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barristerinky
barristerinky, Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 36585
Experience:  Attorney over 16 years, landlord 26 years
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Walnut Creek, CA I rented a house from 2/15/2016 to

Customer Question

Walnut Creek, CA
I rented a house from 2/15/2016 to 11/30/2016 and the previous renter left his relatively new fridge and sent an email saying he would leave it for me:
"Your mom also mentioned the fridge, she'll probably discuss it with you. ​​If it helped you guys out, we could leave the kitchen fridge ($2,500 Whirlpool Gold about 2 years old) and fits perfectly in the 39' wide x 71.5' tall x 31' deep opening, or would you prefer to bring your own fridge? There is also an old spare/extra refrigerator in the garage that could stay if you wanted more cold storage, your mom thought that you might. " Dated 1/20/2016
Our lease does not have language in it that the fridge was provided as part of the house. It does state we would need permission to install one with a water line. There was never any communication from the management company about the fridge until a month after the final walkthrough.
Believing that we now owned the fridge, we had moved the fridge to our new home prior to walkthrough - and I have a photo proving that. We moved out and did final walkthrough 11/29/2016 and got our full deposit back. On 1/5/2017 the management company demanded the fridge back and provided an addendum to the prior renter's contract where the renter had transferred ownership of the fridge to the owner on 1/20/2016 (same date as the email offering to leave it for us). However, yesterday was the very first time I saw that document.
It seems to me that as there is at least a reasonable assumption that the previous renter left the fridge for us, that the management company did not address the fridge in the lease or at the time of walkthrough, and it is over a month since then, that we are entitled to the fridge.
That being said, I'm willing to return it, or offer a reasonable sum of money ($500) to keep the fridge. However, there are some cosmetic damages that happened during moving. I don't want to buttress their claim of ownership by offering to return it (as I think they will demand that we repair or replace it) nor do I want to get in a bidding war about the worth of fridge.
The management company is stating that they will sue and file criminal charges. While I doubt the criminal charges would fly, I also don't want to risk it as the law can be funny sometimes.
I would like some advice, and the relevant CA civil code or case law that informs that advice.
Submitted: 5 months ago.
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Expert:  barristerinky replied 5 months ago.

Hello and welcome! My name is ***** ***** I am a licensed attorney and will try my best to help with your situation. There may be a slight delay in my responses as I research statutes or ordinances and type out an answer or reply, but rest assured, I am working on your question.

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There is zero chance of a criminal charge being placed against you by a DA. This is an entirely civil matter since you were acting under a reasonable impression that the former tenant gave you the fridge in return for not having to move it out.

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With that said, now that the matter has actually been cleared up regarding the ownership if the fridge, the landlord could sue you for "conversion", which is the wrongful keeping of the personal property of another, and for "replevin", which is its return. The fact that there was some miscommunication about the ownership of the fridge wouldn't give you the legal right to retain it now that it has been established that the tenant gifted it to the landlord.

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There isn't a specific CA statute that applies here as this is simply a matter of common law contract law and even if you were acting reasonably, which you were, they can still pursue a claim for the return of the fridge or its depreciated value. Considering how courts look at depreciation, a 3 year old fridge would have depreciated at least 60% of its value, so the most that they could pursue is $1000 (i.e. 2500 * 40%). More likely a court would apply "yard sale" value, which would be around the $500 mark you are proposing...

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With all that said, I would agree with offering them $500 or so for the fridge and if they refuse, doing nothing else and seeing if they actually wanted to go to the expense of hiring an attorney for a couple thousand to file suit over a fridge worth $1K or less.

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As an aside, in addition to being an attorney, I have also been a landlord for over 26 years...

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thanks

Barrister

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