Advice about Being a Renter

Parent Q&A

Advice about rental application Jan 18, 2021 (0 responses below)
Issues with landlord Oct 24, 2018 (3 responses below)
Lead paint in rental house Feb 21, 2018 (9 responses below)
Tenant Rights in El Cerrto Single Family Home: Help! Jan 16, 2018 (5 responses below)
Ending Lease Early in Berkeley Aug 28, 2017 (11 responses below)
Do I need to tell my landlord I'm pregnant? Dec 27, 2016 (4 responses below)
  • Advice about rental application

    (0 replies)

    Hi parents,

    My family is currently seeking a rental and it’s been years since I last went through the process of renting.

    My current experience seems to be that landlords/agents are currently requiring proof of income just to schedule a viewing, is this typical? Some are also requiring that we submit a rental application even BEFORE the opportunity to view a place?  I totally understand landlords need to vet and screen applicants during the application process but I don’t recall having to provide this level of personal information before even the chance to view a place. Would love feedback on this topic. Thanks!

  • We rent an old house in Berkeley.

    Recently the owner has started to have his handymen do work which is disturbing the paint, the underlying layers being lead based. They're scraping the exterior in preparation of painting and we became concerned when we realized the workers were just letting the paint chips fall on the ground outside and doing minimal clean up. We hired a professional to come out and take samples out to an independent lab for analysis. Samples included fallen paint chips that weren't cleaned up, flaking paint that came off when the sampler picked at it, from the soil in the front and back yards, and around the exterior stairways. Unsurprisingly, all were over the EPA limits by 2-3x depending on location and type. We're concerned for our child (3 y.o) as he still touches and puts everything into his mouth.

    Fellow parents of young toddlers living in lead-ful environments, how do you deal?? My partner now sees lead everywhere in the house and around the property (real or not) and is convinced that we need to move for everyone's safety (especially since the owner has been non-responsive to our concerns). There's paint dust and chips all around. And word is they will be replacing windows in the near future an disturbing more lead paint around the openings, and then electrical (it's knob and tubes), which means more cutting and sawing into the walls. I like our neighbors and do not want to move as it would be a huge disruption to our hectic lives, but my partner dreads having to deal with the owners workers every time they are over working on the property, and it's affecting our home life. Looking for advice, stories, etc...

    I’d contact the Berkeley Rent Authority. They are really great about helping tenants protect their rights. Lead is not something to mess around with around toddlers especially.

    I have always lived in older homes. All homes built before 1978 have lead paint. I have raised three children, and they all survived and grew up to be healthy young adults.

    Contractors who deal with lead paint are required to be certified and follow certain practices when working and cleaning up, to minimize the release of lead dust or chips. Replacing windows would be a good thing since much of the lead exposure comes from older window sills and jambs. Every time these windows are opened, there is friction, and over time lead dust can rub off. 

    I recommend that you move to a newer home, since you have such big concerns. There is no way to rid an old house of lead completely, and so you likely will never be comfortable living there. Even if lead is contained, eventually it will start chipping again. I've been on the other side of this issue as a landlord. It's a burden for property owners, too, since lead containment/abatement is so costly. The paint manufacturers have a lot to answer for, since they marketed and sold lead paint for many years, knowing it was dangerous, but that is a whole other issue. Good luck!

    By law, any house that may have lead paint must use lead-safe procedures for housepainting and window replacement. This is a highly regulated area, and there are specific safeguards that must be taken. Your landlord is breaking the law. At this point, it might be necessary to vacate the premises (since it is now toxic); one route may be to take your landlord to small claims court to cover the moving expense (I am not a lawyer so don't know what to specifically recommend; just brainstorming). So sorry you are dealing with this unlegal and unsafe situation. Details on lead-safe renovation here:

  • Issues with landlord

    (3 replies)


    We have been renting house in Albany to be in a good school district. The house we rented was newly remodeled and was nice. The landlord is a young couple, though unsure of the nature of their relationship as her comments on him have changed over time.  The house was owned by people who purchased it just to remodel so they can sell it for more.  I have always noticed that the remodeling work was merely done to make house "look nice" without investing money sufficient money and work.  

    After living here for over 6 years, our bathroom wall paint started to peel. The peeling was clearly caused by poor painting job.  The bathroom has the greatest ventilations and never once had to clean any meldews.  This bathroom was also only used by our son who wasn't taking shower daily.  

    The house did have some leaking issues in the kitchen ceiling, and my son's room that was next to the bathroom has always smelled moldy.  After a long rain last winter, my son's room and the bathroom wall had some heavy moist showing.  Fearing for another leaking issue, I contacted landlord to come see.  They concluded that it was due to humidity that we caused by not opening the windows and instructed us to leave the windows open for at least an hour daily as a solution. During the visit, I showed her the part the paint was starting to peel off in the bathroom which she didn't really acknowledge.

    It was looking ugly for a while which made me decide to repaint the small area. While at it, paints on the another wall was loose.  Almost entire wall of paint peeled off when I pulled without any force.  When it reached the ceiling, I realized the work needed was much more extensive than I can handle. When she saw it, she became angry and accused me for "damaging the wall" and that lease states to prohibit from repairing without written consent from them.  She brought in many "professional painters" to get estimates and had them come in to complete the work.  From the beginning to end, she did not allow me to speak with the painter at all.  The painter ended up repainting the whole bathroom at end.  She was here the entire time of the work. Now she's demanding us to pay the entire bill of $1300 for the 'damage" I caused.  It's clear that the part of the work was preventive measure for any further peeling. The painter will not talk to us, and have no way to prove what work was actually done at this point.  

    Do I really have to pay this entire fee?  It's very upsetting as we've been a great tenant that never paid rent late or complained about anything. Any advice is appreciated.  

    RE: Issues with landlord ()

    I'm not a landlord but in my opinion painting a wall is definitely not 'damage' and isn't considered 'repair'. That's normal maintenance to me and it's not uncommon for paint in a bathroom (or any room for that matter) to peel after 6+ years. Unless the fan is broken humidity shouldn't be a problem and you shouldn't have to keep a window open for an hour+ each day. You did your part by mentioning it to them previously and they ignored your request/concern so it's not surprising that you would tack it yourself. You're in a fight no matter what you do. I agree you're not responsible for the new paint job and fighting it is an option but you'll have to be OK with any repercussions (increased rent, hostility  etc). My advice would be to tell your landlord you'd be willing to pay but first you want to talk to the painter and get an itemized bill for your records. I wouldn't be surprised if she paid some random guy off the street $20 to do the job and she might back off after your request. You could also call some paint companies and ask for a quote to repaint an XX square foot bathroom to compare costs. I haven't repainted a room in a while but $1300 seems high. Either your way you're in a sticky situation.

    RE: Issues with landlord ()

    They used a painter - licensed contractor in Richmond called Home Reborn (licensed general contractor) who landlord referred as a "professional painter".  I did call to speak with them but they refused to give me an itemized bill as they did not want to be in between our issues with our landlord.  At this point, "damage" is the landlord's subjective opinion.  The entire decision with the repainting the whole bathroom (they ended up painting the entire bathroom "to match the color") was kept away from us and was done solely in secrecy.  I don't know if it's worth hiring an attorney to fight this - for $1300.  Any advice would be appreciated. 

    RE: Issues with landlord ()

    You might try asking the Alameda Rent Review staff to help you. this fee might be considered a rent raise and would be subject to review. That said, it sounds like your housing providers may be in over their heads. They probably bought the place without thoroughly checking it and paid top dollar. That means their mortgage is high and they may not have planned much margin for additional costs. Maybe the rudeness is coming from them feeling overwhelmed and unsure how to handle this.

  • Lead paint in rental house

    (9 replies)


    I am a renter in Oakland with a ten-month-old. I did some testing around the house for lead when I was pregnant, but I guess I wasn't very thorough -- my mom was just visiting and did a different test and found lead underneath chipping paint on our windowsills, and it looks like it might be on baseboards, as well. We live in an old house (~1920) and there is also carpeting, which probably contains lead dust from the chipping paint. I am in a bit of a panic and would love suggestions about contractors to use and other things we can do in the meantime. We have contacted our landlord who is usually quite responsive, but any additional support/advice would be appreciated. Thanks! 

