California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

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snackdog
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by snackdog » Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:31 pm

What if it is an AirBNB short term rental where the owner has a contract with PG&E and offers the place for rent with electricity? The renters have no lights or heat or maybe even water (if on a pump) and elect to shorten their stay. Could they request relief regarding the days they booked which didn't end up using?

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unclescrooge
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by unclescrooge » Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:50 pm

stlutz wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 6:51 pm
I think the responses on this thread are somewhat reflective of the fact that people on BH are more likely to be landlords than renters.

Is there a difference between:

--There is a problem with a buried line entering the house that takes 10 days to fix.
--There is a problem that causes the power to be out affecting only one street. For whatever reason it takes 10 days to fix.
--The power company shuts off power to the entire county because of wildfire risk and it takes 10 days for the power to come back on.

It's commonly noted that renting a home is more expensive than buying the same home. It's risks like this that the renter is paying money to offload onto the landlord. The landlord is responsible for actually providing a habitable home, not for giving it a good try.

All of that said, I'd expect to see a bunch of small claims cases arise out of all of this.
Please show me where in California is it currently more expensive to rent than to own. I've been looking and I can't find anything that cash flows.

A home with a connection to the utility company should satisfy the condition for habitability. If the utility provider fails to provide service, the rental agreement should spell out who is to pay for a generator.

cherijoh
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by cherijoh » Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:57 pm

cbr shadow wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 12:41 pm
I live in Northern California but I'm not directly affected by the fires or the power outages. We happen to live in an area that isn't at risk, right near San Francisco.
A couple that we are good friends with have a newborn baby and live in an area where the power was shut off. It gets too cold at night, so they were considering getting a hotel until the power comes back on, which could be 10+ days. We offered to have them stay with us until the power comes back on , which they took us up on.

Everyone at the house disagreed with me on this, but I'm not convinced by their argument; I think the landlord should take some of the financial hit of the power being shut off for long periods of time. They pay $6,000/month rent and can't even stay at the house. They're fairly new to the US and I want to be sure they're not getting taken advantage of.

I'm guessing a full review of the lease agreement is necessary. I just don't understand why the landlord should not get any risk, but the tenants take on all risk of the fires or power outages. If the lease says that the house has grid power, but now that power is turned off, is a rent discount in order?

What are Bogleheads thoughts? Am I out of line in thinking this?
This is more for my curiosity, since I don't believe the friends are comfortable pushing back on the landlord.
Seriously? The landlord is taking the risk that his house will burn down, so I'd hardly say they have "no risk"!

Your friends should have renter's insurance for the value of their personal property.

Big Dog
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by Big Dog » Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:58 pm

of course, PG&E says it ain't liable for mandatory blackouts due to winds. (Likely approved by the State politicos.)

https://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/ ... sclaim.pdf

cherijoh
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by cherijoh » Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:15 pm

indexfundfan wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 5:09 pm
I think there was talk of PG&E reimbursing the customers for the power shutdown. Who gets the reimbursement? The tenant or the landlord?
The tenant would - assuming the utilities are in their name (i.e., not someone just renting a room in someone's house).

If the furnace blew up or the hot water heater burst those would be maintenance items you'd expect the landlord to fix in a timely manner. If they didn't, you the tenant would IMO have a strong case for a rent reduction since they abrogated the lease. But if the tenant contracted with PG&E to provide their electricity, then any power outages are the responsibility of the power company. Why would anyone expect the landlord to cover for an edict by the power company?

Kennedy
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by Kennedy » Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:33 pm

snackdog wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:31 pm
What if it is an AirBNB short term rental where the owner has a contract with PG&E and offers the place for rent with electricity? The renters have no lights or heat or maybe even water (if on a pump) and elect to shorten their stay. Could they request relief regarding the days they booked which didn't end up using?
Landlord tenant laws don't apply to short term rentals like Air BnB. In that case, contract law would apply. If the AirBnB didn't have lights, heat or water as expected, the owner would be in breach of contract and the customer could mitigate his loss by shortening his stay and moving to another property as long as his actions were reasonable. In other words, a five minute power outage would be a different set of facts that a half-day outage.

fyre4ce
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by fyre4ce » Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:42 pm

Not a lawyer, but...

