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CalAttorney2, Lawyer
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 10244
Experience:  I am a civil litigation attorney with experience representing HOAs, homeowners, businesses and others in real estate matters.
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We received a letter recently from the property management

Customer Question

We received a letter recently from the property management company through which we are renting the house that we will be responsible for the water bill from June 15, 2015. We have been renting since around 2003 with the landlord paying the water bill as clearly stated in the lease agreement. We sent a letter back refusing to comply to this unilateral demand. The property management company called and left a message saying it is not a request but a requirement and if we do not comply it will be a violation of the lease. Can a landlord or property management company amend a lease without the tenant's consent, or claim our refusal as a violation of the lease?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Real Estate Law
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.
No, they cannot unilaterally change the lease terms.If they want to shift the liability for the water bill from the landlord to the tenant they can do so, but doing this is a change in the lease and they have to follow the same procedure as they would for changing any other lease term (give notice and the opportunity for you to either renegotiate or vacate if you don't agree to the new terms).You do not have an obligation to pay for the water for their unilateral and retroactive change in the terms.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
What if they switch the water bill from the utility to my name without my consent? What recourse do I have? It sounds like they are trying to play hardball on this.
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.
This might be a good time to find a landlord/tenant mediator (- contact your local bar association and request referrals to mediators, a third party neutral can often help you reach a mutually agreeable resolution. Use the bar association's referrals to contact a mediator or two, the mediator will then contact the other party to set up a mediation session, and you can go from there - hopefully resulting in a formal or written settlement agreement, and save yourself the time and expense of litigation).But if they were to do this, you can sue the landlord/management company for breach of contract.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Ultimately, can they force me to vacate if I do not agree to accept or negotiate with them?
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.
Eventually yes, they could terminate your lease. As you are now a "tenant at sufferance" or "holdover tenant" (month to month) they can force you to sign a new lease agreement with them agreeing to the change in utilities, or terminate your lease (without fault). If they try to terminate your lease for fault (based on this threat of paying the utilities) you would have a defense against this - but you would have an eviction suit on your record (even if you succeed in defeating it), which unfortunately does make it more difficult to lease a future residence.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
With real estate and water prices rising in California could they be not so concerned with ultimately having to evict me so they could command a higher rent from a future tenant? It sounds like they have the strong position. Can I ask to speak directly with the landlord since this may even be a strong arm ploy by the property management company. We have never been late on rent during the 10 plus years here. We have to have some leverage in this, wouldn't you agree?
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.
Possibly, but being a long term tenant does not give you any additional legal rights. You can try mediation, that is probably going to be most cost effective for you, but there isn't a "magic bullet" to deal with these issues.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
How much time must they allow before initiating eviction procedures if I refuse to accept or negotiate with them? How long do I have before anything could show up on record that could make it more difficult to lease in the future.
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.
At a minimum you would get a "3 day notice to cure or quit"
This would be reflected as part of your rental history, but would not be a matter if public record (that is what would happen if the actually filed am unlawful detainee in civil court against you).
I am actually in a meeting right now or I would get you the links myself, but look for the "landlord tenant handbook" published by the California attorney general, and the California courts self help site for housing. Both have extremely well presented information to assist tenants. And both are available online for free.
Again my apologies, but I wanted to respond as quickly as possible to your follow up.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Does the 3 day notice to cure or quit mean a starting point to the process of negotiating a mutual agreeable solution which could take longer to complete or is it a hard deadline before they start eviction procedures. You could let me know in the morning as there will probably other questions anyway.
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.
That is a hard deadline. You can always negotiate a resolution at any point in litigation. But I would recommend initiating something earlier.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Now that we know what the worst case scenario can be, please let me know how best to approach and the timing. I am assuming by the voicemail from the property management company that they already switched the water utility bill from the landlord to me. So if I do nothing for the time being, I have at least until the bill arrives with a due date. This would give me more time than just 3 days compared to talking with the PMC now that could easily result in a major discord and them taking a hardball approach (3 day notice). Should I even return the call from the PMC which asked to call only if I had any further questions? Plus I would rather create a paper trail than allow them to get me into an argument on the phone triggering the 3 day notice. Please advise.
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.
To create a paper trail, please read my comment on "confirmation letters" below:
Confirmation letters: Keep written records of all communications - so if you speak to someone by phone, promptly send a follow up "confirmation letter" summarizing your conversation, who you spoke to, when, and any agreements you reached. Keep copies of your outgoing correspondence, as well as anything that you receive.
Again, it is a strategy call for you to make as to whether or not you wish to avoid this, or address it directly. I cannot advise you as to which course of action is best on this forum (we cannot provide specific legal advice on this forum, and must refer you to local legal counsel for that type of advice or instruction).