    RE: Lead paint in rental house ()

    Start here:

    Once I started a dialog with this department for our issues (contractors working next door in all kinds of violation of lead safe rules, and the presence of lead paint on our own property), they were very, very responsive and helpful. They came down and fined the contractors next door within a couple of days. They answered all of my concerns by phone. Highly recommended.

    RE: Lead paint in rental house ()


    I've lived in a number of old houses (2 with my now 2.5 year old) and all of them have had a lead paint disclosure. Most paint was lead-based back before 1971. As long as it's painted over and not chipping (and your 10-month old isn't gumming the walls) it should present no problems. So I would definitely see about getting your landlord to have the house freshly repainted, and fix any doors or windows that might not close cleanly as that can promote further chipping.

    Hope that helps!

    RE: Lead paint in rental house ()

    This is a common issue in older homes. One of the cheaper remediation options is to simply paint over the old lead-based paint. Sounds like this was done here as the more expensive options involves the guys in hazmat suits removing all the paint. The best thing you can do is to paint over the windowsills and to vacuum/steam clean the carpets if you're concerned about dust. You'll have to talk to your landlord about fully removing the old paint although it's way more expensive and legally all that's required is to cover it up.

  • Our family recently moved into a beautiful single family home rental in El Cerrito after two years of trying, with no success, to purchase our own home. We have lived in Oakland for fifteen years as renters but had grown out of our previous rental apartment. We were thrilled to find this house. We signed on for 6 months so that we wouldn't be "locked in" should we actually find something (our hopes have dimmed quite a bit since setting out, but not darkened completely). The lease rolls over to a month-to-month after that. The landlord dropped by yesterday and informed us that he will likely be raising the $3,000/month rent to $5,000/month after our 6-month term is up. The house could likely fetch the higher amount if they made a few repairs and cosmetic alterations, which he claims they are going to do, but we could never afford it at this price, nor could most of the people I know in the community.  Do we have *any* protections whatsoever as single family home renters? It appears from my preliminary research that we do not. At all. Can others chime in? Is there anyone else out there who has faced a similar situation and managed to stay? We love this home, and my kids really need the stability after a couple of years of staying in short-term rentals and doing little else aside from viewing open houses that we never succeed in bidding on. We really want to stay put! 

    I can't give you any advice on tenant's rights, since we bought a house two years ago when we were in the same situation--huge increase on a pleasant but run-down house.

    However, it's the landlord's house and IMHO you'll keep running into this problem, given the pressures on the housing market.  You are probably better off buying, even in an area you're not crazy about.  We looked all over the East Bay and Marin using a different agent for each area (contact me if you want referrals, they were both great).   You'll have more options looking in El Sobrante, Pinole, Hercules, parts of Richmond.

    We wound up buying in northern Marin; the values were simply better for our purposes, and the schools are generally good  There are some extremely nice condo complexes and even a fairly upscale mobile home park (!!) Contempo Marin. It's not the answer you wanted, I know., but that's the market.  I do wish it was different.

    Sadly, I do not think you have any recourse.   Some cities, like Berkeley and Oakland, do have  some tenant protections, but often even these cities only protect people in buildings with more units, not in single family homes.  Some cities have no renter protections beyond what is in the lease agreement, and I think El Cerrito is one of these. It’s left entirely to the market and to the contract between the parties.  They can drastically raise the rent, as in your case, and they can also abruptly kick you out if they want the unit for a friend, etc.  The latter happened to us once in Albany.  I’m sorry this is happening to you. 

    I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. Unfortunately, while short term leases 'free' you to get out of them as needed (like if you buy a house), the drawback, as you can see, is that you have no protection from rent increases. Does Albany have any form of rent control? Relocation fees? You could try to negotiate with your landlord, tell him you are actively looking to buy a house and ask for a 1 year lease at slightly more. I wish you the best of luck!!

  • Ending Lease Early in Berkeley

    (11 replies)

    Hi There. My partner has been offered a fantastic job out of state. The start date is 6 months prior to the end of our lease. What advice can you offer about ending a lease early in Berkeley?


    RE: Ending Lease Early in Berkeley ()

    Assuming this is a residential lease, I'd urge you to contact the Berkeley rent board. Renter protections are really strong in Berkeley and they will help you avoid any adverse action your landlord might take. I know from previous experience ending a lease early in SF that the landlord has a duty to seek a replacement tenant and can't simply sit and collect rent from you for six months. Good luck, and congrats on the job!

    RE: Ending Lease Early in Berkeley ()

    Hi, it depends on what the landlord says. Have you spoken with them?  I'd go to the Rent Board (either online or in person) if I were you. Best of luck. 

    RE: Ending Lease Early in Berkeley ()


    You could find a replacement, it should be easy to find a good reliable new tenant to carry on with your lease in Berkeley. Try to post on a UC Berkeley mailing list for example. I might also be interested. PM me some details if you're interested.


  • Do I need to tell my landlord I'm pregnant?

    (4 replies)

    Just wondering if I'm legally obligated to tell our landlord when we have our baby in a few months. Our house isn't covered under rent control and I worry that we'll receive a steep increase in our rent because the landlord thinks kids are hard on the property (based on a casual conversation we had when we were moving in). We only see him face to face every couple of years generally. As it is we've been having trouble absorbing the 7% annual hikes he's been doling out. We live in Richmond (single family home so the new ordinance sadly doesn't apply to us). Thanks for any insight!

    Hell no you're not obligated and it's 100% illegal for him to discriminate against you for having children. 

    Your landlord is not a allowed to discriminate against you based on whether you have children. That's illegal and violates fair housing. Call ECHO- it's a fair housing counseling nonprofit in the Bay Area that jurisdictions like richmond support so their residents have free counseling services. Good luck!

    I believe there is no obligation to disclose. But read your lease to see what it says about children and number of people in the dwelling. If he finds out and is concerned about the condition of the property, I suggest that you offer to let him in for an inspection once a year. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Renting a room without heat

Jan 2014

I am renting a room in an old victorian house for $900/month, utilities included. The shared areas are kitchen, bathroom, living room. I assumed there would be heating when I moved in this summer. There is no heating. I spoke to the landlord about it and she told me in a matter of fact way that the house is too old to be heated (or something like that) and if I want to stay warm I had to invest in some warm clothes and bundle up. I am not happy with her response. I've never lived in a place w/out heat and the thought of no heat never occurred to me. I have been sick for the past month to varying degrees due to the lack of heat. Is this common in the Bay Area - to not have heat? Thank you for your response

While it's uncommon for houses in the area not to have heat, it's certainly not unheard of-- most of the pre-1920s homes in the East Bay were built without heat and had it added afterwards, and there are a few remaining where it's never been added. Adding a central heating system is very expensive, which is likely why your landlord has opted not to do it. Unfortunately for her (and happily for you!), however, she is not legally permitted to rent a unit that does not have heat in at least the bedroom, living room, and kitchen. She doesn't have to put in central heating, but must at least provide an electric wall heater or other form of heat in those rooms. I would politely point this out to her; if she doesn't comply, you can then take it to your city's Rent Board or simply look for another place (or both). Good luck! Warm in the East Bay

Landlords are required to maintain their rental properties to a certain standard of habitability. Whether heating is considered an element of this - a reasonable person would think it would be - is a good question.

If you live in Berkeley, contact the Berkeley Rent Board downtown. The city of Oakland has a similar oversight agency for landlords - if you don't find it on their website, call your city councilmember's office and they may know the answer right off the bat, or they could connect you with the appropriate city office.

However, if it says in the fine print of a lease you signed that heating is not included, the landlord may have you over a barrel. Or not, depending on city enforcement policies. Amelia the Realtor

'Under California Civil Code \xc3\x82\xc2\xa7 1941.1, a dwelling is considered untenantable if it does not have adequate heating facilities that are maintained in good working order. In other words, you have an absolute right to have a working heat source when you rent a unit. ' This is a quote from the Berkeley Rent Board website. you deserve heat

I don't think it's that strange to live in an unheated house in the Bay Area. I bought a new home 5 years ago that didn't have a heating system and I didn't bother to put a new one in. It does get cold in the winter, but only for a couple of months. Not any more difficult than getting through a couple of hot months in the summer without air conditioning. And I don't know anybody, at least on this side of the tunnel, who has air conditioning.

