Landlords’ Questions Answered – Part II

Last week, I began this series, answering questions about the ins and outs of property management. From the outside looking in, property management seems fairly straightforward, but the truth is there are all sorts of situations that can crop up that are not clearly covered by lease agreements or legal precedent.

Here are some more not-so-straightforward property management questions answered.

What is a “reasonable” modification for someone with a disability?

Legally, landlords must make “reasonable” modifications for those with disabilities, but sometimes the only one who can define reasonable is a judge in a court of law. However, here are some guidelines that may help. If someone in a wheelchair wants to rent a third-floor apartment, you are not required to install an elevator in the building. However, if they would like to rent a first-floor apartment that has one step up to the front door, build them a ramp. Be aware that wheelchairs can be tough on carpet and doorjambs, but I’ve seen irresponsible tenants with no disabilities do a lot of damage to property, too. If you have a no-pets policy, allow a blind tenant to live with his service dog. If you have an 87-year-old tenant who uses a walker, provide her with the parking spot closest to her front door.

If your tenant becomes disabled while leasing your property, consider allowing them to break the contract and find a place to live that better accommodates their new circumstances. You won’t hear me recommend allowing tenants to break leases with no consequences very often, but I certainly think this is one of those rare instances.

What do you do if your tenant is dealing drugs at your property?

If you witness, or even have reason to suspect, that your tenants are using your property to deal illicit drugs, contact the police. Work with them to gather evidence. Once your tenant has been convicted of the crime, you can begin the eviction process.

Can you evict someone for painting the interior purple?

If your lease agreement clearly states that the tenant is not allowed to make modifications to décor (including paint) without your prior written approval, you can require them to return the property to its original condition at their expense. If they refuse to do so, you can charge them to hire a painter and return the property to its original condition. If they refuse to pay, this can be cause for eviction.

What do you do if a tenant does $1,000 worth of damage but has only put down a $500 security deposit?

You do not have to wait for the lease to end to collect the extra $500 to pay for damages. It’s best to try to work out a payment plan with the tenant for two reasons: one, it increases the chances you’ll actually get paid and it keeps relationships intact; and two, a small claims court judge is likely to look on your case more favorably if you did all you could to work with the tenant before taking them to court. Note: small claims court decisions can be appealed by the defendant, but not the plaintiff. In plain English, this usually means tenants can appeal, but landlords can’t.

If you have questions about property management or 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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