Do I Have To Give My Landlord My Pot Rack?

Dave’s at SF Appeal to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

I rent a single-family house in SF and gave 30-day notice to vacate.

My question is about the pot rack I installed in the kitchen. It was attached to a 2×4 that I screwed to the wall and then I screwed the pot rack to that. The Landlord said it is not allowed in my lease therefore it is now part of the house.

The landlord said the same thing applies to the towel rack and curtain rods that are screwed into the walls.

I want to keep my things. Can I fix the holes and expect my security deposit ($2500) back? What right do I have? What right does the landlord have?

Must be a great pot rack…at least your landlord thinks so. That’s why he wants it. The landlord’s rationale to steal your pot rack has been employed by the rich and powerful and two-year-olds for eons–I want it, so now it’s mine and here’s a rule I just made up to justify my keeping it.

Your landlord’s interpretation of the law is self-serving and illogical. Using his reasoning, does that mean that your dog, Brian, stays with the house because there is a “no pets” clause on the lease? Well, that may be a stretch unless the talking dog is tacked to the wall, but you can see what I mean. If the pot rack was an unwarranted alteration in violation of the lease, your landlord should have demanded that you remove it.

To be fair, your landlord is misstating a concept that applies to the sale of a house. If something is attached to the house like a light fixture or a pot rack it can be considered a fixture that must be sold with the house.

Say I’m a prospective purchaser. I view the house and love the pot rack. In fact I love the pot rack so much, I’m willing to spend an extra $100,000 on the place. (I’m a typical, irrational, San Francisco buyer with loads of Twitter dough.) I purchase the house and when I move in, the pot rack is gone. I have the right to claim the pot rack as a fixture and sue the seller. Of course, had your landlord been the seller, he would have removed the pot rack and installed it in his own kitchen before he put the house on the market.

California Civil Code §1950.5(a)(2) states that a landlord can deduct money from a tenant’s security deposit for “the repair of damages to the premises, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, caused by the tenant or by a guest or licensee of the tenant,” not for an unwarranted alteration.

If the pot rack was your addition to the kitchen, take it down, remove the 2X4 and carefully repair any holes left in the walls. You should also touch up and/or repaint the affected wall with the exact, original paint color. You can take a paint chip to a paint store and get a match.

Either that, or offer to sell the pot rack to the landlord.

If you replaced old towel racks and curtain rods with new racks and rods, you should have saved the old ones to reinstall.

The “fixture” rule does apply to items you removed and replaced. You cannot leave a hole in the wall where you substituted a light fixture, but failed to save the old one to reinstall. Same with curtain rods and towel racks. You cannot leave a blank wall, even completely repaired, if there was something on the wall that was included in your original lease.

Frankly, sometimes it’s easier. less time-consuming and less expensive to leave items like curtain rods and towel racks. That is, unless you installed some Pottery Barn racks that set you back half a month’s rent.

Take photos of questionable areas before you move.

If the landlord keeps your security deposit and you sue him in Small Claims Court, imagine a scenario in which the judge asks the landlord two questions. Did the house come with a pot rack? Is the area where the pot rack damaged in any way? If the judge fails to ask those questions, request that she ask them.

If you are considering suing the landlord, take your documentation to the San Francisco Tenants Union and ask them to advise you how to proceed.

Crow & Rose's legal practice emphasizes eviction defense, wrongful eviction and other landlord tenant and real property matters.

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