QUESTION: I manage a 32-unit complex. Lately, a few of my tenants do not seem willing to accept my authority. I am in a difficult position, because I live on the premises with my family, and my children play with these tenants' children, and our wives have become friends. However, I am the manager, and I must do my job. What do you suggest?
ANSWER: As a manager, you are responsible for property that represents a significant investment to the owner and that also is the home for 32 families.
You have a dual responsibility: to manage the property effectively and to serve your customers, the tenants. It is important to remember that resident managers do not manage the residents but provide vital services to them.
Your job requires numerous skills. Perhaps the most important are people skills, which allow managers to maintain satisfied customers while making sure that laws, rental agreements and house rules are respected.
The residents should feel that your motivation is to provide them with decent, safe housing. It is important for a manager to listen to residents' complaints, even if they sometimes do not seem legitimate, and to communicate in a nonthreatening manner, letting the tenants know that they were heard and understood.
Most conflicts can be prevented by dealing with problems early, rather than letting them escalate. Proactive management requires interpersonal skills, which are taught in management courses.
A long-term solution may involve additional training for you. Ask the property owner to invest in your training, which could be done through courses in property management at your local community college or in special courses on communication techniques. You might also make a small investment in some self-help law guides, such as those published by Nolo Press.
If any of your tenants seem to have a problem, invite them to sit down with you to discuss the issue. Try to listen to your tenants carefully, without taking their comments personally; show them that you are willing to listen by using open body language; control your facial expressions when you hear complaints that may be critical of you; write down the issues and then evaluate how they can be resolved. Make sure you let your residents know that they are always welcome to bring their concerns to you.
If, at the beginning, the meetings with tenants seem difficult or awkward, you may request a mediation through your local housing mediation program. The mediator will help you and your tenants create an agenda to cover the relevant issues and will help you listen to each other and find solutions that are mutually acceptable.
Immediate Rent Hike Violates State Law
Q: All my tenants have month-to-month rental agreements that state that whenever a tenant has an overnight guest, the rent will increase immediately. I do this to discourage my tenants from moving in roommates without my approval. A new tenant disagrees with this clause and says it is not legal. What do you think?
A: Because the California Civil Code states that a tenant on a month-to-month basis must receive a 30-day notice of a rent increase, your clause is not enforceable.
Although you have a right to know who lives in your property, however, there is a difference between an overnight guest and a roommate. To protect yourself from a guest becoming a roommate, you can include a rental agreement clause that restricts overnight stays to a certain number of days in any six-month period.
If it becomes obvious that a guest has moved in furniture or personal belongings, you can serve your tenant a three-day notice to perform covenant or quit, which requests that your tenant either remove the unauthorized roommate or vacate the rental unit. If the unwanted roommate does not leave, you can proceed with legal action against your authorized tenant.
Sometimes, Individual Notice Is Necessary
Q: The new management company for my complex posts notices on a bulletin board inside the office. These notices cover such topics as new parking arrangements, reporting repairs and changes in the hours for the exercise room. I feel each tenant should get an individual 30-day change of terms notice, but the resident manager disagrees. What do you think?
A: If the notices are of general interest or apply to common house rules for all tenants, posting the notices in the office area may be acceptable.
For example, a notice that addresses changes to repair reporting procedures or hours for the exercise room could be considered of general interest.
Still, the management company may be creating a problem for itself if any of the changes lead to a tenant receiving a warning that could jeopardize tenancy.
By not issuing individual notices, the management company could have a difficult time proving that the tenant was properly notified if a problem or violation should occur.
The general posting of a change made to a material or significant clause in the rental agreement is not allowed. The changing of the date that rent is due, or of any other term or condition explicitly stated in a rental agreement, would be considered a change to a material rental agreement clause.
In this case, a tenant must receive an individual 30-day notice of change of terms of tenancy that describes the exact change.
Also, if the tenant has a fixed-term lease (rather than a month-to-month agreement), the management cannot change a term of that lease while it is in effect, even with a 30-day notice.
This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 1055 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Suite 3, Sunnyvale, CA 94087 but cannot be answered individually.
For housing discrimination questions, complaints or help, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Fair Housing Council, Fair Housing Institute or Fair Housing Foundation office in your area:
Bellflower: (888) 777-4087.
Carson: (888) 777-4087.
El Monte: (626) 579-6868.
Hawthorne: (888) 777-4087.
Lancaster: (888) 777-4087.
Long Beach: (562) 901-0808.
Pasadena: (626) 791-0211.
Redondo Beach: (888) 777-4087.
San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185.
South-Central Los Angeles: (213) 295-3302.
Westside Los Angeles: (310) 474-1667.
Orange County: (714) 569-0828.
San Bernardino County: (909) 884-8056.
San Diego County: (619) 699-5888.
Ventura County: (805) 385-7288.