Court Upheld Renter's Right to Pay in Cash

Postema is editor of Apartment Age Magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group

QUESTION: Your Oct. 22 "Apartment Life" column answered a question from an Arroyo Grande tenant with no bank account. His landlord refused to accept cash for rent payment.

Several years ago I had a similar conflict. I worked nights and was paid weekly. The rental office was closing and banks had been closed for hours. The first of the month was a Monday and a holiday. I had to pay cash or get stuck with a $50 late charge (the following Tuesday), when banks opened.

The rental agent maintained that the complex's insurance policy wouldn't allow him to accept cash. I pointed out the language in the corner of every U.S. bill . . . "legal tender for all debts." I won in Small Claims Court. What do you think about that?

ANSWER: I think that you and the rental agent wasted a lot of time and effort needlessly in Small Claims Court. If Monday was the first and a holiday, the rent wasn't due until Tuesday. The rental agent should have known that. (When rent in California is due on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, it automatically becomes due on the next business day.)

I don't know whether the judge found for you for that reason or because of the language you refer to, which is printed on all U.S. currency and would seem to support your theory.

In fact, yours was the argument I used when discussing the issue with our general counsel, Trevor A. Grimm. His experience in Municipal Court was different than yours in Small Claims Court.

If a rental agreement calls for a particular method of payment, the contract generally prevails.

Security Deposit Does Not Earn Interest

Q: First, could you tell me if the security deposit for my Los Angeles apartment is supposed to be earning interest?

Second, when I move out, is my security deposit supposed to be applied to apartment repairs and cleaning even though I clean and make all the needed minor repairs myself?

I heard that the tenant is only responsible to pay for damages over and above "normal wear and tear" and for cleaning costs if the apartment is left unclean. Is this true? If so, how much should the landlord refund?

A: Your deposit does not earn interest for you in the city of Los Angeles. Very few California cities require apartment owners to pay interest on security deposits. West Hollywood is the only Southern California city I am aware of with such a requirement.

In California, security deposits may be used to pay for three types of expenses: unpaid rent, cleaning (if the unit was clean at move-in and isn't at move-out time), and for damages over and above "normal wear and tear," as you said. (Lost keys, garage door openers and the like are considered damages by the courts.)

If the rent is all paid up, you leave the unit clean and fix any damages that exceed normal wear and tear, the landlord should refund the entire security deposit.

Can Fired Employee Get Relocation Pay?

Q: I work for the landlord of my Laguna Hills apartment in Orange County. My job contract says that if I am terminated for any reason, I have to vacate the apartment. I was injured here on the job and will soon be having knee surgery. I am also being treated for a herniated disk, and, as you might suspect, I am on sick leave.

But now, I've been fired and the management company is trying to evict me. Am I entitled to any relocation money, and is there any kind of rent control in Laguna Hills?

A: There is no rent control in Laguna Hills, an unincorporated area of Orange County. There are, however, a number of apartment properties built there in cooperation with the county Housing Community Development Program Office (HCDPO). Many of these require owners who break their leases to pay relocation monies to renters. The amount of the assistance, if any, varies and is tied to the renter's moving expenses.

From what you're telling me, it doesn't appear that either of you is breaking the lease, which means you are not entitled to relocation money in this instance. To find out whether or not your building is partially or all county funded, and whether or not any kind of relocation fee may apply to it, call the HCDPO at (714) 568-4190.

Not Much Recourse for Noisy Neighbors

Q: I have lived in the same Brentwood apartment for the last 12 years. We are under L.A. city's rent control regulations. Beginning this past year, we are aware of the upstairs tenants' every move. Now, any movement up there causes my apartment to vibrate and it feels as if the ceiling is coming down on me. I believe that prior to these tenants moving in, new carpet must have been laid over minimal padding. Do I have any recourse?

A: It doesn't matter whether or not the landlord had "minimal" padding installed if, in fact, he did. There are no state or local remedies for such an occurrence.

It's more likely that you simply have noisy new neighbors. I would talk to the new neighbors and ask them to hold it down a little. If they are uncooperative, there is little you or the landlord can do. While rent control holds your rent down, it also protects your noisy neighbors from eviction. Because of the law's "just-cause" eviction provisions, it is virtually impossible for a landlord to evict a noisy tenant.

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