The OP does have a point. The fact that the power outage isn’t the landlord’s fault is relevant, but does not completely settle the issue. What if the fire, clearly not caused by the landlord, burned the whole apartment to the ground? Would the tenants still be responsible for paying $6000/mo for a smoldering hole in the ground? Clearly, rent must be contingent on some basic level of habitability. Whether the loss of power meets that threshold is not easy to say. This sounds like a grey area case. If it were me and the power outage were a big hit to the habitability of the property I’d start a negotiation with the landlord and explore ways to improve the situation (generator, etc) but failing that I’d ask for a rent reduction.

EddyB
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by EddyB » Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:54 pm

fyre4ce wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:42 pm
Not a lawyer, but...

The OP does have a point. The fact that the power outage isn’t the landlord’s fault is relevant, but does not completely settle the issue. What if the fire, clearly not caused by the landlord, burned the whole apartment to the ground? Would the tenants still be responsible for paying $6000/mo for a smoldering hole in the ground? Clearly, rent must be contingent on some basic level of habitability. Whether the loss of power meets that threshold is not easy to say. This sounds like a grey area case. If it were me and the power outage were a big hit to the habitability of the property I’d start a negotiation with the landlord and explore ways to improve the situation (generator, etc) but failing that I’d ask for a rent reduction.
Notwithstanding all the landlord-protecting “shoulds” that have been put forth here, the one piece of law I saw mentioned (a NY case not directly relevant) seems to suggest exactly that. Although likely the tenant’s remedy for uninhabitability because of events outside the landlord’s control is to terminate the lease rather than unilaterally reduce the rent, when faced with a legal (or even potentially legal) immediate termination, a landlord may decide a rent reduction is preferable.

AznSaver
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by AznSaver » Wed Oct 30, 2019 1:30 am

I feel like there are a few basic things to unpack and a couple areas to further explore for possible assistance.

First and foremost as it isn't the direct/indirect actions of the landlord causing the power not being supplied to the residence they would be under no obligation to provide any compensation nor discount of the rent. In fact doing so can cause complications and unreasonable expectations going forward.

It could be a good idea to go over the lease agreement and/or tenant law for California to see if this "specific" issues is addressed in either.
-As most landlords tend to use standardized forms conforming to their state laws it is doubtful but worth the time it takes to look.

If your friends carry renters insurance they should look to see what provisions are supplied in the "loss of use" coverage if any and what are covered losses. The provisions under government/municipal actions are where I think there is a possibility of coverage if applicable.

A long-shot, as you specified them having a newborn, would be what coverage might be available as part of their health insurance as a medically necessary environment for their child...

As large of an event as this is for people in that area if there was some easy loophole or way to make others compensate for this you would be seeing a large volume of ads and talks by attorneys promising to do so. You could have your friend contact one versed in tenant law to see if there is any recourse.

As much as people can sympathize with the plight of your friends we can also understand that the landlord is running a business and is not the cause this issue. As a human, and coincidentally a landlord, it's unfortunate seeing people undergo hardship not of their own doing, but at the same time putting blame on a not-at-fault person will tend to not have people look at things favorable.

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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by AznSaver » Wed Oct 30, 2019 1:50 am

Big Dog wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:58 pm
of course, PG&E says it ain't liable for mandatory blackouts due to winds. (Likely approved by the State politicos.)

https://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/ ... sclaim.pdf
I don't feel like looking much into the website to see their statement of liabilities as I'm not personally effected by this in any way; however this does seem to be a pretty comprehensive claim form. What about seeing if you can have your friends landlord apply for claims of lost revenue for the days without power and use this as compensation for reduction of rent... i.e. if allowed compensation for the days of lost power used reduction in rent.

Their website lists a community resource center along with a lifecare facility that works to process the expenses of hotel stays for those with medical requirements... There seems to be quite a few options that might provide some assistance without asking for direct compensation from the landlord whom isn't at fault.

I have been without power for as long as 7 days consecutive due to the weather and unfortunately for me as a homeowner there was no form of assistance for me in anyway... I still had to pay my mortgage and bills, my insurance wasn't applicable because there was no direct damage to me or my property and my utility company provided no credits as they didn't bill me for the electricity I didn't have to use. It just gave me an excuse to pull out my camping gear and try to make the most of it...

