Landlord can say 'no' to charging electric car

Rent it Right

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 6, 2012

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Rent it Right

Janet Portman
Inman News®

Q: I just bought an electric car, which needs to be charged every night. I have an assigned place in the garage in my apartment building, which is conveniently next to an outlet. I've been using an extension cord to plug the car in at night, but have just been told that I can't do this anymore. My lease doesn't say anything about not accessing the outlets. Aren't I allowed to do it? --Ted G.

A: It does seem rather unsporting of your landlord to stymie your attempts to keep an environmentally friendly car charged up. But I think management is within its rights to say no. Here's why.

Your lease doubtless says something like, "Tenant will have one parking space in the garage, assigned by management." You're suggesting that because it doesn't explicitly forbid you from also using a nearby outlet, you should be allowed to do so. But with only a little effort, you can see why this argument won't hold up. The lease cannot list every possible use of the parking space and surrounding space and disallow them.

So, how do you figure out what activities you can reasonably expect to be able to do, and which are off-limits? It comes down to common sense and the intentions of you and the landlord when you signed the lease.

Suppose, for example, that you want to rebuild your car's engine in the parking space, which would involve bringing in lots of tools, parts, oil and other liquids, and generally turning the space around you into a car shop. Is that type of activity something that reasonable people would think of as being included in a parking spot in an apartment building garage? Of course not.

On the other hand, suppose you clean your car's windshield while it's parked -- would most people consider that a reasonable use of the space? Probably.

Don't get caught up in the argument that because the outlet is next to the parking space, you have somehow rented it, too. Again, that's not a reasonable interpretation of the lease. Through your rent, you are paying for a place to park your car, not a place to also obtain free electricity.

The way to deal with this problem is to try to get the landlord to talk to you about what has motivated his decision. Is management concerned about the electric bills? That would be only fair -- when the shoe is on the other foot, and tenants pay for utility costs that benefit common areas, many states require landlords to disclose the situation, which gives landlords and tenants an opportunity to fairly apportion costs. The same rule should apply to you -- if you're expecting to obtain electricity from an outlet that is in the common area, you should be prepared to compensate management.

Management may also be concerned about liability, such as someone tripping over your cord, or an accidental fire. Those may be valid worries, and you should talk them out.

Doubtless, this problem will find a solution as more and more people buy electric cars. Perhaps residential garages need to put aside a special place that's specifically equipped with safely placed outlets. Many commercial garages are adopting this approach. My guess is that it's not free.

Q: Our lease says the landlord can enter to inspect the premises with 24 hours' notice. Management has scheduled these inspections every other month, and we think it's just to harass us -- we think they want us out so they can give the unit to their in-laws.

At the last inspection, we did not let them in, but they pushed me out of the way and came in anyway. Is there anything we can do about this? --Leah and Max

A: Although most states allow landlords to enter to inspect rental property, they put boundaries around the number of visits per year. Some states specify numbers per year; others simply say that landlords may not enter more than is necessary, or in ways that amount to harassment. When a statute tells landlords that they can't enter to harass a tenant, you've got to conclude that this has been a problem.

From the sounds of things, your landlords are abusing their right to enter. Depending on state law, your remedies include considering this a valid reason to break the lease and move out, without responsibility for future rent. Or you could sue in small claims court for your damages, which include the constant interference you experience every time they come in. Although it's difficult to put a dollar value on that experience, judges do it all the time.

You have one other avenue of recourse. Shoving you out of the way was a very bad move -- no matter what the lease states, management cannot shove you without risking a charge of assault or battery. These would be misdemeanors, true, but criminal charges nonetheless. A tenant who's been pushed would have grounds to complain to the police.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at janet@inman.com.

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