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Proper housing issues are varied

Thursday, May 09, 2013

  • Ralph Schaefer
  • Tulsa Business & Legal News

Each side thinks law favors other party in landlord-tenant disputes

Landlords think the rules favor tenants and tenants think they favor the landlords.

Kimberly Moore-WaiteThat is the experience that Kimberly Moore-Waite finds as she deals with landlord·tenant issues that involve housing law, a role she has held with Legal Services of Oklahoma since 2007.

Currently she serves as the statewide housing advocate for the non-profit organization.

Waite presented the different viewpoints involving tenants  during the TCBA Bench and Bar Brown Bag CLE, New Small Claims Act & FED Docket.”

Judge Millie Otey explained problems with the Small Claims Act legislation.

She told attorneys representing landlords that points she discussed were those she looked for as she defended tenants. Responsibilities are on both sides.

It is critical that notice, notice, notice be given in these cases so the court has jurisdiction, she said. Nothing starts until tenants have been given proper notice. Landlords must state why they want to terminate a tenant- non payment of rent, violations of the lease or other remedies where legal action can be effected.


Various termination notices, five-day, 30-day and 24-hour notices might be used, but they must follow strict guidelines.


A five-day notice cannot be given until rent is late, Waite said.  Many problems have been experienced with landlordswho "jumped the gun" and gave notice before the rent actually was late.  When that happens the court doesn't have jurisdiction.


Notices need to be dated and signed by the landlord and it needs to state the amount of rent that is due. That amount must much what they are suing for when they file their summons.  It also is recommended that landlords distinguish how the notice was served, whether it was posted, where it was posted and when the copy was sent by certified mail. If process servers were used, that server must fill out or attach the return of service. Anyone who just posts the notice will find the most they will get is possession.


A 30-day notice is used when the occupant is on month-to-month lease and the landlord does not want to renew that tenancy.


A full 30-day notice must be given before the summons is filed, she said. That period typically begins on the first day of the month.


A 24 or 48 hour notice is used when someone violates a lease when they get involved in criminal or drug-related activities, Waite continued. The notice must be specific. It cannot simply say the person is being terminated because they violated a portion of a lease.


A 10 to 15 day notice is valid if someone has broken a lease but the problem can be  remedied. For example, a window might have been broken and the tenant has 10 days to make the repairs or the lease expires within 15 days from the date they received the notice.


Reasonable late fees can be assessed if rent is not paid on time, said Judge Otey. "The $10 day late fee penalty is not acceptable and I have set a cap of $25 per month in small claims court.     


Livability is another issue that is encountered with rental property.


“How many here think water provided by a hose through an apartment from an outdoor source is considered running water?,” she asked. The landlord in this instance didn't think there was a problem and argued that he was justified in that solution. He couldn't understand why the court ruled against him.


Everyone likes space in their living area, Waite said. But there was another instance where the tenant had more than enough space. They could look up and see through their ceiling and roof and see the sky.


There was another instance where the window was broken on a residence and the landlord thought the solution was providing the tenant a trash bag and duct tape to cover the  opening.       


Waite asked those attending the seminar whether or not they had pets.


Noting the number confirming they had animals, she then asked if any had mice or rats or roaches as pets. One tenant had those "pets" because there was a hole in the floor and it was possible to see dirt, she said.


Continuing, Waite told about a situation where the landlord provided the tenant a pair of pliers and a wrench so they could turn on the water. Those tools typically do not meet city codes for a habitable residence that require handles on faucets.


City statutes also require that landlords make repairs within 10 days when notified of the a problem. Tenants have a good case to get out of a lease when these issues exist and there is no effort to correct the situation.


Electrical, plumbing and heat issues are constant issues.


A working furnace is a must and there is no way space heaters can be substituted, she said, Gas units must be properly ventilated. Cross ventilation caused by broken windows and  holes in the floor are not acceptable.


Air conditioning is different and some window units are just fine, but these must be in working order if they are provided.


The Tulsa City-County Health Department can be called to inspect housing units, Waite said. If they find problems they landlord is given a lO-day order to make repairs.


People involved in landlord-tenant issues generally find they are successful when they follow the rules.


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