Knock, knock. Who’s there? A real estate agent and strangers coming to walk through your house, and invade your privacy, before they evict you. Outraged? What can you do?
The landlord owns the property and can sell it, while you are still paying rent and living there. When the sale is final, you have a new landlord, but they probably want you out, so they can live there. One real estate agent “lists” the property for sale, and gets a commission of 5-6% of the sale price when the sale is final and “escrow closes.” Other agents from other real estate offices want to see the house themselves, so if they have a buyer who might like it, they can remember it and have them see the property, inside and out. If their buyer completes the purchase, they share the commission with the listing agent.
The problem is, you still live there, and all of this becomes very intrusive, a violation of your privacy, a trespass on your possessory rights, a breach of your implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, a reduction of the value of living there, a great inconvenience, and a lot of uncertainty about whether you will stay or go, irrespective of your personal plans. And for all this, it is RARE that even courtesy would be extended to you, let alone a respect for your legal rights, or any compensation for the cooperation they seem to expect from you as a matter of right. The landlord has you on a lease, or at least your need for some kind of stability, and so exploits your situation to pull rent money from the house through the date of sale.
How Bad Could It Be?
Your first clue is that the landlord didn’t tell you the truth about his plans to sell, nor give you a heads up that he had “changed his mind.” Nor did he give you the option well in advance to cancel your lease and find a place where you wouldn’t be disturbed, at all. If he had, you wouldn’t be reading this. He doesn’t mind breaking his promise to you, disrupting your privacy in ways that would make him scream if he were the tenant. So what, if you’re not getting your money’s worth?
The second clue is that, with you already living there, he might at least have the business sense to save the real estate commissions by selling the house directly to you. In today’s market that could easily be $25,000 – $30,000 in his pocket, if you bought it directly. However, he would rather forgo that much money to give you the chance to buy it. If he did ask you, and you decided to move instead, he would lose the rent that he had hoped to continue collecting during the sale. He would rather lose a lot of money than risk a few months’ rent to give you the chance to buy it, and have peace of mind.
The third clue is that the agent doesn’t care, at all. This is not a “home,” it’s “property.” You are not a “person,” you are an “occupant.” The agent would rather have you out and the place empty, because then it’s easier to show and faster to sell, due to its immediate availability. A faster commission is what he wants. You’re in the way, a nuisance.
It starts with a “For Sale” sign on your front lawn. The sign itself is ugly, but invites passers-by to stop and investigate your house, knock at the door, ask to see inside, if you’re the owners and why you’re selling. Maybe your friends and neighbors thought you owned the house. You must now explain that you are tenants who are being booted out, that you can’t afford to buy the house and live in their neighborhood. You are not moving because of something they did. You have no control of who their next neighbor will be. Your kids are looking a school disruption which no one planned on, and their friends break away.
Then, the realtor stops by to see the place, with your landlord in tow. Generally, they come when they feel like it, usually without notice, or consideration for disrupting your mealtime or privacy. They snoop around your house, looking for size and placement, generally assessing how the place will “show” to potential buyers. They may ask you to keep the place looking nice, as though you’re not a good housekeeper.
Then they want to put a “lockbox” on your front door handle, and generally ask the landlord (but not you) if that’s OK. A lockbox is a metal box with combination or key which has your front door keyinside it. Anyone who knows the combination to the box, or has the key, can open it, and have your front door key in their hand, ready to walk in, any time, unannounced. Although the lockbox is metal, it is cheaply made, and easy for criminals to break open. Security and privacy are gone.
Before the lockbox becomes a problem, it’s time for the “caravan,” where all the agents in the listing office and other offices travel around from house to house to see all the new listings. A parade of real estate agents shows up at your door, then walks through your house, one room at a time, irrespective of whether this is a good time for you. You are expected to get out of the way and shut up about the intrusion, so that they can see your house, in order to show it to all of their potential buyers. Generally this is done in the morning, while you may be getting dressed, having breakfast, or other normal activities.
