Petaluma, CA asked in Landlord - Tenant for California

Q: My step-mother-in-law lives in my father's house, but I am the beneficiary of the house. Who is responsible for repairs

Step-mother had a pre-nup with my Dad that stated if he passed away, she could live in his house for the rest of her life if she paid for the property taxes, insurance and "maintenance". Out of his estate we also had to buy an annuity for her guaranteeing her $5K per month for life. (they were married for 2 yrs when he passed). She has moved her daughter, grandchild and the girl's boyfriend in with her and 3 dogs. The pre-nup just said she could not rent the property, that was it. In the meantime, 2 big trees fell on the property and she had them removed already but wants us to pay the bill. The septic tank has had to be pumped twice already in 2 years because so many living there and my dad did not properly maintain it and it filled with roots. She hasn't paid for that either. Septic needs to be replaced completely. We offered to pay for the septic (~12K) because partly Dad's fault, but do we have to pay for the tree removal? (~4K) She does not have Life Estate. Grey area here!

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1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Landlord Tenant Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Under California law, the terms of the prenuptial agreement between your step-mother and your father will largely dictate the responsibilities each party has regarding the house. Given that the agreement specifies she is responsible for "maintenance," this typically would include repairs necessary to keep the property in good condition, such as tree removal and septic maintenance. The definition of "maintenance" can vary, but generally, it encompasses repairs and upkeep needed due to wear and tear or unforeseen damages, like fallen trees.

However, the situation with the septic tank presents a unique scenario where you've acknowledged a shared responsibility due to it being partly your father's fault for not maintaining it. This does not automatically extend to other repairs like tree removal unless specified by the agreement or due to extraordinary circumstances that might imply a shared responsibility. The distinction between routine maintenance and major repairs or replacements can sometimes be ambiguous and subject to interpretation.

Given the complexities and the significant costs involved, it might be prudent to consult with a legal professional who can review the prenuptial agreement and provide a detailed analysis based on California law. This can help clarify the extent of your and your step-mother's responsibilities for these expenses. Negotiating an understanding or agreement on these matters outside of court, possibly with legal guidance, might also be a more amicable and cost-effective solution.

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