The collapse of a Del Playa Drive apartment roof last week has raised certain legal questions surrounding the apartment’s condition and the former tenants’ housing dilemma.
Several residents at 6570 Del Playa Drive watched their ceiling crumble last Tuesday during heavy rainfall, however the tenants allege that the disaster was avoidable if their landlord, Paul Schultz of Schultz & Associates, had properly fixed the leak when it was initially reported in October. Although the legality of the situation is up in the air – with some residents promising to take Schultz to court – Isla Vista Tenants Union Adviser Denny Directo said the case depends on whether or not the landlord properly attended to the leak when it was first reported.
“California state housing law states that it is the landlord’s responsibility in ensuring the structure of the place,” Directo said. “If these repairs didn’t get made, then he’s liable for the damages, but if he did try to take care of it and it happened because of the rain, the tenants can consider closing the lease and moving without having to worry about future rent but they do not get reimbursed. It all comes down to whether or not the landlord attended to the repairs.”
Attorney Robin Unander at the Associated Students Legal Resource Center said that the issue of reimbursement was ultimately a question of whether or not the collapse was due to an “act of God” – an unavoidable natural disaster.
“The grey area that this falls under is whether the damage is an act of God or not,” Unander said. “Normally, if a renter had renter’s insurance, it would cover that sort of stuff. In the absence of a renter’s insurance policy, the owner has property insurance, and the only question would be if this is an act of God.”
Unander said that if the accident was due to negligence, then the owner is responsible for covering the damages alone, however if the roof was adequately repaired, then the insurance company would assist.
“Obviously a whole bunch of rain is an act of God – it’s a natural occurrence,” Unander said. “But with the roof caving in and the landlord having had notice, perhaps a natural act of God preempted this, but the landlord allowed a negligent situation to occur.”
Since the collapse, Schultz has paid for the former residents’ stay at the Holiday Inn, but as of today, he is no longer putting the tenants up at the hotel. Unander said that while this decision seems harsh, it is legally viable. According to Unander, the landlord should not have to pay for the tenants to live somewhere if they haven’t paid for next month’s rent.
“If the landlord thinks it can be fixed in a short time and tenants want to wait for it to be fixed, they can go somewhere else and the landlord can accommodate them for the amount of the time they paid for rent, but not beyond that, because they aren’t in the apartment,” Unander said. “The student’s can’t profit from this. It’s like they’re double dipping. It doesn’t seem irregular to me that the landlord doesn’t want to pay for their accommodations anymore because they aren’t paying for rent. Depending on how bad the damage is, [it might be] better for the lease to be ended.”
Unander said that the landlord is also responsible for reimbursing the tenants’ parking and food costs, as they are reasonable costs incurred by their displacement.