Q&A

Condo renter receiving citations for alleged violation of rules

Question: I rent a condominium unit in a homeowners association. I received a speeding citation that the security guard taped to my front door. I went to the office to explain that the ticket was issued in error, but the manager said that only my landlord could contest the ticket and that "renters have no rights." She then ordered me to leave.

My landlord said he didn't want to deal with her and said I should just pay the ticket. In the three years I've lived here I've received no citations for anything. Since that day in the office, I've received 12 citations in two months, none listed by the association's rules book as offenses.

These citations include supposed violations for having porch light cobwebs, sunshade touching my balcony railing, so-called debris on my patio. The security guard said the cited debris consisted of one visible cigarette butt that someone else must have thrown there because I don't smoke.

The manager is setting me up to be evicted. She approached me in the parking structure and said: "You are a renter. You have no rights. You might as well move out." Is this true?

Answer: No, it is not true. Renters in California have rights. In addition to rights provided by state and federal law, you, as the tenant of an association member, have the right to use the common facilities, the right to be free from harassment and the right to quiet enjoyment of your unit.

This absolutely includes protection from the selective enforcement of phony guidelines, rules or regulations.

There cannot be separate rules for you or arbitrary and unequal enforcement of rules against you. Fines and penalties must be reasonable. Citations should be well substantiated and rationally related to a legitimate purpose pertaining to the violation.

Check the association's covenants, conditions and restrictions as well as its rules and regulations to determine whether there is any basis for the alleged violations. If penalties for these violations exist, they must be imposed equally on all violators with the attendant right to a hearing and opportunity to present contrary or mitigating evidence.

Regardless of whether there is a basis in the governing documents for the actions of the manager and the security guard, taping a citation or any notice to your front door is not acceptable. Methods of individual delivery are codified in Civil Code section 4040, and taping envelopes to the front door is not one of them.

If the association is taking action to interfere with your rental and your landlord is not taking steps to assist you, then you may have claims against both the association and the owner of your unit. You pay your rent and you are entitled to use and enjoy the property to the fullest extent possible.

California law creates an implied covenant of quiet enjoyment in the property you rent even if your landlord has never made an explicit guarantee of your rights. Interference with that covenant constitutes a breach of your rental agreement, and the remedy for that is damages.

Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or noexit@mindspring.com.

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