Next, the realtors start showing up with prospective buyers. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes at night, on weekends, but hardly ever without even a moment’s notice to you. The listing agent shouldput a note in the Multiple Listings for your house, warning showing agents to give you the advance notice required by law, but that would discourage other agents from showing your house, and hence reduce the listing agent’s chances for a quick commission.
Stories abound where agents surprise a couple in bed in the morning, showing the house to strangers, who peer in. Coming out of the shower, half dressed, not ready for company, they find you as you are. Too bad. You’re just the occupant of the property. Families show up with kids, who wander about, breaking or taking things, while the agent shows their parents this room or that, and then nobody knows anything about the intrusion. You are gone, and the door is left open for the cat or dog to escape, never to be found again. The carpets are soiled from the feet of the agents and prospective buyers. Things are knocked off tables or shelves. Things are turned off or on, and left that way. You are told, “It can’t be helped.”
While the agent is showing the house to the buyers, he tells you to make yourself scarce. He says that you’re “not supposed to be there” when they show the property, and should find something to do to get out of the way. You are told not to talk to the buyers, and perhaps are reminded that you should make the place look “more presentable.” They act like it is your duty to help them sell the house, so they can make their profit and kick you out for good.
“Open house” is the capper. That is where a house that has been overpriced on the market is given “special attention.” The overpricing was for the agent to get the listing in the first place, by promising to get such a high price. When it doesn’t sell, the agent suggests an “open house”, complete with banners and balloons. It’s an open door to anyone who wants to case your house, while an agent camped out inside your house all day invites everyone through. The real purpose of the open house is to create a field office for the agency, where prospective buyers can see this overpriced place, and then be steered to more realistic pricing for houses down the street. However, your landlord thinks his house is getting special attention, and so he welcomes it. After all, he doesn’t live there. Only you have to put up with it. In fact, the agent tells you to leave your house for the whole day, so you won’t interfere with his sales pitches. Where you go doesn’t matter, just go. Sorry, no free tickets.
Before escrow closes, at least one appraiser goes through your place with a fine tooth comb, and then a “home inspection” expert goes into all kinds of detail. This is not to find anything that you’ve endured, in order to fix it for the final weeks of your tenancy. This is to make sure that the buyer doesn’t have to put up with what you have. The buyer has a right to know about all the defects before they buy; as a tenant, you have no right to be told about the defects before you sign a lease.
In the end, you get an eviction notice or two. One buyer may fall through, another may not qualify for his loan, and you are kept in suspense about whether or when you need to leave. Everything revolves around the closing of escrow, and little if any consideration is given to your situation, school or work schedules, difficulty in finding a place, or other practical concerns you face. If the deal does go through, everyone expects you to have a place lined up and be out within hours of the close of escrow. Otherwise, you are threatened with an eviction lawsuit, to permanently damage your renting credit. The landlord may keep your entire deposit, even if the buyer will be completely remodeling the entire place.
Hopefully, the next place you find to move into is available when you need it, and doesn’t repeat this same process. The realtors hope that you get sick of this abuse, and decide to buy a nice overpriced house out of your disgust and need to escape the renting world. That way, they get even more business, which they helped generate.
Asserting Your Rights
If you sit back and let them do it, the above scenarios are what you can expect, or may have already experienced. The good news is that you will be calling the shots. You can work all of this to your advantage, and prevent these abuses effectively. There may be some confrontation, because they don’t like your having so much control as you now will. What you can do in a “hardball” situation defines your bargaining power to achieve a win-win solution, such as discussed below. What follows are examples of the variety and extremes of what you might do in an escalating conflict to protect yourself against these abuses, and tenderize the landlord to the point where he is willing to be reasonable with you and work something out.
Some of these tactics may seem too extreme to you, or may be necessary because of the landlord’s aggressive and abusive nature. They are all tools in your tool belt, available for you as may need. Sometimes a landlord will be reasonable with you because we should all be reasonable and respectful of each other as human beings. Other times, a landlord will only be respectful after you have raked him over the coals. As one pundit put it, “A kind word and a gun gets you farther than a kind word, alone.”
