Is My Landlord Required To Replace My 25-Year-Old Carpet?

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 live in a 1908 Edwardian building on Pine Street. There are seven units total over three floors.

I’ve lived there in a large two bedroom on the top floor for 17 years under a very reasonable rent control price: $1470.00 now. My landlord has increased the rent at the minimal percentage each year. He’s been more than cooperative when I’ve been slightly late with the rent. We’ve always communicated pretty well. When I moved in, there were three of us living there and over the years I have rented out a room many times. Right now it’s just me and my cats.

He has replaced my dishwasher before when requested, when it’s died. He recently replaced all my windows which were quite old and decayed.

My question is regarding the carpeting. There are two large rooms and two small rooms each with carpeting between 17 and 25 years old. Needless to say, it needs to be replaced badly. When I moved in 17 years ago there were two cats living in the apartment. There are two cats presently living there as well (not the same ones of course) Also the apartment hasn’t had any interior painting or improvements besides the windows in the entire time.

Can I replace the carpeting in the apartment and charge the landlord? Is he required to replace any or all of it?

Also, my bathtub and bathroom equipment is pretty worn out. Is he required to upgrade the shower or the toilet?

Yours is a common question that I used to hear at the Tenants Union about once a week. And it’s always a tough one to answer.

Shag carpets, hardwood floors that should be refinished, and dingy paint jobs from the last century. It’s difficult to require a landlord to repair or replace them unless they pose some sort of health or safety issue that could be cited by a housing inspector.

I lived in a building in the Richmond in which the living room and dining room were carpeted in 1970s bright orange (thank heaven, not shag!). In the right light that carpet could induce an acid flashback. Yet the carpet was remarkably durable. When I asked the landlord if I could remove it, he declined, noting that he want to keep the carpet to protect the hardwood floors.

After inquiring at the Department of Building Inspection, I learned that housing inspectors, given the scope and requirements of their job, can only cite a carpet if it is in disrepair, rising to the level of a threat to health or safety. They look for holes and areas so worn that they could be tripping hazards. They will also cite a carpet that is moldy.

So look around. Could the carpet be unsafe? You mention your cats, but if they have peeing on the carpet for years, that’s your problem. Ditto with them scratching and tearing up the carpeting.

Check your lease. It’s likely that the lease contains a “no alterations” clause that requires a landlord’s written consent to make repairs or to replace the carpet. If your lease doesn’t contain such a clause, you may have more leeway to replace the carpet, but on your own dime.

The other issues in the apartment should be approached in the same manner.

You mention that the bathroom and kitchen and worn out. If the plumbing leaks, that could be a violation. If the cabinets are falling apart, that could be a violation.

If the paint job in the apartment is simply old, it is unlikely that you can require the landlord to repaint. However, if the paint is peeling and cracking that could be a violation.

Before you approach your landlord, it would be wise to take some photos and bring them to the San Francisco Tenants Union to get a second or third opinion regarding the condition of the apartment.

When you understand all of your options, you should simply ask your landlord if he will replace the carpets and/or paint, etc. Maybe you make a deal with him to cover some of the costs.

Of course, you can always ask the landlord for his permission to paint or upgrade yourself. As you probably know, I rarely recommend that a tenant upgrade a landlord’s property, but small fixes and new paint may be justifiable because the benefits may justify the cost.

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

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