Landlord Raises Deposit When He Raises Rent

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

QUESTION: I live in a rent-controlled apartment in Los Angeles. I am puzzled about what some landlords do when they increase rents annually. My landlord not only raises the rent, but he also increases the first month's rent and security deposit at the same time. Many other landlords don't raise the deposits when they raise rents.

My landlord says he has to update the deposit and last month's rent. Why? Does the wording on the lease make a difference? Also, I've lived in my apartment for seven years and have never received any interest on my security deposit. When did that start, and when can I expect a refund?

ANSWER: The Los Angeles rent control law has always allowed landlords to annually raise their security deposits and last months' rents at the same time, and by the same percentage, that they raise the monthly rents.

"The wording in the lease" could make a difference, but probably not, since the rent law superseded rental agreements and leases when it allowed deposits and last months' rents to increase.

The new law (it was just passed recently) requiring landlords to pay interest on security deposits and last months' rents requires them to pay interest on such deposits to tenants every five years. Tenants must live in their units for at least one year to be eligible for any interest payment.

Since the law is not retroactive, you won't get any interest money for about five years from now or when you vacate the premises. Similarly, your deposit is not refundable until you move out of your apartment.

Landlord Isn't Fixing Two Leaky Faucets

Q: In my Los Angeles apartment, I have two leaky faucets; one that is hot water. It is not a drip but a steady stream of water.

I told the landlord about the leaks four days ago and he said he would get back to me. I haven't seen him since. Is it my responsibility to fix the leaks or is it his? How long does he have to fix them? If he won't fix them, who can I contact?

A: Generally, it is the landlord's responsibility to maintain the plumbing (including fixing the leaks) in residential rentals. That's probably the case here. Traditionally, 30 days is presumed to be a reasonable amount of time for a landlord to take care of routine problems, like yours may be.

For emergencies, the definition of which is also gray, three days is usually considered reasonable. As always, you should make your complaint in writing to the landlord.

Also, the untimely repair of water leaks is a violation of Los Angeles' new water conservation law, for which your landlord may be cited. If your landlord doesn't fix the leak within a "reasonable" amount of time, you can contact Droughtbusters at the following numbers: 800-722-1122, 213-481-5800, or to report a violation 213-481-8870.

What Happens to Rent Under New Owners?

Q: The seven-unit North Hollywood apartment building that I have lived in for the past 10 years has recently changed hands. Do the new owners have to observe the rental scale that we have been living under, with increases of 4% a year, or can they increase the rents at their own discretion?

A: You don't say in your letter whether the building you live in is under rent control. If it is, the new owners must observe the rent increase limits imposed by the city's (Los Angeles) rent control law. The annual allowable rent increase for the past few years and at least until June 30, 1991, is 5%, at which time it may change.

If your new landlords are not under the provisions of the city's rent-control law, they may raise the rents at their discretion, however, with the large number of vacancies in the San Fernando Valley, it is unlikely that they can raise the rent much more than the previous landlord's 4% rent hikes.

Swimmer Would Like Pool Heated All Year

Q: I have lived in my Pacific Palisades apartment with an outdoor swimming pool for the past several years. Having become a recent swimming enthusiast, I would like to swim in our pool year-round. Unfortunately, the pool is traditionally turned off (not heated) sometime in November until the following spring. This effectively ends any swimming in the pool.

Can the owners of this complex be encouraged or compelled to keep the swimming pool open for tenants year-round? When I asked the question, I was told that "it was too expensive." What's the point of living in an apartment with a pool if one can't use it for half of the year?

A: Can the owners of your apartment complex be compelled to heat the pool year-round? No. Can they be encouraged to do so? Yes. But the solution to your problem seems to be, as it often is, a monetary one.

If there are a few other swimming enthusiasts in the building, perhaps you can all pool your resources and pay the extra money required to heat the pool during the six months that the owners are unwilling to pay for it. Depending on the number of participants in such a program, and the size of the pool, that may be one solution.

A less expensive solution may be to buy a wet suit, assuming the pool is kept full and clean year-round.

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