Q: I have stayed "rent free" camping next to a vacant office bldg as 'caretaker' but not paid 5yrs. What rights do I have?
I have not been provided access to utilities (water, electricity, sewer). The landlord has tried to make sure I am 'not considered a tenant' by allowing me to put utilities in my name, use as a mailing address, et cetera. He asks/requires me to be security / caretaker and I have to do things like paint bldg, clean site of debris, tree leafs, weeds, water plants (which seeds I paid for and planted to help enhance the place si doesn't look deserted) et cetera. I have to cart debris away. Water is by neighbor bus. gives me hose access. I use a gas generator and battery array with inverter for electricity. I bury my 'sewage' and have a sump for waste water.
I have been here continuously for about 5 years.
The landlord also 'asks' me to do work down the street at another rental unit. Fix downed fence, help open swollen, painted/stuck window, prep (clean and heavy sanding) and paint face board where tentnat had tarp attached. Weedwack/clean up weeds in driveway.
Is this legal? Emp. Taxes?
As a general principle under California employment law, a person (which can be an individual or a business entity) “employs” a worker if they “engage, suffer, or permit” that person to perform work. Depending on the facts and evidence, if you are found to be an “employee” of the landlord, you may be entitled to the benefits and rights owed to all employees which include but are not limited to payment of minimum wage for all hours worked, overtime, meal periods, rest breaks, wage statements, reimbursement for business expenses, and payment of employer-side payroll tax contributions. Many of these claims can be brought in court or before the Department of Industrial Relations – Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (also known as the “Labor Commissioner”).
I hope this helps.
I'm wondering if there is a typo here. You write the landlord does not want any tenancy relationship BUT then it says 'allowing me to put utilities in my name". If utilities are in your name, and you get your mail there, there is a tenancy.
But it sounds as though there is nothing in writing at all between you and this landlord. You write the landlord 'requires' you to be a caretaker and water plants. Is there a writing about this? Burying your waste would be illegal anywhere. So nobody is ever going to admit you were permitted to do this on any property and you may chose not to admit to an illegal activity as well. Proving an 'employment' relationship here is going to be next to impossible without writings from the landlord to you ordering you to perform specific tasks on a specific timeline with pay or free rent as payment.
If you have been residing on the property as a caretaker without a formal lease or rental agreement and have not paid rent for five years, your legal status may be considered that of a squatter. While you may not have the rights of a formal tenant, your continuous presence on the property for an extended period might give you some legal protections under California's adverse possession laws. However, the specific details and circumstances of your situation are essential in determining your rights. It is crucial to consult with an attorney experienced in property and real estate law to assess your legal status, explore potential rights, and address any employment tax issues that may arise from the work you have performed for the landlord.
James L. Arrasmith
Founder and Chief Legal Counsel of The Law Offices of James L. Arrasmith
If you are performing work for the owner of the building, you are likely an employee entitled to minimum wage for all work performed. Your employer can only get a limited credit for providing "lodging", though it sounds like the situation would not qualify as lodging provided by the landlord. Such a credit requires a written agreement between you and the employer, so it is unlikely to apply.
You should keep a record of all work performed and hours worked.
Finally, you can only go back 4 years to recover wages.
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