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Rental Home and Apartment Building

Questions and Answers

Real Estate and HOA Attorneys

Michael Chulak of Michael T. Chulak & Associates, is the author of a legal column that appears in several newspapers. The column features questions and answers concerning landlord - tenant issues, homeowner associations and various real estate topics. Following are questions and answers. Additional questions and answers are added monthly, so please visit our site often. Please feel free to make copies for non commercial purposes and visit our links.

 

Roommate Requests Security Deposit

Q.
Fourteen months ago, I rented my property to three roommates for a period of one year. One of the tenants just gave me a 30 day notice to vacate and has requested the return of one – third of the security deposit. What are my rights and obligations?

A.
Since the property was rented to three people, you are obligated to return the security deposit only after the last tenant vacates the premises. Also, all three roommates remain legally liable for the rent until the last tenant vacates in accordance with the terms of the lease. If the three roommates want to adjust the security deposit among themselves, that is their prerogative.

Rental Charge Calculation

Q.
Is it legal to charge rent on the basis of the number of occupants or is this considered discrimination?

A.
If you pay for water or other utilities, I believe you are justified in charging additional rent for each resident over a certain number. However, you should have a standard written policy and be consistent in its application. Another factor that justifies higher rent for more occupants is that more people produce greater wear and tear on the carpeting and other interior components.

Tenant Claims Injury

Q.
One of our tenants claims he slipped and fell on the exterior stairs and wants to know who provides our insurance. He said his back was injured due to his fall. Should we give him this information?

A.
I would not provide the information. Instead, I would ask him to provide proof of any medical bills incurred along with a letter describing what happened. If you receive the items requested, I would consult with a premises liability attorney before submitting the invoices and letter to your insurance company. At times like this, a video surveillance camera is worth its weight in gold.

NOD Recorded On Rental Property

Q.
I own a home in Woodland Hills that I rent out. My tenant received a Notice of Default that was recorded against my property because I am delinquent on the payments to the bank. The tenant stopped paying rent and claims she has no further obligation to me. What are my rights?

A.
The tenant has the obligation to pay rent as long as you own the property which means you have the right to serve a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. However, you may want to review the facts of your situation with a real estate attorney because it is not uncommon for tenants to file lawsuits against landlords for misrepresentation or fraud under such circumstances.

Security Signs

Q.
In order to provide better security, we recently installed security cameras in the common area. Are we required to post signs informing tenants and visitors that we have surveillance cameras?

A.
No. If the cameras are limited to common areas where there is no expectation of privacy, posting signs is not required. If the cameras are in the pool area, signs should be posted because of the greater expectation of privacy. Notwithstanding, I believe posting such signs is a good idea because these types of signs act as an added deterrent.

Guards As Employees

Q.
We are spending a great deal of money on several security guards at our apartment building in Van Nuys. We are considering hiring our own guard employees who will be required to obtain guard cards. What is your opinion?

A.
Do not hire your own guards. Hire a professional security firm that trains and supervises its guard employees. You will greatly reduce your potential liability. The money you will save is not worth the increased risk. If there is a serious incident at the property resulting in a lawsuit, you want the benefit of the guard company’s insurance and expertise in training and supervising guards.

Security Cameras In The Pool Area

Q.
Our apartment building in Simi Valley is experiencing a great deal of unlawful activity around our pool area. Can we safely install security cameras in the pool area in order to discourage this type of activity?

A.
You can and should install security cameras in the pool area if illegal activity is taking place. However, it is important that the cameras be installed in such a way as to avoid invading the reasonable expectation of privacy of people using the pool. I recommend that you consult with an attorney before purchasing and installing any cameras in the pool area.

Judgment Against Former Tenant

Q.
I have a judgment that is six years old against a former tenant for more than seven thousand dollars. I have done nothing to try to collect the money owed. Is it too late?

A.
Absolutely not. A judgment is effective for ten years and can be renewed for an additional ten years. Interest accrues at the rate of 10% per annum compounded annually. You should talk to a collection attorney about representing you for a percentage of the amount recovered.