That said, however, it does seem unfair that your landlord didn't tell you there was no heating system. Since she's paying the PG bill though, it would seem you're free to fill up your living quarters with space heaters at no cost to you. CB

It seems pretty unusual to me not to have any heat. It may be that legally it's up to you to ask if there's heat up front, but like you, I would have assumed there would be heating unless the landlord told me otherwise. It seems kind of deceptive that she did not point that out as I think most people would assume for $900 (including utilities, which has got to be a lot cheaper without heat) you'd have heat. Can you get a space heater at least? anon

Your question was stated as whether it is common for there to be no heat in Victorians in the Bay Area. I think the answer is both yes and no. It is very common for there to not be 'much' in the way of heating in Victorians. You can't do central heating because of the way the were built (lath and plaster walls), and there are regulations about gas heaters in bedrooms, and electric heaters are very inefficient and expensive. Often Victorian houses will only have a gas heater in a hall way between bedrooms. Also, it generally doesn't get THAT cold here, but it can get pretty darn nippy.

I own a 100+ year old Victorian, and have a good gas heater in the living room that heats the downstairs common areas well. But no heat upstairs in the bedrooms right now. I rent one bedroom out, and my renter uses an electric space heater in his room when it gets cold. I don't use a heater in my bedroom, instead I have a heated (electric) mattress pad on my bed, and it heats it up nice and toasty....sometimes it is hard to get out of bed in the morning though. I am still researching the best option for heating the bedrooms, but it's not as easy as you might think. - Love my Vic

Living without heat, I did a quick search and found what I thought the answer to your question is. For a legal rental in the state of CA, a house must have heat. That said, you probably could force the owner to install some form of heating. That would be the least expensive way. However, since your rent includes utilities, you could also go out and find some electric space heaters and heat the space that way. That might get the attention of your land lord. This is not definitive, but an interesting read. If you are in Berkeley, contact the rent board. Good luck, Tim

Renting to families - a bad thing?

Jan 2014

I have been seeing that it is hard for families to find places to rent. This may be naive, but isn't a nice family a sure way to avoid partying, smoking, drinking renters? Specifically I'm wondering if there are any Berkeley landlords willing to give some input (anonymously) on why they avoid renting to tenants with kids? Or why you DO like renting to families? curious parent

I am not a landlord but I am helping my parents decide whether to rent our family home of 30 years in Berkeley and I think I may have some insight on this. My parents are elderly and in poor health and have moved out of the house and into assisted living. My sibling has been living in the house for the past year while we decide what to do with it. We would love to rent it--ideally to a family--which would allow my parents to get some income from it (which they very much need with the high cost of assisted living) while also keeping ownership and possibly allowing my sibling and I to inherit it some day. However, after reading the Berkeley rent ordinance, I can understand why perhaps some landlords are more likely to rent to students or singles than families. From what I can tell, the ordinance makes it basically impossible to regain possession of your property once you rent it unless the tenant is violating the lease. Yes, you can do an owner move-in, but the owner (or owner's child) must live in the property for at least 36 months or it is presumed a bad faith eviction. In our situation, although we would love to rent it, we simply can't risk not being able to sell the house quickly if my parents run out of savings to help pay for the ever escalating cost of their care. (And selling the house with a tenant in it is not an attractive option as it would reduce the value of the house.) For us, this probably means we will sell the house rather than rent it. But I imagine some landlords aim to rent their properties to tenants that are less likely to stay for years and years, such as students or singles, in order to reduce the risk of a decades-long tenant. I'm not saying I don't believe in tenant protections (I've been a tenant myself for a long time) but I wonder if the very strict ordinance in Berkeley is contributing to the problem you raise. Anon

It is illegal to discriminate against families. But if a landlord/lady has a choice, they will often choose someone else, because kids are just one more problem if the parents are irresponsible. It would be nice if all people straightened out and became more responsible with the birth of their first child, but many don't. Then, in addition to drinking, smoking, partying, they have a kid who is not properly supervised. Not good. Renting to families is not necessarily bad, but it can be worse than students. Anon

I agree with the previous posters, this has nothing to do with families, it is about who is less likely to become a long term tennant. When we were renting we were a family and found that we had no problem getting landlords to want to rent to us... because I was also a student (despite not enough income and needing to get our parents to co-sign the lease). We disclosed at the time that I was a grad student and we can only commit to 2-3 years and will be moving after my graduation to follow job prospects. Back then I naively thought it would be a negative, as it turned out it was a great positive and we got 3 offers from landlords to rent after submitting 3 applications - so had a choice.

I think most landlords would rather rent to a family who tend to be quieter, no partying, no drinking, and keep the place cleaner than students. But many landlords will bite the bullet of later repair work and rent to students who will be gone in 4 years, then risk renting to a family who will stay there forever and they will never be able to get the place back, or sell it for its full value (house with tenants in place sell for less). I know some people in Berkeley with empty houses sitting there that are not being rented cause the owners don't want to become landlords in Berkeley and risk not being able to get their house back. Tenant protection laws are good thing, but even as a tenant myself I think that in Berkely it has gone a bit too far and is hurting tenants and keeping supply down making it harder for families to find a house to rent. anon

Landlord not returning deposit

Oct 2013

Our landlord delays returning the deposit, and also starts to find reasons long after we moved out why less than planned should be returned. We are wondering at which point to move this over to a lawyer and what we could hope for down the road. The landlord may be stubborn or may have a hard time gathering founds to pay us back. In the scenario we were to win the case in court/with a judge's rule, if the landlord still doesn't pay for one of those reasons, is there any way he can be forced or any pressure? Can he be prevented from renting out the property in the future? Or is there any other incentive for him to arrange his priorities to find the money? To phrase it very bluntly, I'm wondering what's the point of taking the landlord to court if he would not be able to gather the money?

More details about the situation: The landlord inspected the property briefly before we left, didn't find any damages and didn't voice any other concerns. We suggested the landlord arranges a cleaning service (1 to 2 days) after we leave and deducts the amount from the deposit. A month later, we reminded him of the deposit, but got a grumpy response blaming us for having caused more work than expected, in vague terms. This came as a surprise a our relationship had always been friendly and we accepted occasional problems with no complaints (such as delayed repairs, on one occasion causing a flood in the bathroom, one day the water was shut off because landlord didn't pay that bill in time etc). Thanks for any thoughts on this matter. anon

As a new-ish landlord the books I've read state that he is (was) required to give back all the deposit 21 days after the end of the tenancy or part with an itemized list of expenses for the balance. I think small claims court is the way to go. anon

CA law requires a landlord to provide a written description of deductions from security deposit within 21 days after a tenant moves out. If the landlord does not do this within 21 days, s/he lose the right to deduct anything and must return the entire deposit. Here's the link to the CA Dept of Consumer Affairs which outlines your rights and obligations. It also has resources for who you can turn to for help in getting your back. anon

Your landlord is required to return your deposit within 2-3 weeks. When the deadline is missed, there is plenty you can do about it. Contact the Oakland or Berkeley Rent Board (wasn't sure where the rental is located) and file a formal complaint. From your post, it sound like there weren't any problems with the apartment when you left. Pursue this aggressively with your city agency before hiring an attorney. Landlord

My experience was 20 years ago, but here it is. Our landlord did not return our deposit and wouldn't even talk to us or return our messages. We got a Nolo Press book about rental law and decided to sue him. He didn't show up to court, so we won our deposit plus punitive damages. However, he never paid it. We were told that we would have to pay more money to hire a collection agency or to try to put a lien on the house, and neither of those seemed like they would yield any money. A few years later, another landlord tried the same thing. I wrote him a letter quoting the law and the possibility of penalties, and he gave me a check immediately. Basically, your landlord has a certain period of time after you move out to send you an itemized list of damages. If he hasn't given you that, he forfeits his rights to keep any of the deposit at all. The first step I would recommend is to get a copy of the Nolo Press book and send him a demand letter for the deposit, citing the exact laws that he is breaking and the penalties. Good luck. Some Landlords Suck

Sprucing up a rental apt

Aug 2013

As renters, we want to improve the look of our unit, but don't know where to begin, plus we have a preschooler (kid toys everywhere). Would hiring painters to paint inside walls cheery colors be a good idea? We have nice-ish blinds already, that we installed. Suggestions, resources, tips? Anon

Although some landlords don't mind, generally speaking, you are not allowed to paint a rental without permission. What you consider an improvement, the landlord may not, and they may potentially charge you for the cost of repainting. The website Apartment Therapy often has good tips for dealing with the challenges of home decorating in a rental. Browse the archives here:

Must I take off work to be present for repairs?