The Right to Possession
When you rent the house, you “buy” the exclusive right to possession of it by paying rent. The landlord still has title, and he can use the property as security for a loan, trade it, and improve it; but, he can’t come in whenever he wants. That is, by renting, the landlord has sold you his right to possession. The landlord or his agents coming onto your property without your consent is a trespass. The only exception to this is where the landlord or his agents follows the procedures of Civil Code 1954 [see below]. As a result, you have the upper hand, and both the landlord and the real estate agents are at your mercy.
In real terms, your right to possession gives you the power to arrest and sue the landlord, his agents, and any prospective buyers for trespass. Even a forcible, physical citizen’s arrest [using reasonable force necessary to subdue them] is legal, where someone enters your home without your consent or legal right. You say, “you’re under arrest” and are contacting the police. The police will back you, the lawful tenant, even against the landlord. You can also sue the trespassers in small claims court for up to $5,000, each. That is, Tenant A can sue Agent C for $5,000, and separately sue Buyer D for $5,000, while Tenant B can sue Agent C for $5,000 and Buyer D for $5,000 [total is $20,000]. This may be extreme, but you can do it.
You can also call the cops to have them physically remove any trespassers [like an open house agent] and then make a criminal complaint against the agent, the landlord, the prospective buyer, and whoever else comes in without your consent or proper legal process. When there is a doubt, the police will back you, the lawful tenant, against anyone else, even if they don’t make an arrest. If the police arrive and the people are there, you can tell the officer that you want to make a citizen’s arrest of those people, and he is required to follow through. If he doesn’t, you call his watch commander right then and report him, and then call the police Internal Affairs to make a formal complaint. The police are required to enforce the law, not play politics.
Because you have the right to possession, the landlord cannot make you leave your home at any time, nor can the real estate agent or inspector ask you to leave the house or room, for him to show the place to prospective buyers, or whatever. You have the right to be there, and go about your daily business, even where the landlord or his agent has properly notified you of their intent to enter. You do not have to put your pets outside, tie them up, or do anything special to accommodate the agent showing the property. You can and should warn the agent that your dog will bite whoever comes into the house or yard, so he should not have anyone come in. If you’ve warned him, and they get bitten anyway, you did your best, and you should not be liable, but the agent and landlord probably would be.
Also, because you have the right to possession, you have the right to remove the real estate sign from the front lawn [absent a rare express prohibition of that, in the rental agreement]. It is your lawn, while you are a tenant, and the sign is not a repair or improvement. It is an eyesore, and you don’t have to tolerate it. The Agent will say that you have no right to take down their sign, and you can tell them that you will not only remove the sign but sue the real estate company for trespass for putting it up in the first place, as well as sue the agent who tells you that.
The Right to Civil Code 1954 Compliance
Your right to possession is subject to a very narrow exception, identified in Civil Code 1954. At first, these seem like petty quibbles, but their strategic value will become apparent. Here’s the actual statute, highlighted:
§1954. Entry by Landlord
(a) A landlord may enter the dwelling unit only in the following cases:
(1) In case of emergency.
(2) To make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services, or exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workers, or contractors or to make an inspection pursuant to subdivision (f) of Section 1950.5.
(3) When the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises.
(4) Pursuant to court order.
(b) Except in cases of emergency or when the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises, entry may not be made during other than normal business hours unless the tenant consents to an entry during other than normal business hours at the time of entry.
(c) The landlord may not abuse the right of access or use it to harass the tenant.
(d)(1) Except as provided in subdivision (e), or as provided in paragraph (2) or (3), the landlord shall give the tenant reasonable notice in writing of his or her intent to enter and enter only during normal business hours. The notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. The notice may be personally delivered to the tenant, left with someone of a suitable age and discretion at the premises, or, left on, near, or under the usual entry door of the premises in a manner in which a reasonable person would discover the notice. Twenty-four hours shall be presumed to be reasonable notice in absence of evidence to the contrary. The notice may be mailed to the tenant. Mailing of the notice at least six days prior to an intended entry is presumed reasonable notice in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
(2) If the purpose of the entry is to exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, the notice may be given orally, in person or by telephone, if the landlord or his or her agent has notified the tenant in writing within 120 days of the oral notice that the property is for sale and that the landlord or agent may contact the tenant orally for the purpose described above. Twenty-four hours is presumed reasonable notice in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. At the time of entry, the landlord or agent shall leave written evidence of the entry inside the unit.