Mr. Rumples
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by Mr. Rumples » Wed Oct 30, 2019 1:58 am

California has an implied warranty of habitability under Cal.Civ.Code § 1941. There is no exclusion from paying rent during a mandatory evacuation. In the event of damage to the rental unit, then the warranty of habitability goes into effect. This seems to be in tune with CO and VA law.

https://media2.mofo.com/documents/18082 ... ndbook.pdf

SrGrumpy
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by SrGrumpy » Wed Oct 30, 2019 3:03 am

A lot of people are suffering - businesses are losing business, restaurants are losing their food, people losing their homes. You may have to go to the back of the line.

PVW
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by PVW » Wed Oct 30, 2019 6:02 am

cbr shadow wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 12:56 pm
CyclingDuo wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 12:49 pm
cbr shadow wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 12:41 pm
I live in Northern California but I'm not directly affected by the fires or the power outages. We happen to live in an area that isn't at risk, right near San Francisco.
A couple that we are good friends with have a newborn baby and live in an area where the power was shut off. It gets too cold at night, so they were considering getting a hotel until the power comes back on, which could be 10+ days. We offered to have them stay with us until the power comes back on , which they took us up on.

Everyone at the house disagreed with me on this, but I'm not convinced by their argument; I think the landlord should take some of the financial hit of the power being shut off for long periods of time. They pay $6,000/month rent and can't even stay at the house. They're fairly new to the US and I want to be sure they're not getting taken advantage of.

I'm guessing a full review of the lease agreement is necessary. I just don't understand why the landlord should not get any risk, but the tenants take on all risk of the fires or power outages. If the lease says that the house has grid power, but now that power is turned off, is a rent discount in order?

What are Bogleheads thoughts? Am I out of line in thinking this?
This is more for my curiosity, since I don't believe the friends are comfortable pushing back on the landlord.
A rent discount? Please.... :annoyed

Yikes, I didn't think this would strike a nerve.
I'm asking the question out of curiosity, I'm not your tenant pushing back on the rent of one of your rentals.

Based on the responses so far I'm guessing the answer to ""Am I out of line in thinking this?" is yes.
Pretend lawyers are a smug lot.

Here is my smug answer. The tenants are not required to pay rent if the place is not inhabitable, including acts of God. However, if they are also under a mandatory evacuation, things are not so clear.

Google warranty of habitability.

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Harry Livermore
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by Harry Livermore » Wed Oct 30, 2019 6:12 am

I think the fact that there is an infant involved matters. Please bear with my long screed.
I have been a landlord for about 8 years now, and we have had multiple storm-related outages in that time here in the northeast US. Generally, we have suffered right along with our tenants for the 4, 6, or 8 (!) days we have been without power, until a couple of years ago when I finally bit the bullet and got a whole-house generator for our primary residence. I have not done so (yet) for the rental but would certainly expect a small premium in rent if one were supplied at that location.
Having said that, there is a working, wood-burning fireplace at the rental, and in a pinch I would happily drive over with a van full of firewood to help a tenant of mine. So far, all the tenants have had their own firewood (because who wouldn't???) As many of you know, a fireplace will not heat a house in the same way a wood or pellet stove would, but it will keep our small house "sweater warm".
Our lease requires a tenant to carry renter's insurance, and I would first and foremost expect that they would be reimbursed for a hotel stay by said insurance if the power was out for days. If a pipe burst due to the same power outage and the house was unlivable for a couple of weeks, I would prorate the rent for that time only, and assume that the daily rent prorated would go towards extending the hotel stay (they CAN float a hotel stay on a credit card, can't they?) If it did not cover the full amount of a hotel stay during that time, I would assume they'd chalk it up to "life happens", like adults do. If they pushed back hard for more money I would, as a courtesy, work with them and find a number that keeps our relationship friendly. If they were completely unreasonable and started talking lawyers etc. I would probably cave, give them everything they wanted, and raise the rent in a slightly punitive way if and when they renewed. But that kind of aggressiveness on the part of a tenant would certainly damage our relationship.
Since your friends have an infant, I would expect that they would have already relocated to a hotel outside of the failed utility's reach. I would also expect, as smart $6K-per-month-rent professional people, that they would have renter's insurance to cover this. If I were the landlord, and did not require the tenant to have insurance, and knowing that a baby was involved, I would encourage them to vacate until the power was back on, and offer to prorate the rent. Then I would chalk it up to "life happens", and a lesson learned, and after that require tenants to carry renter's insurance, so I would not be out rent in a special situation. Like an adult landlord would.
Are your friends "entitled" to prorated rent? Not in my opinion. But I would not want to be the landlord whose tenants' infant got severely ill under my watch because they could not otherwise afford a hotel stay. Part of protecting yourself as a landlord and vetting applicants requires being pretty darn sure that they can handle financial hiccups like this. If you accept someone with no savings, and an income right at the edge of your requirements, be prepared for the inevitable "we turned the heat off because we can't afford it" or "my wife lost her job" emails. I'm hypothesizing of course.
So, put me in the camp of "no, they are not owed anything but if they were my tenants I would want them to be safe"
Cheers

