What to Charge for Late Rent Payments

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; 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 own a duplex in Los Angeles and I have a question for Apartment Life. Lately, my renter has been delinquent with his rent payments.

Nothing I say about paying on time seems to work, so I've warned him that I may start charging him interest for each day that the rent is late. He agrees that is fair. Is it legal?

ANSWER: Charging interest on late rent payments is legal, however, the interest rate cannot exceed 10% per annum. What that means is if a $700 rent payment were unpaid for a whole year, you could charge $70, or about 20 cents a day. (Not much of a penalty.)

A better way to go is to charge a late rent payment fee, (not a penalty) if the rent is not paid on time, at a flat amount. Generally, the courts will accept a 6% fee, 6% of the unpaid rent, as being reasonable.

If you still want to key the fee to a daily formula, you may do so, but you should cap the fee at 6% of the monthly rent. For instance, on a $700 rent make the fee $7 a day up to six days.

How Can Renter Get Security Deposit Back?

Q: When I moved into my Los Angeles apartment in 1989, I paid first and last months' rent, plus a $425 security deposit. In August, 1992, the building went through foreclosure by the bank. It was sold in January, 1993, to the current owner. He says he never got my deposit money.

Now, I've moved out of the apartment. (My roommate is still there.) Is there any possibility of me getting my deposit back?

A: While your landlord may never have received your deposit, he may still be liable for it, as may the bank and the former owner.

In spite of that, he does not have to refund any deposit money until the tenancy is terminated, when your roommate moves out.

That assumes that she doesn't leave another roommate behind when she leaves. If she does, the tenancy continues and the deposit continues with it.

Your best bet is to try to get the deposit money from your former roommate.

Tenants' Rights on Maintenance Work

Q: I live in Hollywood and I'm having problems with the landlord's maintenance crews, which are doing repairs to the building in stages.

I would like to move out because it's not a very good neighborhood, but I can't afford to give up my HUD apartment, for which I pay $156 a month. Therefore, I have to try to deal with these problems.

First, on a good day the maintenance people leave you waiting all day long for them to show up. On a bad day they don't show up at all. Second, they often start working at 7 a.m. and work until 10 p.m.

What's the law on how much notice they must give you to enter your apartment to do work? They say it's 24-hour notice, but that's not enough time for me. Is 24 hours all the notice they must give?

Also, what are the laws about noise? Can they start work that early and work that late?

A: They are right when they say that they need only give 24 hours of their intent to enter the premises to make repairs. That's what the state law requires of them. However, it also requires that they make such repairs during "normal business hours."

That generally means Monday through Saturday, not on Sundays and holidays, and at reasonable times of the day. According to Los Angeles Police Department officer Venson Drake, L.A. Municipal Code 41.40 requires that construction work commence no earlier than 7 a.m. Monday-Friday and end by 9 p.m. On Saturdays the standard time is 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.

To register a complaint about noise, you may call the LAPD at (231) 893-8118.

Can New Owner Raise Existing Tenants' Rent?

Q: The Studio City triplex in which I live is being sold and I am wondering how the sale will affect me. Can the new owner raise my rent? Can he tear down the building to up a new, bigger one?

A: Assuming that the building is covered under the city of Los Angeles' rent control law, the owner can only raise rents as allowed by it. That is generally 3% under the existing law, unless he gets approval for extra increases, such as for making capital improvements to the building, from the city.

If the unit is not covered under the rent control law, he may raise rents to their market levels with 30-day notices of change of terms of tenancy.

As far as demolishing the building to construct a new one, he can do so, but if the building is rent controlled he must pay your relocation fees.

They are either $2,000, or $5,000 if you are a senior citizen, 62 or older; are handicapped; or have minor children, under 18 years of age, living with you as tenants.

If the property is not rent controlled, he may require you to move with a 30-day notice and he need not pay relocation fees for your move.

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