LAHD Inspection Fees

Q.
I have several tenants in Los Angeles that report all maintenance problems to the Los Angeles Housing Department and refuse to call us (management company) first. Many of the reported maintenance items are perfectly legitimate and would be repaired immediately if we knew about them. The tenants know that the LAHD will inspect and charge us an inspection fee if maintenance is required. The tenants are intentionally driving up the cost of operating the building and are protected by rent control. The LAHD is happy to keep collecting inspection fees. What do you recommend?

A.
You should amend your leases to require that all requests for maintenance be directed to the landlord in writing and that any governmental inspection charges shall be payable by the tenant, if the tenant fails to first notify the landlord in writing.

No Smoking Lease Provision

Q.
We own a few rental units in Los Angeles. Is there any law that would prohibit us from adding a no – smoking provision to our lease to apply to new tenants?

A.
No. Many building owners are finding that such a prohibition reduces maintenance costs as well as tenant complaints about second hand smoke.

Access To Repair

Q.
I need access to a rental in order to repair a small leak. The tenant is not being cooperative and I am concerned about damage. What is my right to access the unit?

A.
You need to provide a written notice to the tenant at least 24 hours in advance that you will be entering the unit for a stated reason, providing the date and time. The stated time must be during normal business hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The notice may be taped to the front door. If the tenant is not available to provide access at the stated time, you may enter using your own key, or with the help of a lock smith. Generally, when a tenant receives such a notice, they will cooperate in setting a mutually convenient time.

Three Day Notice Fee

Q.
I have a tenant that will not pay her rent until I serve a Three Day Notice to Pay or Quit. This has gone on month after month. I have collected late fees, but they are not sufficient to compensate for the time and delay in the receipt of funds. What do you suggest?

A.
Amend your lease to permit you to charge a fee for each Three Day Notice delivered. I suggest $50 or 2% of the monthly rent, whichever is greater. This should help.

Partial Rent Payment

Q.
My tenant paid only one - half of the rent and has asked for a rent reduction because her business is not doing well. Can I serve her with a Three Day Notice?

A.
Yes. The Three Day Notice should demand the unpaid rental amount and should not include late fees.

Leases with Option To Purchase

Q.
I have a well qualified rental applicant who wants an option to purchase my property in the near future. I have an interest in selling the property. Do you recommend a lease with an option to purchase?

A.
No. Leases with options to purchase are problematic and often result in litigation. Attempting to evict a tenant with an option to purchase is particularly difficult at times. The option will only benefit the tenant. They should be avoided if possible.

Dummy Cameras

Q.
We are considering the installation of dummy cameras in our parking garage and entry areas in Thousand Oaks to deter crime. I have been told this may not be a good idea. What is your opinion?

A.
Dummy cameras are never a good idea because they create potential liability for the building owners. When renters and visitors see dummy cameras, they often believe the premises are being monitored and therefore, they are reasonably safe. If a serious crime takes place, you can be certain the owner will be named as a defendant. It is far better for the owner to spend his or her money on real cameras to deter crime. Check with an experienced insurance broker to determine if your building can qualify for a discount on its premiums if it installs security cameras.

Tenant Wants Carpeting Cleaned

Q.
I have a tenant in a home that she has been renting for eight years. The lease is now month - to - month. She has requested that I have the carpeting cleaned for her. Am I obligated to do so?

A.
No. Landlords are required to make repairs but you are not obligated to clean the carpeting. However, you may want to consider cleaning the carpeting if your tenant is agreeable to signing a new one year lease.

Witness Not Available

Q.
I am suing a former tenant in small claims court for damaging my rental property. The trial has been scheduled but my key witness is scheduled to be out of the country on that date. Can I provide the court with a written statement from the witness at trial?

A.
The written statement will be hearsay evidence and will probably be excluded. In Superior Court, it would absolutely be excluded. A minority of small claims judges will admit it as evidence but will not give it great weight. To be safe, you should request a continuance of the trial until your witness is available. Since you are the plaintiff, it is likely to be granted.

 

 

Permission to reprint our HOA Questions and Answers is granted provided Michael T. Chulak & Associates (MTCLaw.com) is credited as the source.

 


 



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