What is our financial obligation regarding someone doing work on a house in exchange for rent?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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What is our financial obligation regarding someone doing work on a house in exchange for rent?

My grandparents’ house needed the hardwood floors redone, as well as painting inside, along with other odd jobs. An old friend needed a place to stay, so said that they would do the work in exchange for a place to stay. He said that it would only be a couple months, however it ended up being about a year. Now he has moved out but is suing for $8000 for payment and stolen tools. He was given money through the time there and did not pay for any materials. Can they do this?

Asked on October 1, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

If there was an agreement that he received a place to live in exchange for work, that is legal: he cannot now after the fact claim a right to pay, when that was not the agreement. A place to live in exchange for work is a perfectly legal and enforceable agreement, and is actually not uncommon (for example: live-in supers).
He does not seem to have a good argument against you: if he claims that the agreement was NOT that he'd work in exchange for a place to leave, the you could argue that he had to pay rent--and counterclaim for a year's worth of rent.   He cannot have it both ways: either his work was the rent or  he owed you rent.
As for stolen tools: you are not resonsible for the theft of his tools unless you were the one who stole them: a person is not liable for a criminal act committed by someone else, even if it occured on or in their property.
Based on what you write, he does not seem to have a viable argument for compensation.

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