(3) The tenant and the landlord may agree orally to an entry to make agreed repairs or supply agreed services. The agreement shall include the date and approximate time of the entry, which shall be within one week of the agreement. In this case, the landlord is not required to provide the tenant a written notice.
(e) No notice of entry is required under this section:
(1) To respond to an emergency.
(2) If the tenant is present and consents to the entry at the time of entry.
(3) After the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the unit.
Dissecting this legalese, we note that the reasons for entry are limited in subsection (a). Under subsection (b), without your consent at the time of entry, no such entry is permitted outside of “normal business hours,” generally meaning Monday through Friday, 9AM – 5 PM, excluding holidays. Weekend and evening visits, while convenient to the buyer and real estate agent, are not what we understand to be normal business hours. However, under a 2013 court decision [Dromy v. Lukovsky], the courts are beginning to permit weekends and evenings as “normal” hours for the real estate agents under this law, so that such weekend open houses and evening visits might be legally permitted. The landlord can’t have you “agree” in your rental agreement to let people in at any time; such a provision in the rental agreement violates this law and is not enforceable. You don’t need a reason other than these time restrictions to stop them from coming in, and you don’t need to be “reasonable,” “flexible,” or “understanding.” They have to comply, to the letter.
As a practical matter, the best way to stop an Open House is not to leave the premises, and make such use of your home uninviting. Nothing stops you from talking to the prospective buyers about the problems you’re having with the landlord, and advising them that they will become additional defendants in your lawsuit if they buy the place, or that the premises have lots of defects, or that the neighborhood has problems, or that the next-neighbors are a problem, if applicable. Nothing stops you from watching anything you want on TV, dressing how you feel, carrying on normal activity, playing the music loud, or otherwise living your normal life. The kids are not prohibited from playing in the house, including running around. You are not required to make the place look presentable, at all. You are not required to control your conduct in any way, absent physical assault and criminal activity. See below for more on this topic.
Also note that subsection (c) says that the landlord can’t “abuse” this right of entry. There is no exact definition of where that would occur, or how much is too much, but at a minimum, it would be unreasonable to have people coming in every day, to use your home as an open house, put a lockbox on your door, fail to leave their business card when coming through, or fail to supervise the prospective buyers. That is, even when they give you advance notice and come during the proper times for the proper reasons, the law still recognizes the potential for abuse, and your right to stop it. Therefore, the ambiguity in the law works in your favor, because you can declare their entry to be abusive under subsection (c) and thereby stop it. It could be only one agent who causes the problems, but you can stop the entry for everybody. You don’t have to deny one but permit another. Once you put your foot down and say “no,” anybody who tries to come in anyway is a trespasser.
Subsection (d) discusses the advance notice you are entitled to. There is a difference between (d)(1) and (d)(2), which only concerns showing the property to prospective purchasers. IF the purpose is to show the property to prospective purchasers AND IF the landlord has given you advance written notice that prospective purchasers will start looking at your place, THEN AND ONLY THEN may the landlord or his real estate agents give you oral notice that they are going to show the place to a particular buyer, DURING that 120 period. That notice can be in person or by phone. Also, when the agent does visit, he MUST leave “written evidence” (usually his business card) of that entry, inside.
If the landlord has failed to give you that 120 written notice, then ALL NOTICES must be in writing. This means that if an agent has a prospective buyer to bring by, and calls to say they’ll be over tomorrow at 10 AM, you can refuse to let them in because your landlord hadn’t given you the written 120 notice, and their phone notice was no good. You don’t need any other reason.
It is important to note also that if the 120 notice has NOT been given, the written notice of the individual entry required by law cannot be faxed or e-mailed, but must be (1) personally handed to you, (2) left with a responsible person [not a little kid or intoxicated], (3) slipped under your front door, or (4) mailed to you [with an extra 5 days’ advance notice].
