Must Landlord Pay If Tenant Forced to Move?

QUESTION: We rent a duplex in Westchester, and Los Angeles' rent control applies. Our month-to-month rental agreement says the tenancy may be terminated by either party with 30 days notice. "No relocation fees are applicable" was written in by our landlord.

Nearby duplexes are being rapidly demolished and replaced by new apartments. It appears to be only a matter of time before our duplex goes.

The question is, is a clause like this enforceable even though it appears to be contrary to the city rent control law, which says my family, which includes a minor child, is entitled to a $5,000 relocation fee?

ANSWER: The clause is not enforceable because, as you said, it conflicts with the city's rent law. If your owner decides to demolish and asks you to leave the premises, you are entitled to the relocation money.

Similarly, any renter in Los Angeles who is asked to move or evicted through a "no-fault" eviction in which the renter is not at fault (does nothing wrong), is entitled to relocation fees. No-fault evictions include the following: The owner wants to move in his parents, children, himself or his spouse; to demolish the property, or when an owner seeks to permanently remove a rental unit from rental housing use.

Relocation fees are paid at the rate of $5,000 a unit to the elderly, handicapped or families with minor children. Others get $2,000.

Rental Owner Must Provide 'Safe' Carpet

Q: The carpet in my Los Angeles apartment is badly worn. It was used four years ago when I moved in, and the owner won't replace it until I move out or a premium is added to the rent. Although the unit is rent controlled, shouldn't I expect minor maintenance such as this for wear and tear?

A: Carpeting, like anything in a rental, must be maintained in a safe condition. While it may be worn, it may still be "safe." If it is, the owner is not obligated to replace or repair it.

If the carpet is unsafe, for instance, has holes in it, which could cause you to trip and fall, the owner must do something about it. He does not, however, have to replace the carpet. He may repair it. And that would be "minor maintenance."

If the owner opts to replace the carpet, he is entitled to a rent increase under L.A.'s rent law for that "capital improvement," which is what replacement is considered under the law.

Landlord Can Take Action on Damages

Q: The renter has moved out of my Los Angeles apartment. It was clean when he moved in but it's not clean now. The tenant also left holes in the walls of all of the rooms, with an extra big one in the living room ceiling.

I also just recently paid a $79.98 plumbing bill that the plumber said was caused by a grease stoppage. And, finally, he broke the locks on our gate and broke into our garage.

The question is, what can I do now? Do I deduct money from the security deposit or sue in Small Claims Court?

A: You may deduct money from the deposit for the actual cost of the cleaning and to repair damages that are over and above "normal wear and tear."

Holes in the walls resulting from renters hanging pictures and the like are usually considered normal wear and tear by the courts. The "big" one in the living room you allude to probably is not.

Since you say it was the plumber, as an independent "expert," who ascertained that the drain stoppage resulted from grease, you should be safe in deducting the charge to unclog the drain.

The broken gate lock and the garage break-in and any damages related to it, are not, obviously, considered normal wear and tear. However, unless the renter admitted breaking the lock or breaking into the garage, you would be hard-pressed to prove in Small Claims Court that he is culpable.

You may sue this renter in Small Claims Court for any damages that exceed his security deposit, from which you may deduct money for the cleaning, damages and unpaid rent, if there was any.

Tenant Without Bank Account Prefers Cash

Q: I live in Arroyo Grande, near San Luis Obispo, and I have a problem. My lease says I must pay my rent by check or money order. I don't have a bank account, and getting money orders is very inconvenient and costly. Here's my question: Can I be evicted because I prefer to pay the rent in cash?

A: Absent an agreement to the contrary, an owner may demand to be paid his rent in cash if he gives a renter some extra time to get it. There is no rule/law that says you cannot enter into an agreement, as you say you have done, to pay the rent in a form other than cash. I'd keep paying the rent by money order.

Landlady Wants to Rent Month-to-Month

Q: My husband and I moved into our one-bedroom Glendora apartment about a year ago. We signed a one-year lease. Now our landlady wants to turn our lease into a month-to-month rental agreement. She says that if we don't sign the new agreement, she will evict us. Can she do that?

If we sign the agreement, is there a chance that she could still evict us? She just raised the rent by $25 a month, and we're afraid that she'll continue to do so with this new month-to-month arrangement and no rent control in the city.

A: The landlady can require you to move out with a 30-day notice at any time now that the lease has expired. She doesn't need a reason in Glendora, such as, "they didn't sign the new agreement," to do so.

Don't be overly concerned with the $25 rent increase as annual rent increases are fairly common within the industry. If your landlady really wanted you to move out, she probably would not have offered you a month-to-month rental agreement.

Postema is editor of Apartment Age Magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to "Rentformation," Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90005-3995.

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