April 2013

We are renting a house in Oakland that is professionally managed. We just moved in and there are a few things with the house that need to be addressed somewhat urgently (like, the master bathroom shower won't drain at all and they told us we weren't allowed to make copies of the keys, but they only gave us one set). This was how it was the day we moved in; we didn't cause these problems. I have left messages with the management and they had a plumber call me to set up an appointment. So this is my question- is it my responsibility to take time off to be there for the plumber? I think this is the management/landlord responsibility. They should notify me, then they can enter the property and remain there for the repairs. I don't want to get sideways with the management, but I work full time and don't want to take time off to manage someone else's property. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Sarah

It is not your responsibility to take time off to be there for the plumber. If you cannot be there (b/c work hours or you're out of town, etc.), you need to let the property manager know that you need them to be there in your stead to allow repairs to be done and give them permission to do so.

Usually, it's much faster to have the plumber call the tenant directly then waste a day or two giving 24-hour notice to enter while the tenant has to live without a working shower. Most tenants do not enjoy receiving 24-hour notices every time something needs to be fixed, especially as the time of entry may not work for the tenant's schedule at all. Need to change the time from 1pm to 2pm? Well, then, you have to put together another notice.

That's odd about the keys. You should be able to make copies. Leases often stipulate that you cannot re-key the premises, but nothing about making copies of the keys you receive. It sounds like a misunderstanding. friendly property manager

Landlord needs to deal with problem (tub drain). As for second key, landlord should be reasonable, but some folks are not reasonable. I am a homeowner of a duplex (landlord) and a carpenter (i see lots of living situations). Your landlord and the property management company are being idiots by not accommodating a responsible tenant. Make the property management firm earn their fee by getting the plumber and managing that plumber. Keep it business like. If you are two people on a lease, you should have 3 sets of keys (at least), one for each person and one to give to a friend for emergencies. Citizen at Large

Hi Sara, You have to put everything in writing. Generally they provide a move in chack list for these things but clearly they did not. Write the office. Note the day you moved in, the dates and times you called and left messages and then list and describe each issue. Mail it with a return reciept which will document they recieved it. They then have 30 days to fix the issue. If they dont contact your local rent board or tenants' rights organization for help. In the future when you have an issue that needs there attention call the office to make a report and then send a letter stating yiu called, the date and the problem. Good Luck! experienced renter

Sara, your rental is your home, but not your property. Because the building is not your property, it is specifically not your responsibility to attend to maintenance or repairs. Although, at times, it's quicker to ask a tenant to meet a service call if there is an emergency, it is never OK to ask a tenant to stay home from work for a service call.

1) Your courteous e'mail (e'mail goes through servers, so it is traceable) to the management company (with photos, if that seems useful) when there is a problem with 2) an outline of what days and times would be convenient for you and your family for the service (plumber, electrician, etc.) to come, and 3) a simple statement that you cannot be at your home to meet the service call, so, please-and-thank-you, would the management company be present for this service call.

In general it is not a good idea for any tenant to allow a service call unless they, themselves, or a management employee is present, just in case something might need an immediate decision or a problem might come up or something might become moved, broken, or missing from your home during a service call.

As to keys: it is not legal to limit the number of keys you make because you have control of this living place; it's your home. (Just FYI: because we respect our tenants' privacy and security, we re-key every unit on the day any new tenant moves in. Any keys a previous tenant, friend of a previous tenant, or neighbour might still have will not work in re-keyed locks.) Careful Property Owner

As a manager of my dad's property and now one of my own as well. I agree with the previous poster that it is much easier to give the plumber's number to the tenant and have them make the appt at a time of their convenience, if they are willing. Certainly there is no obligation on the tenant's part and if they are not available or unwilling, I call the plumber and make an appt for a time when I'm available and then give 24 hours notice and plan to be there myself. However I'm not a full time property manager, I have a full time job, a house and husband and two kids. So sometimes the tenants prefer to do it themselves than wait for me to get a time slot the works for for the plumber.

About the keys. We give our tenants keys that say ''do not duplicate'' and ask them to pay for the cost of additional keys - we gave them 3 copies (I think 1 is not reasonable). The reason for this is as with any copy, it will not be perfect and when keys are used that are copies of copies and so on, increasingly imperfect keys wear out the tumblers in the locks much more quickly than if all the copies come from the same original. Ask the manager for more copies, your lease should list a cost for replacement keys if not ask them how much and be prepared to pay it. Hopefully it won't be usurous. landlord

2010 - 2012 Recommendations

Investing in remodel of rental?

April 2012

Wondering if any renters out there have invested significant money in remodeling their rental home? My longing to own a house is simply because we could make it ''ours'' by remodeling things how I would want them. But the space we have now is great- and I could stay here forever if I could just do a few things that may cost us a couple hundred dollars. I'm hesitant to spend the money because ''we're renting''- but at what point do we just settle in here, invest the money, and make this ''our'' space? Our landlord is great- I'm sure he would let us do almost anything- even some pretty major stuff, like remodeling the bath. Anyway, I'd love to hear others' experiences about how you made decisions about this type of issue. Not-a-Homeowner

Hi. I lived in the same rental apartment for some 10 years before buying a house. The whole time I was there, I refused to do any ''remodeling'' since it wasn't ''my'' property. Looking back, I regret that -- it was somewhere I was committed to living for a long time and some of things I wished were different were rather minor and inexpensive - but would have made a big difference to me. So, my opinion is to do it! Especially if it is on the order of a couple hundred dollars. CA Mom

Good property owners know the differences between (1) responsibilities of property owners (property owners own real property which is land with improvements = houses) and (2) tenants who live in a home who are ''homemakers.'' A tenant who wants to add good stuff to their rented home is, almost always, a great tenant to have. (This excludes an otherwise-wonderful teenager who painted every surface of his bedroom shiny black while his mom and dad were away on a trip ! Gad ! What a mess !) That ''great'' landlord might be pleased with what you're thinking of adding to your home - - - and might help by paying for materials if your workmanship is good. Careful property-owner

Like you I was once in a rental I just loved. The place was perfect and I was promised a long term rental for years as the landlord had bought the home as an investment. I was the perfect tenant constantly making improvements and repairs on my own initiative to the delight of the owner. I put a lot of time, materials, and effort into a place I expected to be in for many years and then was told after just one that the owner had to sell. I lost all my efforts. I suggest if you really want to fix your rental up you insist on a long term lease and either have the owner pay for the improvements you supervise or share the expense. The strictly business viewpoint would be it is the owners home and they should pay for improvements. Of course without some motivation they won't want to if you are good tenants and the rent is paid. You could offer to pay more rent if improvements are made. Whatever you decide realize that any investment you might make you may have to walk away from any day. Like after an earthquake, or a fire. lost remodel work

2007 - 2009 Recommendations

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

Is it legal for us to be charged for all repairs?

June 2005

Is it legal/ethical for a landlord to request that you pay for ALL repairs or insurance deductible for a house you are renting? I am considering renting a newly remodeled house that has a one year ''home warranty'' and some sort of insurance. The owner has stated I would probably be responsible for the $40 insurance copay whether a repair was warranted by anything I have caused or not. Is this legal? If not, how should I broach the subject with her?

I would not mind if I caused something to break but with new copper pipes/water heater etc. isn't there always the possiblity of things that were not completed correctly even if they did pass inspection?

