Real Estate Law Updates: Smoke Alarms and Tenant Liability for Defaming Landlord

Forwarding this REAL ESTATE LAW UPDATE from J. Scott Souders, P.C., Attorney at Law:

For your review are brief summaries of new cases:

1. Smoke Alarms Laws Have been Changed for 2014.

As of January 1, 2014, all smoke alarms in residential rental units must be on a list of approved devises from the State Fire Marshall. Those approved devises must:

  1. Display the date of manufacture.
  2. Provide a place on the alarm where the date of installation can be written.
  3. Incorporate a hush feature.
  4. Incorporate an end of life feature that provides notice when the alarm needs to be replaced.
  5. Contain a non-replaceable, non-removable battery that can power the smoke alarm for a minimum of 10 years (This only applies if the alarm is battery operated).

justice275x200Furthermore, as of January 1, 2014, owners of multifamily units and single family rentals who rent or lease their property will be responsible for testing and maintaining the smoke alarms within all of the units. In case of apartment buildings with 2 or more units the owner will be responsible for testing and maintaining the alarm in every unit, including vacant units.

In order to comply with the law, the owners or their agents are permitted to enter the unit for purposes of installing, repairing, testing, and/or maintaining the alarms. Owners must give the tenants reasonable notice, which is defined as 24 hours in writing advanced notice and during normal business hours. The tenant, during the course of tenancy, is required to notify the owner once the tenant becomes aware of a problem with the smoke alarm.

Comment: This should give the owner/manager further rights to enter and inspect

the premises while they are complying with their obligations to inspect and repair the smoke alarms. The downside is that if there is a fire and the smoke alarm is not operative the owner/landlord now has to defend a cause of action of negligence per se due to a statutory violation of the law.

2. Tenant Liable for Defaming Landlord on Yelp.

On July 30, 2013, the California Court of Appeal allowed an apartment owner to sue its former tenant for defaming the owner by posting negative and untruthful statements about owner on “Yelp”. In the case of Bendy Reserve vs. Papaliolious, the disgruntled former tenant posted defamatory and untruthful statements on Yelp about the landlord claiming various tenants in landlord’s high rise building had been evicted even though their rent was paid in full, that the owners noise, intrusions, and other abhorrent behaviors contributed to the departure of 8 tenants and that the owners noise, intrusions, and other abhorrent behaviors likely contributed to the death of 3 tenants. Furthermore, the defendant claimed that the landlords cleared out the upper floors of the units in order to charge higher rents and they evicted certain occupants of various units. These statements were all untrue. The former tenant tried to disguise who he was when he made these statements by using a pseudonym.

Comment: Free speech is not absolute. Someone making untrue defamatory statements knowing they are untrue in their ranting and raving about a landlord could be subjected to a lawsuit for libel and/or slander depending on whether those statements are in writing or verbal.

Damages to the landlord could include any lost rents as a result of the libel as well as punitive damages to punish the tenant.

Scott Souders is a real estate attorney who has practiced real estate law in excess of 37 years in Southern California.

Disclaimer: The Real Estate Law Update cites cases or statutes which are summarized and should not be relied upon without fully reading the cases or statute in the advance sheets and shepardizing the same and consulting with your own attorney.