a call from a lawyer.  (That’s when I knew I made the big time, lawyers asking me for advice!)

When I get these calls, whose side am I on?  Well, I am on the side of what ever is right in terms of the laws, and what is fair if the laws don’t seem to apply.  Sometimes that means I am on the side of the tenant, sometimes on the side of the landlord, and every now and then I think they are both wrong and I just advise them get a lawyer because this is going to be a mess.

Once I was on both people’s sides.  A tenant called who had lived somewhere for a very long time and had questions about the deposit that was withheld.  I told them that damages could be billed, but not “normal wear and tear” and every person defines “normal wear and tear” differently.  The only opinion that really matters though, is the judge’s.  And, the judge will take into consideration how long someone lived there as to what is normal.  For example, the walls needing to be painted because of cigarette smoke after someone was only there for 6 months will probably be okay to take out of a deposit, however if they have been there for 6 years, most judges feel that the unit will need new paint anyway, so normal wear.

After explaining this, she was so glad that I agreed with her and asked if she could give the landlord my number so I could explain this to them.  I agreed and not 5 minutes later they called.  I gave them almost the same “spiel” about what is normal wear and tear and what is not.  She thanked me for agreeing with them.

Huh?

Sure enough, a few minutes later the tenant called back and asked what I told the landlord because they are more convinced than ever that THEY are right.  I assured her I told both parties the same thing.  This took up about 6 phone calls over 2 days.  I told both of them, if you think you are right, go to court.  One of you will be disappointed and without seeing the “damage” (and I didn’t want to), I did not know who would be the disappointed one.

Why will I sometimes take the sides of the tenants?  Because, bad landlords make all of us look bad.  I don’t want to put those guys out of business, I just want them to play by the same set of rules that the rest of us play by.  As you saw from last week’s post, this isn’t an easy profession.

As an example, I am having problems in one of my units where I need to get the tenants out, they are making life miserable not only for the other tenants in their building, but for the entire neighborhood.  However, they are doing it in such a way that the law is actually on their side.  How I am handling it… next week.

Dr. Rent

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