Thanks, confused renter

I have been a renter for 18 years, in several different apartments and at least one house. I have NEVER had a landlord ask me to pay the deductible on their insurance! All of the rental contracts that I've ever signed have said that the owner would be responsible for repairs due to ''normal wear and tear'', not the tenant. There are also minimum standards which rental property must meet (operable windows, functioning heaters, no vermin, etc.) -- a rental property must meet these minimum standards before a landlord can legally collect rent at all. I'm not a lawyer so I can't say for sure if what your potential landlord is asking for is actually illegal, but it most certainly is not reasonable. No matter how much you like this particular house, if I were you I would pass and look for something where the landlord is more reasonable. -- Diane

With a rental, the tenant is responsible for anything that they break, damage, etc. The tenant is not responsible for ''normal'' wear and tear. Also, the landlord is responsible for providing you with a ''habitable'' living space.

So if you broke something, then yes, the landlord should charge you for the repair. If something just quit working (like the stove or hot water heater) or the new copper pipes start leaking, then no, the landlord could not charge you for it.

So no, it is not legal/ethical for a landlord to request that you pay for ALL repairs or insurance deductible for a house you are renting (unless you caused all the damage).

If this is the type of landlord you would have, frankly I recommend you don't rent the property. Sounds like she will be more trouble than she is worth. If you still want to rent the house, tactfully educate the landlord on the law before you move in. If she still wants to rent to you, then at least you're both on the same page.

I don't know what city you're in, but single family homes are exempt from rent control. If something breaks and she tries to charge you for it and you don't pay and it pisses her off, she can force you to move at the end of your lease, or in 30 days if you're on a month to month rental.

Like I said, it might not be worth the hassle.

We are just concluding a relationship with a landlord who has been very reticent to make necessary repairs. We have really had to push her to hire adequate work people and prioritize our health and well-being over her pocketbook. That said, the best places we have found to start for resources on this subject are: and for issues regarding lead abatement Alameda county has the following web site (not applicable to you if this is new housing but of interest to others): Good luck, and do think twice about the headaches that may arise while renting from a landlord who is showing early signs of shirking their duties to maintain THEIR property for which they get all the tax benefits and income but which is YOUR HOME, something they easily overlook. And yes, as my husband the builder will tell you, there can be problems with new construction and the owner should be taking this up with the tradespeople who should be guaranteeing their work for some period of time. Since you are not the owner and do not know who to quesion in matters of quality and these tradespeople have no legal obligation to you it makes no sense to put you in this position. My two cents. another renter looking for home

Absolutely not. Here is the breakdown in general:

  • Breakage due to mis-use: Tenant pays
  • Wear and tear, home maintenance: Landlord pays (100%, not part)

This landlord is nuts. I don't know what the specific law is, but if they ask you to sign an agreement that is not aligned with the law, the law will supercede the agreement. However.... why sign any agreement when you are sure to see things needing repair over time? That's just asking for a difficult relationship. anon

Making rental house's yard usable

Feb 2005

We are a four-person family living in a rented house with a small backyard. We would love to take advantage of the outdoor space, but the ''grass'' covering most of the lot is little more than prickly weeds, and there are many patches where even weeds don't grow. This year I've sworn that I'm going to make the space usable for kid games, outdoor dining, maybe even a slide...but I'm not sure how to begin. Would it make more sense to plant grass (what kind?) or to cover the area with some sort of mulch or wood chips (what kind?) Has anyone ever managed to talk their landlord into sodding a yard? If so, what sort of argument did you use? Thanks for all suggestions. Going Yard

I can give you advise from a landlord's perspective. We are interested in long-term, happy tenants and increasing/keeping up the value of the property. If you want the landlord to pay for the yard to be sodded, I would get a bid (or list of costs if you're doing it yourself) and a plan of how it will be maintained. Someone needs to mow the lawn and water it. Here are some ways to approach the landlord: the house would be easier to rent with the improvements; you could offer to pay for half or do the labor; you could offer to sign a one-year lease (as opposed to being month-to- month); you could also offer to pay for everything to be done and then have them discount the rent for a period of time instead of them paying the costs all up front. Good luck! Helena

Lawns take maintenence and so aren't my version of family- friendly. You can have good results from weed-eating the weeds down to the ground, covering the whole area with layers of wet newspaper or cardboard, and then wood-chip mulching over the top (I think the ''dump'' will even deliver a truckload of chips, but I haven't researched this yet)... after a couple of years, it all breaks down and is a plantable area, so you haven't done anything permanent, and you've kept the weeds from taking over, so someone can plant a lovely garden there... EBMUD has put out a book with inspiring pictures of cool backyards ''Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates.'' good luck! Lazy Backyarder

Coming to terms with always being a renter

Jan 2005

So I am throwing this out to the lovely people on this list--I need some help reconciling myself to living as a renter for a long long time (so long as we live in The Bay Area, I guess...)

We are a four-member one-income family, and got ''stuck'' here post-grad school. We are lucky in that one of us has a job with benefits, and that we have a place we can pretty much afford to rent in a good neighborhood (schools, services, etc). We are applying for jobs elsewhere, but in the meantime are living our lives here. Pretty well. One can stay at home with our little kids, and we get to do fun stuff on weekend

But I am so sad we can't buy a house, not even a condo. Even if we could swing the mortgage, the taxes and other fees would kill us. So I want to make peace with this. The American Dream oppresses me, and I'm jealous of anyone who could get it together to buy something earlier, before the market was nuts, and really jealous of those who can do it now...I don't want to feel bad about this anymore. And sometimes I don't...but lots of times I do.

Help me out, guys. Are there other long-term-renters-because-we- have to/want to out there? Anyone wishing they did not own a house? There are lots of things we can do because we live in The Bay Area, and I know we are lucky in many ways. I'm just having a hard time with this, and could use some help. The American Dream Gives me Nightmares

You are not alone. I am in my mid 20s, born and raised in the Bay Area and feel no matter what, I will be renting for the rest of my life and my future children will never know the joys of growing up in a house with a yard I as I. Moving out the area currently is simply not an option. Besides, I have no clue about living in other areas. I too am highly envious of anyone who can afford these expensive homes. More sickened the prices people are willing and ABLE to pay. Unfortunately, I am in a dead-end career that will never advance in rank or salary. Remember a LOT of these people have parents/family that are able to assist them in purchasing their first home. They are not doing it alone, at least a lot of them are not. Some have, some have not. Just be glad we are able to even afford to rent!
A disgruntled renter

I'm not sure what your financial situation is like but, there are affordable housing programs out there to help out. I know several people who have gone through them. Just check out the city website of your choice and see what they have to offer. You could also look into a Lease to Own Program the one that I know of is California Home Source. I believe that Homeownership is a great reality for you here in the Bay Area. You just have to know where to look. Good Luck! I know you guys will get a piece of the American Dream
Happy Homeowner who never that I would be too!

I don't think you are living a bad life and should feel deprived by not having a house. The fact that one of you can stay home with your child is so great. We bought a house a few years ago and we have to rely on two incomes for the time being to make it.

That said, buying a house or condo is tough, but not as tough as I thought it would be. The thing that got things rolling for us is we first went to a financial planner who was able to get us set up to start putting money aside in IRAs and other invesments. Then, we got pre qualified to see what we could afford and ended up qualifying for way more than we can imagine (nor did we want to strap ourselves that high). We set our limit on what we would pay and did not compromise on that. We did, however, have to compromise on location and the type of house we wanted. But, it wasn't as bad as it seemed at the time (we wanted a more urban location and ended up in the hills where there aren't even any sidewalks). And, we ended up with a two bedroom house when we wanted 3. But, in the end, we love our house and it's worked out for us. We had to give up some of our lifestyle, but we've made a nice nest egg for ourselves. I think you need to decide what works for you, what your needs are, and work toward that. Owning a house in this cost prohibitive environment is not nescessarily a good way to invest your money. I do think, tho, that you should be putting money away for retirement or investing some part of what you'd pay on a house into a nest egg that could somehow replace equity building.

We also got some very sound advice from friends of my in-laws. She was a public school teacher and he was a house painter. They did not make a lot of money, but bought their first apartment building in San Francisco years ago. They told us that it is never a good time to get into the market and always a great time to get into the market. They said they always bought at the peak of the market and they always made money. And, their most sound piece of advice to us was: don't fall in love with something you can stand. I see friends holding out for the perfect house. Stop being so picky and buy what makes sense. Make sure you're getting good value for what's being offered.

