55.1 F

Davis, California

Friday, February 23, 2024

Column: Watts Legal

Question: I just moved into a new house last month. This month, my landlord told me he’s selling the house, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. Can he kick me out? — Kayla F., Davis

Answer: Not as long as he still owns the building. Your landlord signed a lease with you, and that lease is a binding contract between you and him.

There are, of course, certain ways to get out of a contract, such as when the purpose of the contract is frustrated by external events beyond the parties’ control. Your landlord normally has to send a maintenance crew to fix problems, but if an arsonist sets your house on fire, for example, you’ll have a tough time demanding that he unclog the charred remnants of your toilet or fix the lock on the heap of ashes that used to be your front door. Conversely, if he no longer owns the building, he can’t ask you to stop throwing so many parties, since it’s not his house anymore.

While he owns the house, he’s bound to obey the lease, which, like every lease in California, promises you “quiet enjoyment” of the premises. This means you’re entitled by law (specifically California Civil Code section 1927) to the exclusive possession of the house without disturbance. Although the landlord can sell the house, he can’t harass you during the sale. I’m assuming your landlord is using a real estate agent, who will probably want to show the house to potential buyers. That’s fine, but he has to give you proper notice in advance. He can’t show the house outside of normal business hours: No 3:00 A.M. surprise visits, and no unannounced tours of your bedroom while you’re getting out of the shower in the morning. As long as the landlord owns the house, he can’t kick you out simply because he’s planning on selling it. He can’t force you to move by intentionally making your life miserable, either.

The new owner of the house, however, might want to change things. If she wants to live there, she might try to get you to leave. But in buying the house, the new owner has signed a contract with the old landlord agreeing to take over all the old liabilities and responsibilities attached to the house. This includes things like the electricity bill, property taxes — and people still living there. Unless your lease has a clause canceling your lease in case of a sale (which is unlikely), the new landlord has to abide by the lease and let you stay. The old landlord should transfer your security deposit to the new landlord, so when you move out, you’ll get your deposit back from the new landlord. Don’t forget this a year from now. If the new landlord doesn’t refund your deposit within 21 days, or if the old landlord didn’t transfer the deposit like he was supposed to, you’re entitled to sue for triple damages plus attorney fees.

Question: In season 2 of Breaking Bad, attorney Saul Goodman told Walter White to give him a dollar so White would be protected by attorney-client privilege. Is that all it takes? Just a dollar, and the attorney is yours?
— Conrad O., Sacramento

Answer: It actually takes less than a dollar to establish an attorney-client relationship, though the exchange of money definitely makes the relationship clearer. Lots of lawyers (including every public defender in the country) represent clients who don’t pay a dime, but they’re still their clients’ lawyers. Their conversations are still protected by the attorney-client privilege, which means that the lawyer can’t go around telling people incriminating or confidential things about their clients.

You can’t just throw a dollar at a lawyer and assume he’s your lawyer. Until he tells you he’s representing you, and until you explicitly agree to that representation, he’s not your lawyer, and talking to him is just like talking to anyone else. You don’t have to exchange money, but you do have to make sure both of you agree to initiate an attorney-client relationship. Incidentally, a lawyer’s newspaper column or a radio call-in show are obviously not intended to establish an attorney-client relationship, and should not be construed as actual legal advice. Anything you read on the internet should serve as a starting point, not the end.


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