Subsection (d) also identifies the content and timing of the notice that they are coming to show the place. The notice, whether oral or written, must be (1) 24 hours in advance [6 days, if mailed], and give the (2) date, (3) approximate time, and (4) purpose of the entry. That is, if the 120 day notice was given, and the agent calls you to show the place tomorrow, but doesn’t say approximately when, you don’t have to let him in. If you get a call an hour beforehand that they want to show the place, it’s no good. If the written notice says they want to come over the next day at a specified time, but doesn’t say it is to show the place, it is no good.
To summarize: The notice to enter and show the property must
(1) be at least 24 hours in advance [6 days, if mailed],
(2) identify the date and approximate time of entry, which must be normal business hours
(3) state the purpose of the entry
(4) be written [unless a 120 notice was given and has not expired, which then permits telephonic or personal oral notice]
(5) be handed to you, left with a responsible person, put under the front door or mailed [not faxed, on door or in mailbox]
(6) not be abused
Even where the landlord complies entirely with the law, giving proper notice, you may not want to permit the place to be shown. You may be looking for a place to move and expect to be out of possession in about a month, anyway. You give your 30-day written notice that you are moving, and start looking and packing. You might change the door locks, so he wouldn’t have a key, or otherwise stop the place from being shown. While you would be technically wrong in refusing the landlord to show the property at all, his remedies are weak. He could call the police to keep the peace while the real estate agent shows the property, but who would want to inspect or show the property under those circumstances? He could give you a 3- or 30-day eviction notice, followed by filing an eviction lawsuit, but since you’re moving out anyway, he’d be spending money for nothing, and even causing you to take your time to move by fighting the eviction, all the while holding up the sale, and getting no rent. He could file a lawsuit to get an injunction requiring you to let him show the place, but that is expensive and would take months to accomplish. That’s about it. He can’t have you arrested. He can’t turn off the utilities. He can change the locks back, but can’t lock you out, or stop you from changing the locks again. As a practical matter, your plan to move takes away the only threat [eviction] that the landlord has over you, and forces him to respect your wishes and just wait for you to go.
What is the value to you of all these technicalities? Control. You are not helpless. You can stop these people who would invade your privacy, intrude on your life, barge into your house, and make your life difficult. You can stop the place from being sold, and your landlord from booting you out, like so much trash. And, you can use your ability to control to work out a deal on a less confrontational level, if they are amenable. You are in possession. You are in control. The sooner they realize this, the better for everybody.
The Right to Free Speech and Press
At first, these seem like absurd Constitutional rights that have no application in this context. However, if you want to stop the sale, discourage the landlord’s abuses, or force the landlord to be more reasonable with you, these can be very effective. Recall that the agent doesn’t want you around when he’s showing the property; why is that? Because you might point out the problems with living there, the many defects that exist that would make this a bad choice to buy, the dishonesty of the landlord, the crime level in the neighborhood, the noisy or annoying neighbor, the fact that you intend to fight any eviction, or to name the buyer as a defendant in the lawsuit you’re filing to get everything fixed in that hell-hole. The agent and landlord have the legal duty to inform the potential buyer of any defects which affect the value of the property, so your handing it directly to the potential buyer presumably causes no legal harm.
If the agent is trying to show the place and you’re interrupting with these kinds of comments, or handing the prospective buyer something in writing about the problems with living there, the agent is going to stop bringing people by. You have the right to tell the truth and give your opinion to these buyers, even if you are suggesting that the agent might not be so candid with them about these problems, because he just wants his commission. You don’t have to watch your language or keep your voice down. This is your house, not theirs. They are uninvited guests, who should be made to feel that way.
You have the right to practice your trombone, play the stereo, watch whatever you want on TV, or vacuum during the attempted showing of the property. You can post notices on the front door, warning that you have a dog inside who will bite them if they try to come in. You can post a notice on your door that their picture will be taken, that they will be sued for trespass and that they will be criminally charged for trespass and invasion of privacy, if they dare to enter, such as where there have been Section 1954 abuses.