Don't let this market rule you. If you want to buy, figure out what you can afford and what you're willing to sacrifice. In the end, you may decide you are better off renting or you may buy but at least you'll have made a decision rather than letting this market intimidate you. Good luck. anon

I don't know if this helps, but we just had to sell our house in the east bay because we couldn't swing it. We bought it about 2 years ago. We thought the mortgage was high but that we would be able to do it. And everything you said about the property taxes, etc killing us, happened. We are a two income family and stil couldn't do it. Its sad. I don't know how other people do it. But part of it is that we just don't feel like being house poor for the rest of our lives. We want to be able to go on vacation again, and save for retirement and save for our kids college. We were living month to month, on two pretty sturdy salaries! We don't have fancy cars, we don't buy exp clothes. But we still couldn't afford to get repairs done on the house without getting...yes... a home equity loan (I think that is how a lot of people do it). And i just didn't feel comfortable with all that debt. So we are still deciding what to do. There are still some affordable homes I think in places like Martinez...Anyway, I cannot tell you the relief of selling that place. At first it seemed like the American dream and then the mortgage and taxes and repairs started weighing us down and it turned into a nightmare. Financial security is MY new dream...hey, maybe the market will crash soon and we can feel like we were really smart for selling/waiting until that happens!
non owner relief

I also have nightmares about not owning a house. It plagues me often. I don't have any suggestions on how to stop the angst but what I keep telling myself that the funds I have now are very well spent on my kids. I don't have to say ''Sorry, we own a house and it needs a roof before you can have XYZ.'' Enjoy the years with your kids.&! nbsp; They'll be out of the nest faster than you'd ever expect. Give them life experiences to learn from and remember, it's the caring and love of a close family that counts, not the physical place. I've seen too many 'houses' that aren't 'homes.' I praise myself for building a home where my kids feel safe and loved. This thinking works most of the time for me, except for those 3 am worry sessions!
Renter for Life

Never say never. I was a renter in Berkeley almost all the time my kids were growing up (they are college aged now). We didn't own a house till one kid was in middle school and the other was in high school. Not only that, but we lived most of that time in the same 1.5 bedroom apartment we were in when they were born! Their shared bedroom was a sunporch! It was a nice neighborhood in the Elmwood and they had a great public school, but nearly all their friends lived in very nice houses and we sure felt like oddball poverty cases. The reason why: we didn't want to leave Berkeley, we had English-major jobs, and after the 2nd one was born, I wanted to quit my crappy government job and stay home with the kids, while my husband paid the expenses with his crappy government job. So we didn't have the money to buy, or even to move to a bigger place. Even though I loved being able to stay home with my kids, we really felt that we'd never be able to afford a house and we never pursued it. Maybe we should have. But ... during the time I was at home raising the kids, I decided to go back to school so I could make more money one day and live in a house in Berkeley! I went into a field that pays better than crappy government work, and eventually, after years of graduate school, part-time jobs, student loans, little kids during the day and homework at night, was eventually able to buy a house in Berkeley with practically no down payment. I was terrified to buy a house, was terrified of the debt and the unbelievably high monthly payments, especially after accumulating years and years of student loans and substantial Visa balances just to meet monthly expenses. But we did it, and now, 6 years later, wow am I glad we did. Buying a house is a lot like having kids - there is never a right time if you have a modest income and sometimes you just have to shut your eyes, take the leap, and hope for the best. But definitely there is no shame in renting, and there is always the hope that things will happen later when the kids are older.

You signed your message ''The American Dream Gives Me Nightmares'' -- well, it gives me nightmares too, but the nightmare is owning, not not-owning. I was a long-term renter who ended up buying the house I had rented for 9 years. I owned the house for a short period of time then sold it & am now a renter again, and what a relief! I'm a single parent with two kids and only my modest income to rely on. I found it extremely stressful to be the owner of our house. Here are some things you don't have to worry about: repairs & maintenance of the house (e.g. expensive plumbing or electrical problems), damage or destruction of the house (e.g. earthquake), a crash of the real estate market & therefore loss of home value, also you don't need to be stuck with an insoluble neighborhood nuisance (because you can move), and you can't be sued for negligence (someone slips on your front walk), etc. OK, some of these are a little far-fetched, but you can still sign me
Happy to be a renter again.

My friend, you are not alone. When I came here from Southern California, I thought I'd be a homeowner by now. It isn't going to happen anytime soon, if at all, on our salaries. My boyfriend and I have a daughter, and we are not married though we are considering it. I've chosen to pay higher rent so that our preschooler can attend public school when she hits kindergarten. My plan is to save the money I paid the preschool so that we can make some investments for college and a home. If we do get married, it won't be a big, fancy ceremony.

I know we could own a home if we moved to Las Vegas or Arizona, but I love the politics here, and we are a bi-racial couple who can enjoy each other with a minimum of racism. I've read The Millionaire Next Door, and I'm trying to apply the principles of frugality, but I know we may need to leave to be financially secure sooner. So far, we've chosen cultural diversity and the natural beauty of the Bay Area over immediate financial security. I haven't given up, though.

Here's my two cents worth: Every time my husband and I talk about what's next for us, as San Francisco renters, we always come to a couple of conclusions:

We love living here because of the lifestyle of the city; we simply wouldn't live in a lot of other places even if it meant we could buy. We've concluded that this is the cost of having access to all the wonderful things in the area we live. I'm sure you've heard all that before--but as you already said in your email, think about what you _can_ afford because you're renting. You have a greater choice of where you live, access to the great resources there, and, I assume, more liquidity to buy things you'd like for you and your family, to travel, to eat good food, etc., etc.

Many people may subscribe to the tyranny of the American Dream, but don't kid yourself that things are any better or easier for them, not least of all financially. Yes, we could scrape enough together for a meager down-payment on a house. But we'd have a colossal mortgage and we simply aren't prepared to take on such enormous debt. Most of our friends who own houses are up to their eyeballs in hundreds of thousands of dollars in mortgage debt, have risky ARMs, and have put down little down payment on their homes. In reality, they don't own their houses--the bank does. And with the high levels of debt many of them carry, any change in their income (or with those on ARMs, any significant increase in interest rates) is going to have a big effect on their ability to afford their mortgage payments and sustain their current pace of day-to-day living.

There's a great societal pressure to ignore all this risk as the inevitable cost of owning a home, especially for those of us in our late 20s and 30s who are perhaps also starting to have children. I lived in rented homes with my parents all through my late teens and am no worse off for it. I do wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the same house all my life, but I think the relative mobility of our family lifestyle only enriched my experience of life in the long run. This is not to say that renting makes you a permanent nomad moving from one area (and school) to the next; it needn't at all.

Yes, like you, I am sorry that we didn't buy a house several years back. Now we could never buy a $650K home in the Castro or Bernal Heights as some of our friends have. But don't let yourself get too down about ''missing out'' on some pre-boom glory days either. We don't have to deal with nasty neighbors who we know will live alongside us for the rest of our lives (or theirs, I suppose). When something in the house gets broken we can just call our landlords (and because we're lucky and they're great, they will fix it right away). We don't have to pay exhorbitant property taxes because of the dreadful Prop 13. And because we live in a rent-controlled unit, we can predict how much our rent will increase--which does away with one of the arguments against renting, that you can never know how much you'll be paying. Steel yourself against the American Housing Dream--sure, it would be nice to have our own place, but there really is so much more to living than owning a home!

Please don't beat yourself up for not owning. I own, but I can assure you, it is through no cleverness or foresight on my part. I would be a renter today if not for an agressive landlady who, 7 years ago, threatened me with legal action to get me out (she wanted to sell, even though I had a lease with 9 more months on it). It was my fear of having another litigious/unreasonable landlord that drove me to buy. At the time, I was furious with her (she even cheated me $250 out of my deposit!) It wasn't until much later that I realized she had done me a favor.
know I got lucky

! Well, I can totally relate. So often I want to get out of this area for it, but where else can you get the beauty, weather, attitude, fresh variety of food and salaries??? My husband is a carpenter and wouldn't get paid his salary any where else. We are a two-income household raising one child at this point and as much as we want another, we are concerned about the cost of it. We rent, have rented forever and don't see an end to it. The housing market went up 17% last quarter!!!! It's crazy... We don't even go out much-- one movie in two years!! We spend most of our money on food because we care about what we put in our bodies.

