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Legal Q & A – by Dennis Block, Attorney

Posted on 01. Apr, 2014 by in all

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Question One: I own a small eight unit apartment building in West Hollywood which is under rent control. I would like to know why we cannot install a separate water meter for each apartment. The tenants will never use the water responsibly unless they pay for the water. Thank you.
Answer One: Nothing prevents a landlord from installing sub meters for each apartment unit. Since your building is under rent control, you cannot force existing tenants to pay for their water usage. It will allow you, however, to identify which units are using water excessively. This will allow you to quickly assess for any water leaks or at least have a discussion with your tenants as to their usage. In some cases, you will be able to identify if additional persons are occupying the premises, in violation of the rental agreement.  As to new tenants, you would be able to have them responsible for their own water usage. Be sure to specifically address this in your rental agreement.

Question Two: I recently gave my tenants a 30-day notice changing the method of payment for rent. Now, I have tenants directly deposit to a checking account solely for rent collection. On the 30-day notice I wrote that their deposit receipt from the bank will act as their receipt for rent and should be retained for their records. I have one tenant who has asked for a receipt to be mailed. Do I legally have to provide a receipt or can the deposit receipt act as receipt of payment? Thank you.
Answer Two: Under California law, the tenant is entitled to a rent receipt. The deposit receipt is not sufficient. You should issue this tenant a receipt which notes the date of payment, the amount of the payment and the month which is being paid.

Question Three: I have a building inLong Beach. It is occupied by a mother and daughter. The rent is $1,000 per month. The daughter wanted her new husband to move in so I had all three parties sign a one year lease agreement. The new rental amount was increased to $1,150.

The lease was to commence at the beginning of the following month. My tenants are now telling me that since the rent increase exceeded 10%, that they were entitled to a 60-day notice before the rent could be increased. They are asking for a refund. What are my rights?
Answer Three: You do not have to return any rent and the rent increase was legal. If you are increasing the rent in excess of 10%, a 60-day rent increase is required. That is not the case in this instance. Everyone signed a new lease agreement. The law would view that different then a unilateral rent increase. As such, the lease is valid.

Question Four: Seems like everyone who has a pet, has it certified as a “service animal”. This is the same case for persons who smoke pot and claim to have a medical need. I recently received an application from a couple wherein each person had a “service animal”. One was an American bull terrier and the other was a pit bull. My insurance does not allow either of these animals, nor do I want them in my building. I am of the belief that even a “no pets” building has to allow a wolf, a horse or even a vampire, if it is certified as a “service animal”. I also understand that I cannot require liability insurance or even a deposit. No one else in the building has animals, as it is a no pet building. How do we change the abuse caused by the American Disability Act (ADA)?
Answer Four: You are correct that this is a complete abuse of theADA. Any person can get a prescription to smoke marijuana or a note from a doctor or psychologist that a “comfort animal” is necessary. These laws are enacted without any thought process of the abuse that will follow. It is always to the detriment of business owners or landlords. Once enacted, it is also impossible to change.

TheADArequires that a landlord make a reasonable accommodation in this situation. If your insurance will be canceled, that would not be considered a reasonable accommodation. Tell the applicants that you will allow them to a have service animals, as long as it is a different breed.

Question Five: I have a tenant that removed a bedroom door from the unit and misplaced the hinges. He states that he is not going to do anything about this until he is ready to move. What are my rights in this case?
Answer Five: Assuming you have a standard rental agreement with this tenant, it would be a violation of said agreement as your tenant has made an alteration without first obtaining your written consent. You should serve a Notice to Perform or Quit, which would give the tenant three days to reinstall the door. If the tenant fails to timely comply, this would be a ground for eviction.

Question Six: We unknowingly rented to a sex offender, who as far as we know has not caused any problems. Our local police department is asking for the lease agreement and application of this resident. We see no reason to release this private information without a subpoena. We are wondering what our legal rights are in regard to not releasing this information.
Answer Six: You are correct that you do not have to release this information without a formal government order. I see no reason, however, not to cooperate with the police.

Question Seven: I recently leased my house inBeverly Hills. The tenant’s credit was a little shaky so I had him obtain an additional cosigner for the agreement. Is the cosigner responsible if the tenant does not pay the rent and breaks the lease?
Answer Seven: In general, if the person leasing the unit does not have sufficient credit, I would find a different applicant. If you are going to have a cosigner, be sure that this person is local so that a demand can easily be made. If the tenant fails to pay the rent, the cosigner is liable. A cosigner cannot be sued in an unlawful detainer action. You would be required to file a regular civil suit for your damages.

Question Eight: I have a unit which is occupied by two roommates. One roommate constantly complains to me that the other one is fighting with him and stealing his property. He would like me to evict this one tenant. What should I do?
Answer Eight: You should simply do nothing. Your concern as a landlord is to collect your rent, maintain the property and to insure that the residents have peaceful use of the premises. These roommates have to deal with their own issues. You should not allow yourself to be part of this situation.

Dennis Block, of Dennis P. Block & Associates can be reached for information on landlord/tenant law or evictions at any of the following offices:  Los Angeles: 323.938.2868, Encino: 818.986.3147, Inglewood: 310.673.2996, Long Beach:  310.434.5000, Ventura: 805.653.7264, Pasadena: 626.798.1014 or Orange: 714.634.8232 or by visiting www.evict123.com. Now, you can also read Dennis Block on Twitter, www.twitter.com/dennisblock  or text him at (818) 570-1557.  Download the Dennis Block FREE app for your Smartphone – “Landlord Legal Helper”.