This article discusses some common issues tenants may be able to negotiate with landlords—pets, guests, home businesses, and roommates. Often, an offer to pay more rent or a higher security deposit will convince a reluctant landlord to modify his or her policies.
Several humane societies across the country offer pet-owning tenants helpful materials on how to negotiate with a landlord who doesn’t normally allow pets. One particularly successful program is Project Open Door of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Also, Every Dog’s Legal Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo), includes a chapter on how to negotiate a lease and other issues of interest to pet-owning tenants.
Some leases limit guest stays. If you plan on having regular guests—for example, your college roommate stays with you two weekends a month when she’s in town on business, or your boyfriend sleeps over a few nights a week—you’ll need to think about how to handle this issue. If your landlord lives far away and doesn’t have a resident manager, you may decide to take a chance that you’ll never be found out. You might get away with it if you’re always current with the rent and have no hassles with other tenants. (Be assured that when a disgruntled neighbor complains about you to the landlord, the first words out of the neighbor’s mouth will be a description of your boyfriend’s overnight stays, even if these visits have nothing to do with your problem with the neighbor.) But if the landlord lives downstairs, ask her to revise this clause. Perhaps you can compromise by offering a little more rent. If she resists unreasonably, consider looking for another rental.
If you are one of the over 20 million Americans who run a business from your house or apartment, make sure your lease or rental agreement doesn’t specify that the premises are “for residential purposes only.” If you’re working alone or your job primarily consists of making phone calls or using your computer, you’ve probably got nothing to worry about (and landlords in California may not prohibit tenants from operating a licensed child care facility). But if clients or deliveries will be coming on a regular basis, you’ll want to discuss the issue with your landlord, who may be concerned that neighboring tenants may be inconvenienced. Where will your visitors park, for example? Will your piano students disturb the neighbors?
A landlord who does allow you to run a business from your rental unit may require that you maintain certain types of liability insurance. (In California, however, landlords cannot insist that tenants who operate licensed child care facilities obtain insurance.) That way, the landlord won’t wind up paying if someone gets hurt on the rental property—for example, a business customer who trips and falls on the front steps. If you can obtain a quote for liability insurance before approaching the landlord, obviously your chances of an official okay go way up.
Also, be aware that if you use your residence as a commercial site, the property may need to meet the accessibility requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For more information on the ADA, contact the Department of Justice, Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Division, in Washington, DC, at 202-514-0301; or read about the issue online at www.ada.gov.
Finally, even if it’s okay with your landlord, your home-based business may violate local zoning laws governing the type of businesses allowed (if any) in your residential neighborhood. The ordinances are often vague as to the type of business you can operate—for example, many allow “traditional home-based businesses,” but don’t provide a more specific definition. However, these laws are often quite detailed as to the following issues:
- restricting the amount of car and truck traffic the business can generate
- barring outside signs
- prohibiting employees or at least limiting their number, and
- setting a limit on the percentage of the floor space that can be devoted to the business.
Landlords may set reasonable limits on the number of persons who will live in a rental. A landlord who limits your occupancy to the federal standard of two per bedroom (or the state limit, whichever is higher) is within her rights. Even if the rooms are big, you will have a hard time finding legal support for a higher number of occupants. But you may be able to convince a landlord to allow more tenants if you offer to compensate for the additional wear and tear that higher numbers of occupants cause. You might offer a higher security deposit (assuming the deposit is not already at the state maximum) or even a higher rent.