We have even moved to Pleasant Hill b/c we could no longer afford Berkeley/Oakland. We rent a 2 bed/1 bath house with no insulation, a wall unit heater, old windows. The electricity is so bad that often blow a fuse when we make toast!! We don't have a dishwasher or a microwave b/c we don't have the electricity to handle it!! We have a huge yard and are in a good school district, but like I said, it's not ours and they can give us notice anytime!

The fixer-uppers go for so much that by the time you get in them, you can't afford to fix them up, even with a carpenter for a husband! We will never be able to afford a house and it is so discouraging. I remember looking at houses 6 years ago and thinking the costs were ridiculous-- back then we thought the bubble must burst and it is still growing!! I can not believe people will pay over a half a million dollars for a non- updated 2 bed/1 bath where you can't even tell which bedroom is the master, the kitchen is too small to eat in and the garage won't fit a car! The people have driven the market up this high, if people refused to pay those prices, then it never would have gotten so out of hand....

In the 60's, my parents bought their house for less than we bought our used car two years ago!!!!!!!!!!!! Prices of things have increased but salaries have not followed similarly, yet both my husband and I get paid more than we could in other places.....

Bush isn't helping as he works for the rich and there is an increasing separation between the rich and everyone else-- the middle class is disappearing... I'm with you.... I envy those that have it, I wish we could but I could not see strapping ourselves so tight either!!!
Perplexed in Pleasant Hill

are you me???? or do you have my rented house bugged? your post is almost verbatim the conversation my husband and i have on a weekly non-stop basis. i used to think i was the president of the ''i-really-hate-that-i-can't-afford-to- buy-a-shack-club'' but i guess you can be my co-president!. does it make you feel ANY better that you are soooooooooooooo not alone? i sense you will receive MANY replies which say the same thing. just when i think i've made peace with the fact i'm throwing so many thousands of dollars away on rent, i'm all to often reminded (usually an in-law or other well-meaning family member) throws the old ''when are you two going to buy a house?'' right back at me! ugh!

we even went so far as to take a family vacation to portland back in september and actually met with a realtor there. spent days with this woman and saw so many lovely homes. all somewhat affordable, unbelievably! we did the research on the school districts, visited all the neighborhoods, asked for advice from this network and had to come to the conclusion that....we love the bay area even though we can't afford it. it would be a lovely life up there in the rain, but for some reason i still stay here.

i see my friends paying mortgages that are twice my rent for dinky little houses and condos in ''okay'' neighborhoods. just makes me crazy! i love ''my'' house! i wish i could afford to buy it though! so i have my good days and i have my bad days and i continue to pay my rent on time and scour all the real estate web sites. and it's not just here. oh no....i've looked! central valley, sacramento, north, south...can't afford anything in the entire state! boy did we miss the boat! if only i had known the market would go all screwy, i would have begged, borrowed or stolen to buy SOMETHING while we were back in college...what, 9 years ago?

it's funny though, because on one hand, it sucks. but on the other hand, we're living in a nice house, in a great neighborhood. i just can't bring myself to go into $500,000+ debt to live in a mediocre house.
---ME TOO!!!

I just wanted to throw another perspective out there on 'the American dream' of home-ownership. As a homeowner, I think this is a bit overrated! For us, having a home has meant constant fixing, repairing, remodeling all at a vast expense. It's hard to find quality tradespeople and when you do, they often cost a small fortune. As you mentioned, the property tax is sky high and I literally dread every time we get those bills - it's such a chunk of money! If mortgage rates go up, I think a lot of homeowners will have a really hard time maintaining their mortgages - possibly us included and that's something I rea! lly worry about. While a lot of people might be living the American dream of homeownership and loving it, from my perspective it has actually brought a LOT of expense, headache and hassle. I often think about returning to renting and how liberating that would be. As far as buying another home, if we ever wanted to or needed to move in the Bay Area, we would find it equally difficult as we've been priced out of pretty much everywhere.
American Dream is not what it's cracked up to be

I feel exactly the same way that you do! Your entire situation fits us to a 't'! The trick is... to be content with what you have. There is a reason that you have not been able to purchase your own home yet. Try to accept that and enjoy the wonderful life you have. If you ever want to talk about it, feel free to contact me.

We've been renters in the Bay Area for 12 years! I've felt the same way as you many times, but my father in law was the one that told us ''There is nothing wrong with renting!'' And you know what? He's right! Like when our toilet breaks, or the washer floods - we call a plumber and it comes out of our rent, it's our landlord's responsibility! We have also gotten to rent houses that we would have NEVER been able to afford to buy, and now live in a beautiful big home, and negotiated the rent down over the years! We will be moving sometime (yet we're still here), but I can easily say that our homes here in the Bay Area have been nice - and I'm glad we were able to live in these great neighborhoods even for a time. Enjoy what blessings you have...
Blessed Renter

I totally understand where you are coming from. We only recently bought a house in a just okay neighborhood in Oakland. I really wanted to own a house, to do what everyone else seemed to be doing, be have the American Dream. Because of this desire, we financed almost 100% of our home and now are even more broke than before. When we get the morgage statement, the amount we owe is actually increasing. We have no time or money for the needed home improvement, either. For example, the other day after the fierce rain storm, I noticed that our roof was leaking. We'll have to figure it out ourselves as there is no landlord to call. What I am getting at is that I wish we had waited until the time was right. I let myself get caught up in the race and now I feel as if we are struggling just to keep our tenuous hold. ! p; My advice is to try and not let what everyone else is doing effect how you feel about renting/not owing. You are doing what is best for your family and if you live in a nice neighborhood with great schools you are lucky! I find myself fantasizing about renting again, precisely because then I could be in a neighborhood that would be safe to walk in at night with decent schools!
The grass is always greener

Hi. well, here's our deal: we rented for 6 years in Kensington a house that had a mold problem though was very cheap in a really nice area, private large front and back yards where we saw deer birthing in the spring, etc. so last year we managed to buy a nice fixer upper house in a not so nice area of Richmond with abyssmal public schools, very few trees in the neighborhood but feels safe enough. I love my daughter's private school but we honestly can't afford! it and the mortagage, etc. (Meaning we are charging groceries, no vacations, no new clothes, few if any concerts, etc. which doesn't suit me well. ) And we are commuting 15-35 minutes each way to my child's school on the highway depending on traffic, which really stresses me out. So it is nice to own the house and the values are continuing to rise but I wonder if it's still a better time to rent, you can stay in a much better area and use public schools if you are so inclined or forced to do so. plus I've heard there are bound to be many forclosures in possibly 5 years if the economy continues and people who have taken out humongous loans with 5 year ARM where rates might go up, etc. so maybe prices will go way down then? If you can stay home with your little one, do fun stuff on weekends, and live in the Bay Area I think you've got LOTS of good reasons to keep on renting happily.

