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If It’s Garbage, It’s No Longer Private

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I live in Glendale and I have a problem with the managers of the apartment building in which I live.

I have caught the managers going through the apartment trash bins on several occasions, for what purpose I do not know. I don’t like the idea of people going through my trash.

With all of the stealing of Social Security and credit card numbers, this makes me very nervous. I also believe this trash picking may be an invasion of my privacy.

Is there any law protecting renters from nosy apartment managers? Is there anything I can do other than report them to their supervisor?

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ANSWER: There is no law, state or otherwise, prohibiting these managers access to refuse in the public trash bins at your apartment building. If the trash were inside of your apartment, it would be a different story.

Also, many municipalities now have recycling programs for glass, aluminum and newspaper. If that’s the case in Glendale, your managers may merely be trying to do their civic duty, rather than snooping.

The best approach might just be to ask the managers why they are going through the trash. If they have a good reason for doing so, you might feel a little bit better knowing what it is. If they are snooping, maybe confronting them will get them to stop.

Certificate Required for Luxury Exemption

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Q: I own a townhouse in Reseda that I had always assumed to be free from rent control until a disgruntled tenant wrote to the Rent Stabilization Division of the L.A. Housing Department. This townhouse should always have been in the luxury exemption slot with rents from $900 to $1,200 a month.

Unfortunately, I now have a registration number and have been assessed fees and penalties since 1981 because I never paid. I think that to get exempted I would have to pay it all and possibly get some back. How do you suggest that I get out of this quagmire?

A: You are required to have a certificate from the L.A. Housing Deptartment to quality for the luxury exemption for rent-controlled properties in the city of Los Angeles. It is very unlikely that anyone in the department will talk to you about an exemption until the fees and penalties are paid.

According to Anna Ortega, manager of the Rent Stabilization Program, “Apartment owners can still qualify for luxury exemptions. The problem is that they have to have documentation of the rent levels from May 31, 1978. Those levels were $302 for a single, $420 for a one-bedroom, $588 for a two-bedroom, $756 for a three-bedroom or $823 for four or more bedrooms.

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“If a unit wasn’t rented on that particular date, there are regulations for finding comparable rents. Also, currently the Rent Adjustment Commission is considering revising the provisions of luxury exemptions to update them to a more recent date, adjusted for inflation.”

For more information about registration, you can call the rent board’s rental registration line at (213) 847-7490.

Mugging Victim May Have Some Recourse

Q: Last July my 8-year-old daughter and I were attacked in the parking structure at the Hawthorne apartment building where we live. The automatic gate leading to the parking structure had not been operating for about two months before the incident.

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The assailant struck my daughter and me, and we needed several stitches after the attack. He also stole my purse.

At the time of the attack, we had an on-site manager, and I know that the landlord also knew about the gate because he parked in the structure when visiting the building.

I have contacted two lawyers who both told me how difficult it is to prosecute landlords in these cases because new laws that protect them. I would like to know if you think I have a case, because I still would like to sue the landlord for negligence for not fixing the gate. What do you think?

A: The lawyers know a lot more about landlord liability than I do. If they tell you there’s no case, there probably isn’t.

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Nevertheless, try to find out from the lawyers why they don’t think there’s a case. I know that courts often don’t hold landlords liable for incidents committed in security-type locations unless the landlords promised them security in their advertising or rental contracts.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt to ask a couple of other lawyers about the situation. Even if they also tell you there’s no case, you still may sue the owner for up to $5,000 in Small Claims Court. The rules of evidence there are far more relaxed than in a formal courtroom setting.

Cleaning Fee Can Grow, and It’s Legal

Q: When I moved from the senior complex in which I was living in Santa Clarita, I was charged $45 for carpet cleaning, painting and changing of locks. I never heard of such a thing. What do you think?

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A: Under California law, landlords can charge vacating tenants for the actual costs of cleaning, unpaid rent and damages, which includes things like lost keys or remotes.

Based upon the total amount of the charges, $45, it seems as if they were pretty reasonable with you.

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners’ service group, and manager of public affairs for the California Apartment Law Information Foundation, which disseminates information about landlord-tenant law to renters and owners in the State of California. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.


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