Landlord-Tenant Issues – Who’s Right? Part I

As I’ve said before, landlords and tenants often see things from very different perspectives. Having been in the property management business for decades, I have seen all sorts of crazy things. Sometimes the landlords are right. Sometimes the tenants are right. Many times, it comes down to the details of the lease agreement. Even though you may think it’s obvious that your tenant shouldn’t be allowed to work on his motorcycle in the living room of the duplex you’re renting to him, for example, if your lease agreement doesn’t specifically forbid it, you may be in trouble.

Indoor Motorcycle Mechanics

As a landlord, it’s a bad idea to depend on people’s common sense, because not everyone has it or uses it. I once had a tenant who insisted on repairing his motorcycle in his living room. I thought I was the only one to deal with such a crazy situation, until I was reading a newsletter for property managers and I came across an article about whether a property owner could evict a tenant who was working on his motorcycle indoors.

You’d think the answer would be, “Yes, of course you can evict a crazy motorcycle mechanic,” but because the lease agreement didn’t say anything related to indoor repairs, and the tenant promised to leave the property in excellent condition (as they always do) at the end of the lease agreement, the property owner didn’t have any legal recourse. Even though the tenant may bring in a tarp to put under the motorcycle, chances are maneuvering the bike into and out of the house will damage the wall, the carpet or hardwood floor, a window treatment or some other part of the house, and the damage will likely surpass whatever security deposit you required.

Detailed Lease Agreements Save the Day

So a word to the wise, include specific language in your lease agreement. In ours, we include things like “no mechanical repairs of any kind are allowed inside or outside” and “no non-operating vehicles are allowed on the premises.” Like most rules, leases are written for abusers, not the responsible car owners who want to spend one hour every six months changing their oil with an oil trap, and then disposing of the oil properly. Leases are written for the guy who parks his 1963 Chevy on what used to be your front lawn, trapping half the oil while the rest ensures that nothing will grow in that spot ever again.

If you want to allow additional freedoms to your responsible, long-term tenant, by all means do so, but I recommend having a lease that protects you in the event that the relationship sours. Real property is likely to be your most valuable investment. It’s best to protect it.

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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