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I'm renting a house in Santa Cruz mountains where the CZU fire is. Our 9 day evacuation was lifted on Saturday and our lease was up yesterday (Monday). We were in the process of moving when the evac happened and now I’m scrambling to get everything packed up and out of here. The landlord (who was also evacuated) said I need to pay 150% daily rent per day I’m occupying the house after the end of the month (Aug 31st). He also said that I’m responsible for making this a livable condition so if there’s any smoke damage that it’s my responsibility to clean (walls, carpets, etc). I mentioned that his Homeowners insurance should cover that but he said he didn't want to start a claim as he has a high deductible.

My Renters insurance Adjustor said I'm not liable for smoke damage as I didn't cause the fire, but only my property is insured through my insurance and they can't help with the additional daily surcharge of staying past my lease.

My questions are: Am I required to pay the additional holdover fee of 150% per day I'm occupying the property? As the house is currently not in a livable condition, is there a reasonable expectation to receive a refund on my rent paid for the remaining 11 days that I was unable to occupy my place? Am I responsible to clean the house (carpets, walls, etc) from smoke damage caused by the nearby forest fire?

Thank you.

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    What does your contract say with regards to cleaning or the fee? – Ron Beyer Sep 1 '20 at 14:20
  • Landlord tenant law in CA varies by county and city. You need to talk to someone who is familiar with the laws and ordinances your locale. They should also be up on the effect of the various emergency measures imposed b/c of the fires. (Santa Cruz must have a Tenants Rights association.) – Just a guy Sep 1 '20 at 16:58
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You are responsible for damage that you or your guests caused. The damage deposit law allows a fee 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.

You did not cause this damage. However the law also allow the security deposit to be used for reasonable cleaning, so it can be used for

The cleaning of the premises upon termination of the tenancy necessary to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy

This does not limit the causes of the uncleanliness to your actions. You can argue that the landlord is attempting to repair damage not attributable to you, and he can argue that he is just returning the unit to its original level of cleanliness. There does not appear to be any case law disposing of wildfire smoke.

The harder part is your liability as a holdover tenant. In general, if you overstay your lease, you could be liable for a 150% daily rental. The legislature has not enacted a law exempting tenants who remain because of natural disasters. There are claims to the effect that a landlord cannot charge rent for a period when a residence is uninhabitable, but the underlying statutory provision says that

The lessor of a building intended for the occupation of human beings must, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, put it into a condition fit for such occupation, and repair all subsequent dilapidations thereof, which render it untenantable

which is not the reason for your inability to inhabit the building. So it is not clear whether you are legally entitled to a pro rata refund of rent for the period of evacuation. If the property had been destroyed, that would end the tenancy and you would be entitled to a refund. The refund provision kicks in "When the hiring of a thing is terminated before the time originally agreed upon", and termination is brought about "By the destruction of the thing hired". Since the building was not destroyed, you are not clearly legally entitled to a refund (which would offset your holdover charges). Since it is not crystal clear how the courts would rule, you should hire a lawyer.

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