We are in the same boat- would love to buy a house here, but can't afford to, and I have also, at times, felt rather depressed about the whole situation. However, recently I've realized one very big advantage to renting: flexibility. We moved into a new rental a few months ago. It seemed like a great place, but only after we moved I realized that the neighborhood wasn't actually all that great. Well, fortunately, since we are renting, we can move again once our lease is up. Obviouly, this would be much more difficult had we bought a house. Also, once our child reaches school age, it will be much easier to move to a preferred neighborhood - but we don't have to worry about that yet!
Learning to appreciate renting

Just had to add my 2 cents -have you really done the math on what buying a house would cost/save you? It might be a whole lot better or worse than you think, for instance, renting might allow you to send your child to a good public school, saving you tuition on private school whereas the property tax on a house in the same neighborhood might cost a fortune. On the other hand, the interest you would pay on your mortgage is a deduction on your taxes - instead of the 9,700 standard deduction, we got to take a 14,000 dollar deduction for the interest alone this year. If you really sit down and look at all the numbers, you can figure out what makes sense financially for you. If owning makes sense for you in the long run, there is no reason you can't do it - get an FHA loan, 100% fin! ancing, buy something with an in-law unit that you can rent out for extra income, or whatever, there is always a way if it is important to you. If on the other hand, you realize that it just doesn't make sense for you, then be at peace with that and enjoy the life you have - many people don't even have the option to live the life you do in the Bay Area.
In any case, good luck to you

Fellow renter, I know EXACTLY how you feel. I often get angst-ridden measuring myself against other parents or friends who own their own homes. For me, the desire to own never really surfaced until we became parents a few years ago. Since then, I have felt an intense pressure to buy a house, like so many ''other'' families seem to have done. I too, stay home with our child, and we are hoping to expand our family in the next year or two. So, with that one income, it is literally impossible to swing a mortgage with all those lovely taxes each month. My husband dreams of owning a home before we conceive our second child. If that criterion were really to hold weight, there will be a tremendous age gap between our first and second born. I am trying to not feel ''lesser than'' just because we rent. I mean, our value as people, as parents, mates, friends, and community members shouldn't be determined by whether we own our own home. Intellectually, I know that the most important thing is be loving, compassionate parents (who happen to rent). Showing our children affection, respect, consideration and loving guidance are the best things we can give them. Having a house is truly secondary to that. Hopefully for your family, as well as mine and all other dreamers of home owning, we will be able to buy in the bay area, in a matter of time. I just have to keep reminding myself and my husband that it will happen, someday, and the long! er we wait, the more our investments will grow, helping us with our down payment. Take heart, fellow renter. And hey, if you ever want to get together and commiserate, or start a casual ''support'' group for renting parents, I'd be thrilled to get together.
want that house

2003 & Earlier

Landlord has moved in downstairs, is being unreasonable

June 2003

My son and I just moved to Oakland to be closer to his school. We rented a 3 bedroom house for a very large amount, and had plans to eventually rent the third bedroom out to either a student or au-pair to help with child care when I travel for business. An hour before I signed the lease, I discovered that the house had an in-law unit, which was never mentioned by the landlord. When I asked about it, he said that this unit was empty, and that he had not decided whether to rent it out eventually, or if he would keep it for his own occasional use when in town (he lives elsewhere). I asked him about the level of noise, since I like to listen to my stereo and my son and I like to dance. He said that I could do whatever, and that no one would hear a thing. I asked him about the utilities and he said that he would pay me back for the days he would stay there. I felt comfortable so I signed a year lease.

The weekend I moved in, my landlord and his ''girlfriend'' started moving stuff into the lower unit and stayed there for at least 4 days. (they now stay there 99% of the time) They stayed up very late and their voices (very loud) carried through the vents upstairs. I could literally hear every word they said. On Sunday night, they had a dinner party on their deck below my bedroom, and I was unable to sleep until close to midnight. Since I have to get up at 5 to get ready for work, I was almost in tears and extremely exhausted. I even called-in sick one day. I tried to handle it very diplomatically but the landlord has turned it around by saying that he and his girlfriend wake up every morning at 5 because they can hear me get up (rooms all have hardwood floors) because the floor acts like a drum and they had no idea I get up that early. He said he would investigate getting the ceiling below insulated to dampen the noise but in the mean time I needed to try to be quit. Now, I am not a noisy person especially since my son is still sleeping at that time, as well as my nanny, who has since moved in with us.

A week later, some of my son's friends came over for a sleep over at my house and the landlord was very mad and told me to keep the kids quit in the morning and not let them walk in my bedroom. In addition, he was badgering my ''nanny'' when I am at work because she is not on the lease.

After numerous e-mails from my end to work this out amicably, I received an amendment to the lease with extremely ridiculous demands, such as not being able to do laundry before 10:00 am and 8:00pm, having to ask permission to have more than 8 people over, written permission to have anyone stay at the house for more than 3 days, no grease down the sink and the list goes on (3 pages). I refused to sign this amendment stating that I signed a lease already. I told him that I would have never moved in if I had known all of this up front, and that he was dishonest about the lower unit and he moving in with his girlfriend more than ''occasionally''. My landlord was very unhappy about this and even hostile.

Every time I now set foot in the garage to do laundry or go outside, he wants to talk about my nanny (which I said I have no problem putting her on the lease) and when she is leaving, about the noise I make and that I should put a rug on floor (I have one but it is not thick and big enough), and everything else he feels like badgering me about (did you water the plants in the front?). Last night he even sent his girlfriend up to complaning about us making noise at 8 in the morning on Saturday (it was actually more like 8:30 ) and playing our music and that we should be quit until at least 10:00am. ''this is not normal'' she said.

Well, I could go on forever. I regret ever having given up our previous home in which we lived for more than 5 years. We have always been very good tenants and never have a problem with our landlord or surrounding neighbors. I am nervous in my own house because I feel that he watches us all the time, am afraid to talk too loud and dread going to bed at 9:00pm since the landlord often stays up until 2:30 at night talking (and fighting). I feel hesitant about putting in ear plugs for fear that I cannot hear my son when he wakes up in the night, so he has been sleeping in my bed every night on those nights that there is even more noise.

I talked to the Oakland housing board about the amendment of the lease, which they said I do not have to sign, but what about the rest? I feel that the landlord totally misrepresented the case by moving in the unit below and now we are stuck for a year. It is already bad enough as it is, but now we have to look for another house next year. Moving is hard on all, but especially on kids so we wanted a stable place.

Does anyone have words of advise for us? Both legal and otherwise as I am at my wits end. a very tired single mom

You need to move. There's nothing else to do with an irrational person like that, and the more you stay the worse it will get. Even if you can get something done legally, it isn't worth the emotional capital you'll need to put into it. anon

Nolo press in Berkeley has a great legal book for renters rights. It's written in layman's terms. I highly recommed it. It sounds like you can get out of this just based on breach of contract. Verbal agreements do carry weight. Previous Renter, Current Landlady

Oh my! This sounds like a mess. I highly suggest you go over to Sentinel for Fair Housing pronto! Their phone number is 836-2687. They are on 17th street between San Pablo and Telegraph. If you call them, they have the exact address on their voicemail.

I highly suggest that you go over there rather than leaving a message. They take walk ins M-Th. and it's normal business hours.

They must get a ton of phone calls so they aren't that good about returning calls or emails for that matter! However, I've been working with them with my landlord for the last 2 years and I've found them to be quite helpful. After this last bout of dealing with my landlord (and my neighbors), I decided to start looking for a new place. Life is too short and the rental market is good if you are looking. I now have 4 years of living to pack up in the next 30 days! I love my new landlords and can't wait to live in a place that is loved and respected by it's owners.

It seems to me that your landlord has not kept all agreements. Are you certain the lease you signed is valid? I'd check with an attorney. If the world is a giant school (as I believe) and each experience an opportunity to learn, what learning is your landlord offering you? My suggestion is that it has something to do with how much ''garbage'' you need to put up with (swallow) in your life. The two things children (us, when we were younger) cannot do are ''speak up'' and ''leave.'' I suggest that you have been trying (somewhat) to speak up, and it hasn't been working. Try the alternative, following obtaining a legal ''read'' on your situation! Ilene

What are our rights as tenants?

Nov 1999

Hello, we have just been notified that the house we have been renting for many years in the Bay Area is to be put on the market and that we will have to move. This comes as something of a shock (the day before Thanksgiving!), my wife is pregnant and we have a toddler and so we are interested in protecting our rights as much as possible. We have a good relationship with our landlord and have been good tenants and wish to remain on good terms with him so we can retain him as a reference.

We urgently need advice from anyone who has been in this kind of situation as far as:
- granting access to prospective homebuyers/realtors. what advance notification needs to be provided? how much time do people spend in your home looking at it? what is commonly done?
- how soon may our landlord push us out?
- what is a good source of information on our rights as tenants in the Bay Area?

May I suggest you check out Nolo Press Bookstore in Berkeley for some up-to-date advice. I am now a landlord in Albany, but a renter for many, many years, and really appreciated the straight-forward writing offered in their books. Plus, check with the Berkeley Rent Board. They will often provide a printed guide for such events as you are facing, a copy of which could be handed to your landlord with a comment, Let see how we can best implement this change. If you get stuck, and the Rent Board cannot mediate (although they have in the past for me and it was wonderfully done), there are mediation resources: 845-0222.