What real estate company would show a property with tenants like that in possession, or continuing a listing of that property? A sale would be too problematic, and there are plenty of other places to sell which have no such problems. You can’t go too far with these things, but it would be rare that you would need to do so. What you can say and write can frustrate the sale, or stop it altogether. The power of words can come to your aid.
The Right to Quiet Enjoyment
Here is a right that goes to the rental agreement, itself. The landlord’s violations of your privacy, rights under Civil Code 1954, and intrusions by these means are also legal violations of your rental agreement as to the “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment.” That is, although the rental agreement might not mention it, you have the right as a matter of law, to peace and quiet, and not to be disturbed in your exclusive possession of the house. [Civil Code 1927] Where the landlord’s real estate agent puts a lockbox on your front door, so that anyone can open the box and walk into your house, this is a violation of your quiet enjoyment waiting to happen. On an empty house, it’s not a problem; with you living there, it is.
You can sue the landlord in small claims court for breach of quiet enjoyment if there are abuses of entry by the agents, whether by his own listing agent or others, because he made it happen. Sometimes, a simple solution is to change the front door lock, so that the key inside the lockbox doesn’t work. Other times, calling the real estate agency to come and remove the lockbox may be all that you need to do. Bullying you or telling you that you have to comply with their orders is the fastest way for them to lose the sale and get sued by your landlord for malpractice.
The above assertions of rights are your arsenal, if you need to make the point. You see that item by item, the abuses that you could suffer can be completely eliminated and avoided. You see that you can so protect yourself against these violations of you rights, and so frustrate the sale while you are at it, that you can actually harm the real estate agent and your landlord in significant ways, particularly if the landlord really needs to sell the property. Rather than push you around as they had intended, it all backfires. They discover that they are at your mercy, and that you may have no mercy left to show them.
Indeed, if the landlord should attempt to evict you to resolve the problem, it’s not much of a threat. First of all, since he’s selling the house, he’s going to be evicting you soon, anyway, so a month or two either way is not a big deal. Secondly, where he could have had rent while he’s selling the house, starting an eviction cuts off his rent, so he prevents what he was trying to accomplish. Third, such an eviction looks retaliatory, as your paper trial can show, so that he could lose the eviction and have to start over, after perhaps months of no rent, no house showing, no sale, and legal expenses. While he’s trying to evict you, you can use the rent money to sue the landlord for his breaches, trespass, retaliation, and so forth, and identify that any buyer will become a defendant in that lawsuit, secured by recording a lis pendens against the property. Pandora’s Box starts to look like a safe haven to him. Your actions against him can further compound with complaints to the local building inspector and health department that produce citations to correct defects, demolish illegal structures, clean up soil contamination, and worse. He really doesn’t want you to get angry.
Getting to Win-Win
Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that. Who wants to fight, anyway? You have better things to do, but if the landlord is disrespectful or not appreciative of your tenancy, then you can either be a victim or turn the tables. Since you are reading this, you are of the latter state of mind. Once the landlord sees your control, how you want things to be becomes a new factor in his future, and a condition of his happiness.
The landlord is probably going to make money on this sale. Despite property price fluctuations, making $100,000 profit on this sale is likely. The real estate agent could easily make $25,000 just for finding a buyer or having listed the property for sale. What’s in it for you? In the normal course, you get an eviction notice with a threat of lawsuit if you’re not out on time, after having ruined your last months of tenancy with constant intrusions. Could it be different? You bet.
Since you CAN prevent them from showing the property in so many legal ways, it would behoove them to work with you, instead of against you. After all, they expect you to pay the rent while they’re showing the property, and then move out so they can complete the sale. They’d like you not to interfere with their showing the property, not to be there during certain times, to remove your pets, keep the place looking nice, be flexible with showing the place, and so forth. |What are they offering in return, to induce you to cooperate with them? These are real estate people, wheelers and dealers whose job is to trade off one thing for the other. Money talks. What are they “saying?” You can start off the negotiation, like an olive branch.
