Are tenants entitled to alternate housing during pest extermination?

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Question:

We have recently been notified by our landlord that our apartment complex will be tented for termites for an entire weekend. Since we have no choice in the matter, I wanted to know if our landlord is required by law to pay for hotel accommodations for the period that we will be displaced? If so, what are we entitled to? Motel 6 or a weekend at the Four Seasons?

Answer:

Restrain thyself. Do not pack your bags with your golf clubs and tux just yet. You are, indeed, entitled to compensation for the two or three days that you could not live in the rental. But you cannot turn this fumigation event into an opportunity for a paid vacation.

If your rent is relatively modest, expect your landlord to divide your monthly rent by 30 and offer to pay you this rate times the number of days you had to live elsewhere. The problem with this approach is that it may not cover even a modest hotel or motel and meals. On the other hand, if your rent is sky high, it might do just fine.

Another way to establish the relocation benefit is to ask for the cost of staying at a hotel or motel that is comparable to the quality of the unit you rent -- plus compensation for the money you spend at restaurants above what you would have spent for food prepared at home. This method is really more fair, both to you and the landlord. Take a realistic look at your apartment, its amenities, and the features of the community, such as a pool and exercise room, and try to find a match in a nearby hotel or motel. This means that if you do, in fact, rent a penthouse in a fancy-schmancy part of town, you might be quite justified in choosing an upscale hotel or motel. But if your unit is more utilitarian than stunning, look for more moderately priced lodging.

A few words to the wise: If your landlord balks and refuses to compensate you, do not withhold your rent or deduct the cost of the weekend from the next rent check. Your only safe recourse will be to sue in small claims court for your expenses. If you end up in this unfortunate situation, point out to the judge that, if the infestation rendered your unit unlivable, a court would have had the power to order the landlord to compensate you for your relocation expenses. In California, you will find legal support for this in Health and Safety Code Section 17980.7(d)(3). Your chances of winning are likely to go way up if you can show the judge that you chose reasonably and did not take advantage of the landlord's repair problem by living it up at the Ritz.

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