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Davis, California

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Column: Watts Legal?

Question: Can my roommates force me to pay the rent for a subleaser who’s replacing me? I’m moving out of my apartment early, and I found a subleaser to take over my room for the summer. The subleaser signed an agreement to take over the remainder of my lease, so she’s on the lease now — not me. But my roommates made me sign a second agreement making me responsible for the new girl’s rent in case the new girl doesn’t pay. Can they go after me for rent if the subleaser doesn’t pay her rent?
— Jennifer W., Davis, Calif.

Answer: Yes, if you sign an agreement to guarantee the new girl’s rent, you’re probably stuck with it.

Landlords and tenants have some flexibility in designing the terms of a rental agreement. Even though almost every landlord in Davis uses the Davis Model Lease, they don’t have to use it.

(I wish landlords wouldn’t use it at all, actually. The Davis Model Lease is a monster of a document, with a bunch of sneaky little clauses that are either void for violating California tenants’ rights laws or inappropriate for student tenants.)

Anyway, landlord-tenant law allows you to sign leases with varying terms. For example, you could agree to pay on the 10th instead of the first, or pay once every four months instead of monthly. The lease could allow you to assign your tenancy to subleaser upon subleaser into infinity, like nested Russian dolls. Or you could pay your rent in bitcoins or sheep. It’s up to you and your landlord.

Part of that flexibility allows people to “guarantee” another person’s lease (or any other contract, for that matter). Imagine if this new tenant had horrible credit, no job, no income and no savings; the landlord wouldn’t trust that she’d pay rent. A guarantor provides reassurance to the landlord that even if the tenant screws up, the landlord will still get paid.

This is actually a good thing for tenants, because it lets people with crappy credit find a place to live. It’s a good thing for people like you who are leaving their lease early, too. If you didn’t sign the guarantee agreement, the landlord might not have let this tenant move in to replace you, and you’d get stuck paying for the apartment over the summer.

So even though you’re on the hook for her rent if she bails, you still have recourse against her if she doesn’t pay. If you end up needing to cover her rent, she should have to reimburse you for it.

Question: I got attacked by a chihuahua in my apartment complex. Since I was sitting on the grass at the time, it jumped up, bit my face and tore my lip. The chihuahua had escaped from a backyard with a broken fence. I complained to the dog’s owners, and they said there’s nothing they could do because the apartment manager has refused to fix the fence. I complained to the manager, and they said they were sorry; the manager said that they knew the dog was dangerous but hadn’t had a chance to fix the fence yet. Can I get my apartment complex to pay my medical bills?
— Tasha Y., Davis, Calif.

Answer: Yes. The apartment complex and the dog owner are probably both liable for the injuries caused by the dog.

“The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place,” according to California Civil Code § 3342(a). Yolo County and the City of Davis both require dogs to be on a leash or under the owner’s control at all times. When a law or ordinance imposes a duty on someone in order to protect the public, a breach of that duty will make the person liable for the resulting injuries, if the injury is inflicted on a victim who the law was supposed to protect. Here, the leash laws are meant to protect you from getting bit, and the dog’s owner breached his duty by letting the dog run wild.

The landlord himself has a duty to exercise reasonable care in the inspection of his property and to remove a known dangerous condition. In this case, your landlord should’ve told the tenant to remove the vicious dog or, at the very least, the landlord should’ve fixed the fence to enclose the dog.

Daniel is a Sacramento attorney, former Davis City Council candidate and graduate of UC Davis School of Law. He’ll answer questions sent to him at governorwatts@gmail.com or tweeted to @governorwatts.

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