HomeStretch
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by HomeStretch » Wed Oct 30, 2019 6:48 am

Sorry for your friends’ situation. It’s kind of you to offer them a place to stay. Your friends should obtain renters insurance in the future (if they don’t already have it). They need to consult an attorney and/or talk to their landlord about the situation as that’s the way to answer the questions you posed if they too have the same questions.

WhyNotUs
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by WhyNotUs » Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:29 am

Shadow asks a far more interesting question than the original responses suggest. Although in the end the LL is not responsible some thoughtful consideration should be given considering this is the second year in a row in parts of CA for either power or air quality issues.
A unit maybe inhabitable for a number of reasons and the state will set standards, in some cases with local supplements.
I own a rental that was subject to a mandatory evacuation in another state last year and even once the mandatory evac. was lifted, the air quality was so poor that few would want to be there. We did have power but without an expensive whole house air purifier I would not have lived there.
Our renters went camping and asked about a deduct and that led me to research the issue. In the end, the answer was no in our state but I did non-financial things to show some consideration.
In CA, if the policy will continue to be power outages for extended periods of time I could see a future in which backup power is required by the market or law. That is an act of man in response to acts of nature.
I own the next hot stock- VTSAX

fwellimort
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by fwellimort » Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:34 pm

Like the other Bogleheader replied, it seems this forum has mostly home owners who care more about profit than anything else.

I could see that if this becomes a recurring theme, then homeowners will have to take responsibility by having their own generators/solar panels to make the home hospitable.

That said, I do wonder with many of these issues popping recently (and almost all startups failing) that going forward, house values in Cali could fall or stay stagnant.
If the infrastructure is not catching up with the times, it is only a matter of time before people decide to work elsewhere (especially with many tech firms now moving out of Cali to places like Texas/Colorado/etc.).

But then again, it seems homeowners in California only care about short term profits so oh well.

student
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by student » Wed Oct 30, 2019 9:02 pm

