Charge tenant for furniture removal?

Rent it Right

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 1, 2011

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Rent it Right

Janet Portman
Inman News™

Q: We advertised our rental home as furnished, and we made sure that the furnishings were in good shape and attractive. The tenant we chose said nothing about the furniture when he toured the house, but upon moving in he began asking us to remove many items, because he said he had his own stuff.

We ended up having to rent a storage facility in order to store everything, which is costing us $60 each month. I think this cost should be paid by the renter -- what do you think? --Linda F.

A: I'm with you. Your renter knew that the home was furnished and he had ample opportunity to raise the issue with you when he saw the house. Had he done so, you could have raised the problem right then, pointing out that not only have you spent money to buy and maintain the furnishings, but you'll also incur additional expenses if you have to store them.

You've factored the furnishing costs into the rent; now, you intend to factor in your storage costs, too. You could have fairly told him that if storage was necessary, he'd have to foot the bill (or, more practically, pay more rent).

It's not too late to discuss the matter now. Point out that the additional expense for the storage unit was not "part of the bargain" when the two of you signed the lease. You might point out that if you had refused to remove the items, your tenant would have had to rent a unit to store his stuff. Either way, it's his responsibility because he's the one who introduced the unneeded items in the first place.

You'll need to think about what you'll do if the tenant refuses to pay for the storage unit. I doubt that you can terminate or evict, because your lease apparently had no clause obligating the tenant to cover storage costs for you if he decided to use his own furniture.

Ironically, if the tenant had misused the furniture, by placing it outside or in a dusty or leaky garage, you might have had a reason to terminate the lease based on his failure to take reasonable care of the property (a legal requirement in all states). But because you went along and moved the items to a safe place, you can't argue that the tenant has done anything destructive.

Your best bet now might be small claims court, where you can argue that the lease should be modified to reflect your agreement to store the furnishings.

Your argument could be based on fairness: You went above and beyond what the lease required, and you should be compensated for your out-of-pocket costs. However, the fact that you've gone along with the tenant's request without demanding payment in advance will weaken your argument.

Q: I'm a tenant in New Jersey and I've been living here for several months with no problems. The other night, I had some friends over, and things got a little out of hand. The neighbors complained, the cops were called, and the next day, my landlord called and left a message on the answering machine, telling us to move. Can she legally do this? --Manny P.

A: Tenants everywhere must not unreasonably disturb the peace and quiet for their neighbors. Known as the "covenant of quiet enjoyment," this duty is often mentioned in leases and rental agreements, but it applies whether or not it's written down. Like your landlord's duty to provide fit and habitable housing, the rule applies whether it's in a lease or not. It's just the law.

Unfortunately, there's no simple test to use to determine whether particular conduct has deprived neighbors of their rights to quiet enjoyment. You won't find statutes specifying a threshold decibel level for noise or a particular number of rowdy partygoers.

Instead, when landlords decide that "enough is enough" and terminate on this basis, a judge will use his or her common sense if the tenant refuses to move and contests the eviction in court.

Your landlord has apparently decided that the noise from your gathering justified her termination under state law. In New Jersey, landlords may terminate when a tenant's conduct was "... so disorderly as to destroy the peace and quiet of the landlord or the other tenants or occupants living in (the) house or the neighborhood." (According to New Jersey state law, Section 2A:18(53)(c).)

If you feel that your party didn't rise to this level and decide to fight the termination (by defending against an eviction lawsuit), you landlord will need to produce proof, such as testimony from neighbors and the police about the extent of the disruptions.

There's one more wrinkle to consider: New Jersey requires landlords to deliver written notices of termination. Moreover, the notices must be given personally to the tenant or left with someone in the tenant's family who is at least 14. Leaving a voice-mail message will probably not satisfy these requirements.

Unfortunately, the landlord's sloppy notice may not help you much. A judge may toss the case for improper notice, but that may buy the tenant only a little time. The landlord simply turns around, sometimes right in the courtroom, and gives you a proper notice, putting the eviction right back on track.

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