As an example, you can propose that you would (a) permit them to show the property on one hour’s notice by phone during given hours and days, (b) keep the place neat and clean, (c) stay out of their way, (d) not contact the buyers, and (e) all of those good things, if they (1) reduce your rent by 50% during the sale, (2) write a strong letter of recommendation to your future landlords [now, in advance], (3) return your security deposit prior to your leaving, (4) fix a list of things NOW that have been neglected, (5) pay you a sum of money from escrow which you believe is fair compensation for putting up with their intrusions, like $5,000 to $10,000 and (6) give you X days’ notice before you have to move. You would want all of this in writing, signed by the broker, landlord, and escrow officer [so that your interests have been secured, and can’t be changed without your signature]. In this way, you permit them to conduct their sale in the way they like, while you are fairly compensated for the detriment and compromises they need you to make. This is actually a good deal for them.
If this is a rent controlled or “just cause eviction” protected building [where they don’t legally have the right to remove you], you can charge more to give up your right to stay, in addition to any relocation assistance that may be required by that rent control law. If you have a lease that isn’t up yet, you can ask more to give up the rest of the lease period, or any option you may have to renew it. If the building has serious defects which might affect the sale or value of the property, it would be worth paying you even more to avoid a conflict that may bring in building inspectors. You can’t say that you’ll turn them in to the building department over the illegal garage conversion unless you get money; that would be extortion, and a crime. However, you can tell them that you intend to call the building inspectors to look at all the defects in the building because you are fed up with unfulfilled promises to fix things. Your getting paid is not a condition of that, and don’t let it be.
If they pay you money to “just go,” as a possible win-win, and you agree to the amount, then you have achieved a form of fairness which resolves your underlying conflict and enables both parties to go on with life. Using a carrot and stick, you get the point across to your landlord and steer him the way you want to go.
Of course, the possibility may exist for you to buy the place you have been renting. For this, you would not want to use the landlord’s agent as your own, since he would have a conflict of interest, and really just want to sell the place and get his commission. You have the right to get your own agent, who would be paid by the seller [your landlord], so it wouldn’t cost you anything to hire someone as your agent.
Is this Realistic?
Your head may be spinning at this point, because not only can you avoid the unpleasantness you feared, but you can completely turn the tables and profit from the situation. It’s so different, it’s crazy, but it is very real. Your landlord would never go for this, you just know it. You couldn’t even get him to fix the simplest things. He’ll just get mad and try to evict you, right?
Your best ally in making the deal is the listing broker, for whom the list real estate agent works. The broker will recognize what you are talking about, and know that you have them over a barrel, although the agent may not. The broker will recognize that you know what you’re doing, and how you could ruin the sale, and that what you’re proposing is worth agreeing to. In a normal business day, a broker will negotiate over easements, liens, tax-related exchanges, quitclaim deeds, and other encumbrances to real estate transactions, in order to make the underlying transaction happen, and get the commission for his company. This is just another kind of encumbrance that can be resolved, where cooler heads can prevail. The broker can explain to your landlord that this is the better way to go, and convince your landlord to work with you and not against you. Then it’s his own broker telling him to make you happy, not you, the uppity little tenant. He may balk, but after talking to others, he will realize that you do have the upper hand, and grudgingly go along with your proposal.
The landlord may do a cost-benefit analysis of your proposed agreement. If you want too much, it’s better to wait, try to evict you, or try another tactic. The landlord may try to negotiate for a much lower price or terms, but you can undermine that. For example, he may offer lower rent, but no final lump sum payment. However, the lower rent is to tolerate your constant intrusions and the final payment is to not interfere with the sale, keep the place neat, and move out on time. Does he want one and not the other? No, he wants both, so he pays for both. He may agree to fix things, but not give you your deposit back before you leave. However, you can repair and deduct to get those things fixed, anyway, he can get them done cheaper than you would do. Since the buyers are likely to fix the whole place up anyway, what’s to clean or repair that would not be swept up in that -and to the buyers really want to hassle over your deposit? When you put yourself in your landlord’s shoes, the lesser of two evils may very well be making you happy.