Harry Livermore wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 6:12 am
I think the fact that there is an infant involved matters. Please bear with my long screed.
I have been a landlord for about 8 years now, and we have had multiple storm-related outages in that time here in the northeast US. Generally, we have suffered right along with our tenants for the 4, 6, or 8 (!) days we have been without power, until a couple of years ago when I finally bit the bullet and got a whole-house generator for our primary residence. I have not done so (yet) for the rental but would certainly expect a small premium in rent if one were supplied at that location.
Having said that, there is a working, wood-burning fireplace at the rental, and in a pinch I would happily drive over with a van full of firewood to help a tenant of mine. So far, all the tenants have had their own firewood (because who wouldn't???) As many of you know, a fireplace will not heat a house in the same way a wood or pellet stove would, but it will keep our small house "sweater warm".
Our lease requires a tenant to carry renter's insurance, and I would first and foremost expect that they would be reimbursed for a hotel stay by said insurance if the power was out for days. If a pipe burst due to the same power outage and the house was unlivable for a couple of weeks, I would prorate the rent for that time only, and assume that the daily rent prorated would go towards extending the hotel stay (they CAN float a hotel stay on a credit card, can't they?) If it did not cover the full amount of a hotel stay during that time, I would assume they'd chalk it up to "life happens", like adults do. If they pushed back hard for more money I would, as a courtesy, work with them and find a number that keeps our relationship friendly. If they were completely unreasonable and started talking lawyers etc. I would probably cave, give them everything they wanted, and raise the rent in a slightly punitive way if and when they renewed. But that kind of aggressiveness on the part of a tenant would certainly damage our relationship.
Since your friends have an infant, I would expect that they would have already relocated to a hotel outside of the failed utility's reach. I would also expect, as smart $6K-per-month-rent professional people, that they would have renter's insurance to cover this. If I were the landlord, and did not require the tenant to have insurance, and knowing that a baby was involved, I would encourage them to vacate until the power was back on, and offer to prorate the rent. Then I would chalk it up to "life happens", and a lesson learned, and after that require tenants to carry renter's insurance, so I would not be out rent in a special situation. Like an adult landlord would.
Are your friends "entitled" to prorated rent? Not in my opinion. But I would not want to be the landlord whose tenants' infant got severely ill under my watch because they could not otherwise afford a hotel stay. Part of protecting yourself as a landlord and vetting applicants requires being pretty darn sure that they can handle financial hiccups like this. If you accept someone with no savings, and an income right at the edge of your requirements, be prepared for the inevitable "we turned the heat off because we can't afford it" or "my wife lost her job" emails. I'm hypothesizing of course.
So, put me in the camp of "no, they are not owed anything but if they were my tenants I would want them to be safe"
Cheers
Thank you for such an excellent post.

ralph124cf
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by ralph124cf » Thu Oct 31, 2019 12:40 am

My understanding is that the landlord is required to provide a means to heat the dwelling.

This landlord chose an electric heater. This is the cheapest for the landlord, and the most expensive for the tenant.

If this was a gas forced air furnace, it could be powered with a low wattage inverter generator, or even an inverter that attaches to your car battery. These solutions would only cost a few hundred bucks, but a generator capable of powering an electric furnace would cost in the high thousands.

I believe that rent abatement for the uninhabitable period is in order.

Note: I am a landlord, and I have provided rent abatement for tenants in similar situations.

Ralph

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burt
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by burt » Thu Oct 31, 2019 6:31 am

If I was a renter looking at a house with "issues" ... I would be looking for lower rent.
Issues could be almost anything including power outages and fire.

Teague
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by Teague » Thu Oct 31, 2019 10:57 am

fwellimort wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:34 pm
Like the other Bogleheader replied, it seems this forum has mostly home owners who care more about profit than anything else.

I could see that if this becomes a recurring theme, then homeowners will have to take responsibility by having their own generators/solar panels to make the home hospitable.

That said, I do wonder with many of these issues popping recently (and almost all startups failing) that going forward, house values in Cali could fall or stay stagnant.
If the infrastructure is not catching up with the times, it is only a matter of time before people decide to work elsewhere (especially with many tech firms now moving out of Cali to places like Texas/Colorado/etc.).

But then again, it seems homeowners in California only care about short term profits so oh well.
Now, now, that's just not true. We care about long term profits, too.

We don't evict widows and infants out into the snow, you know. Mostly because snow is pretty hard to come by in these parts. In fact, California has some of the strongest tenant protections of any state. And I think eviction notices must include a coupon for an avocado toast and a half-caf organic soy mocha frappuccino.

Most start-ups have been failing for forever, so that's nothing new. People have been "predicting" a mass exodus from the state for a long time. Still waiting for that to happen.

And no self-respecting native Californian calls it "Cali."
Semper Augustus

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Phineas J. Whoopee
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Re: California Fires: Landlord/Tenant Question

Post by Phineas J. Whoopee » Thu Oct 31, 2019 2:21 pm

What do state and local law say?

What does state and local case law say?

What does the lease say?

Taken sort of in general there's no way to answer OP's question. I agree a consultation, which may be free as a first contact, or may be provided by a disaster relief organization, with a local attorney experienced in these matters (sadly given what has happened repeatedly such people must be all too common in California) is the next step.

The question isn't what some random person on the public Internet thinks the law should say. The question is specifically what the law does say, and what the lease says. Landlords, presumably, take into account their risks when setting asking rents.

Relief from other organizations may become available, as well.

PJW

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