Can I charge my tenant for a leaky roof that I was never made aware of?

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Can I charge my tenant for a leaky roof that I was never made aware of?

My tenant recently gave notice of moving out. When I went to the house to put up “For Rent” signs he invited me in. While inside the house I noticed a gaping hole and water damage in the ceiling of the living room. When asked about it, he said the roof has been leaking for awhile. He neglected to tell me about this problem. I know I am responsible for the structure of the house but does his failure to alert me to the leak equal neglect on his behalf? Do I have any legal means of making him pay for at least part of the repairs that could be said to have happened after the initial leak?

Asked on May 3, 2011 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

*Possibly* if there is a written lease, one of whose terms obligates tenants to inform you, as landlord, of any leaks or other maintenance conditions. In that case, by not doing so, the tenant beached the lease. Or if you can show that the tenant in some fashion caused the leak. However, barring the above, it is unlikely that you could recover; the tenant is not under any general legal obligation to report maintenance, etc. issues to the landlord, even severe ones. The obligations, as you noted in your question, run the other way: the landlord is required to provide a safely inhabitable home to the tenat (the  implied warranty of habitablity), but the tenant does not have reciprocal obligations unless imposed by lease.


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