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Can a landlord, without warning, verbal or written, add fences and gates (with padlocks) to a single family rental?

Santa Cruz, CA |

When we first moved in to this 3br/2ba home with a single car garage that the landlord was using, there was a standard wooden fence around a large grassy backyard. Attached to the house was large wooden deck between the garage & the house. In the last month the landlord has put up fences limiting us to just the deck area & a very small portion of the backyard. The fences are solid wood & about 8ft high, with no less than 9 gates all with padlocks. Now he put a fence up between the back of the house and garage cutting off the deck from our backyard portion, also with a gate & combo lock. He says it is for our safety! However, he built a large shed with bedrooms in the back and converted the garage to studio with kitchen & bath. Gas, electric and water all off our meter. Not returning calls.

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Attorney answers 2

Best Answer
Posted

I see two options here. 1) A rent deduction for the loss of use of the backyard. 2) Reporting the conversion to local authorities.

It sounds like an un-permitted conversion for which the city/county could force a take down. If the LL institutes eviction proceeding you can defend by proving it is a retaliatory eviction.

I suggest exhausting all means of communication with the LL in an attempt to come to a compromise before getting the authorities involved.

-Michael R. Juarez Law Office of Juarez and Schaeffer PO Box 16216 San Diego, CA 92105 (619) 804-4327 www.jslaw.org Mike@jslaw.org This posting is provided for “information purposes” only and should not be relied upon as "legal advice." Nothing transmitted from this posting constitutes the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Applicability of the legal principles discussed here may differ substantially in individual situations or in different jurisdictions.

Asker

Posted

Thank you for taking the time to respond to our issue. I contacted the CA Consumer Affairs office and downloaded their SWIFT form to report the construction. We believe he is trying to force us out to get more rent since his personal life has changed. He has not fixed the electrical wiring (old '50's main box with 4 breakers, of which 2 are constantly resetting - his new construction is connected to the same box, as well as is the gas & water meter) or sewer drainage problem. He agreed to pay 25% of utilities and he has not, instead he complains we have not fixed up the yard! My wife and I are not in total agreement here as to what to do, she just wants peace without the hassle. However, he is clearly taking advantage of good people and we personally feel threatened by his actions and words. We are looking for another place. We can't afford a tenet lawyer.

Asker

Posted

One last comment, though not specifically to you Mr Juarez: we feel caught in the middle, between a crazy landlord and an unresponsive/incapable legal system. There does not appear to be a direct gov't source we can contact with any sufficient means to help us in a timely manner and a private course of action is just to expensive. CA has a fairly comprehensive "Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities" which I downloaded and have read over many times. For all it's content, it does little to actually help a tenant when there is an issue, esp after talking and writing to the landlord resolves nothing but the construction of more locked gates.

Posted

Your have several options, including an action for forcible entry/forcible detainer. Your landlord has apparently set up illegal units on the land that is part of what you rented. You can also file a complaint with the local code enforcement authorities; doing is so is absolutely privileged. However, THREATENING to do so to get him to take down the barriers could be extortion, which is a felony. You should hire a tenants’ lawyer (not a local landlord lawyer) to represent you.

This is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided is a general statement of the law. Reviewing a case and giving legal advice to a client requires more information than can be exchanged in this format. If you need legal advice, contact an experienced tenants' attorney.

Asker

Posted

Thank you for writing back. I sent you a direct email response but did not hear back from you - perhaps that is standard given the nature of these forums. I understand that "threatening" our landlord is not a viable response to these issues: that did not enter our minds and the reason I posted the question here. But extortion? Perhaps esp since we do not know if his construction is legal or not. Certainly not a felony according to a couple of the online Legal Dictionaries I consulted: the common law of most states regard it as a misdemeanor unless it involves a public or elected official. If we are to try all means of communication with the LL would not bringing these issues up be prudent to solving them? Would it not be part of that discussion to include possible actions including legal consequences? In doing so we are not trying to extort anything from him other than to fix the problems he said he would fix. We have plenty of written documentation to this effect although there has never been a signed lease agreement being, currently, month-to-month. I talked with my brother-in-law who is a retired fireman and Fire Marshall in another state and he said having those locked gates and high fences may constitute a breach in fire safety laws, esp if it impedes our ability to evacuate the premises in an emergency. At present if there was a fire in the middle of the house, cutting off the back of the house (where our daughter's room is now) from a path through the house to exit, she only has the one back door and window as exits that go into the backyard then would have to vault over 8 ft high fences as well as be confronted with 2 locked gates. Like I have said before, these fences, locked gates and newly constructed buildings are all since we moved in, in the last couple of months. I believe in fairness and justice, and imo neither are being served here.