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What Were They Thinking – Tub Won’t Drain

A student shared this story with me. When she was in college, she rented a ground floor apartment. One day she came home from classes to find her bathroom flooded, with pieces of ceiling lying on the soaked floor. Of course, she called the property manager. The bathroom was cleaned up and repaired very quickly.

Nice story. What caused the flood, you might wonder? The student upstairs had a clogged bathtub drain. Perhaps he thought it was a garbage disposal and had been stuffing chicken bones down into it. Perhaps he had been bathing large hairy dogs to earn money. Perhaps he did not know how to operate the drain valve. Whatever the reason, the tub would not drain. His solution–drill holes into the bottom of the tub. Problem solved!!!

If you have a story you’d like to share for our “What Were They Thinking” column, please send an email to

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Question: Owner Wants Property Back

The Question of the Week is from someone who wrote, “I have an owner who wants possession of her home due to personal reasons. The tenant’s lease expires November 2020. The tenant  has informed me that he has no intention of moving.  What recourse do I need to take because the owner is insisting that she will demand possession because it is her home?”

I asked some more questions and found out there was no lease clause allowing early cancellation by the owner. The tenant was a model tenant and also paid her rent early every month. My answer was: Because there was no specific language in the lease authorizing it, the owner is not allowed to cancel the lease and cannot demand possession. She can wait until November of 2020. She can offer money to buy out the tenant’s remaining lease term. MAYBE she can fire the property manager, find some lawyer to file an eviction lawsuit, and end up being sued by the tenant and having to pay damages and the tenant’s legal fees.

It is not uncommon for owners of single family residence rentals to want the flexibility to cancel a lease. This is especially true for military owners who move back to the area, and also owners who rent a property until they can sell it. Other times, the child of an elderly person in an assisted living facility will rent out the parent’s home. After death, the child wants to sell the home.

The solution is to have a lease clause allowing cancellation under certain limited and specifically described circumstances. Typically such a clause will give the tenant 60 days notice of cancellation. Sometimes a tenant will negotiate the clause, and want the last month’s rent free. Most owners are willing to give that.

Do you want more information about landlord/tenant law, including lease clauses that can provide better protections and more flexibility than the standard leases everybody uses? Check out the full day class on Landlord Tenant Law, or the half-day FAQ Landlord Law, under the Resources tab on this website.

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City Inspections When Tenant Changes

Cities want to require new property inspections every time you change tenants in your rental property. To my knowledge, only Alexander City, Anniston and Gadsden have passed such laws, but others are trying, including Huntsville. The first inspection each time is either free or with a very low cost, but re-inspections after failure can get expensive. Usually the landlord can hire its own certified home inspector for the task. That might make sense if there are long delays before city personnel can make site visits.

What if you just ignore the law? How will the city find out? As always, someone could tattle. Then you’ll be in hot water, with huge fines and perhaps criminal prosecution. The other way is with the cooperation of utility companies, who will not turn on service in a new name unless they receive a copy of the Certificate of Occupancy issued after the landlord has passed inspection.

How do you fight this to keep your city from passing such laws?

  • They are directed at bad landlords with terrible premises and no responsiveness to tenant complaints. If you know of such conditions, report them to local inspections departments. That way, they don’t have to rely on inspecting EVERYBODY just to find the bad landlords. Self-policing is always the preferred method for avoiding government intrusion.
  • Be vigilant! When similar ordinances are before local government for public discussion, appear at the hearings with as many other landlords as possible. Explain that the increased cost of the inspections and the non-rentable downtime before issuance of a new CO will result in dramatically higher rental rates. Housing will be extremely difficult or impossible for the most vulnerable members of the community, increasing the burden on public assistance programs and increasing the risk of homelessness. Local government needs to hear that more than just the “rich landlords” will feel pain if the law is passed.
  • As an alternative, propose your own law that rewards good landlords and keeps the pressure on the bad actors. We currently have a task force working on model ordinances, if that seems the only choice remaining.

Interested in more information about landlord/tenant law? Check into one of the 6-hour “Landlord Tenant Law” classes and videos, or the 3-hour “Landlord Law FAQ” classes and video on the Resources page, HERE. Coming to a city near you!