QUESTION: In managing a small apartment complex, I use my personal phone for business purposes. People have been calling me at all hours without a valid reason.
To protect my private life, I set my phone so that it would not accept calls from any telephone with a blocked caller ID. Tenants can call me, and if I recognize their name I will answer. However, if the caller is not identified, my phone will not accept the call.
Tenants with their number blocked can either come to my apartment or temporarily unblock their number by entering a special code. One of my tenants is very upset and insists that I do not have the right to screen my calls. I believe that I do. What do you think?
ANSWER: Although you have the right to screen your personal calls, your duties as a manager require that you be available and responsive to your tenants when needed.
Caller ID has divided people into two categories: those who like it and those who hate it. This feature, which is relatively new in California, gives telephone subscribers the option to accept calls only from people who identify themselves by having their phone number and name automatically displayed on the receivers' caller ID screen. The phone company allows subscribers the option of blocking their number and name from display.
In general, these features are better suited for private phones. As a manager, you must make yourself accessible to your tenants without creating barriers. To maintain good relations with your tenants, communication is paramount.
Also, tenants must be able to reach you in an emergency, without having to search through the phone directory to find the unblocking code (*82, for those interested). Also, if tenants have unlisted numbers, you should encourage them to trust you and to release the number to you freely, instead of having them forced to reveal it by your phone system.
An alternative is to install voice mail or an answering machine instead of call blocking, and engage it when you don't want to be disturbed. This way, you could still be responsive to your tenants' needs, and you would be able to maintain your peace and quiet when you need it.
Former Tenant Can Challenge Charges
Q: I vacated my apartment recently and just received a check for a portion of my security deposit with an itemized list describing the deductions. I feel that some of the charges are legitimate, but I was charged $125 for cleaning the drapes. When I moved in six months ago, I was told that these drapes had just been cleaned. I live alone, do not smoke and don't see why it was necessary to clean the drapes again.
When I contacted the resident manager, she said, "We always charge for drapes as well as for carpet cleaning. If you'd only been there a week, we would still have charged. It's our policy."
Do you think I should be charged for cleaning the drapes?
A: Landlords may charge for cleaning draperies and carpets and for painting, if necessary. Fixed charges are a violation of California Civil Code 1950.5, which requires that the full deposit be considered refundable. A security deposit can be used for unpaid rent, to repair damage done by the tenant to the property, and to clean the premises, if necessary, when the tenancy ends.
In your case, you can contact the manager or the owner, and point out that you feel entitled to be reimbursed for the drapery-cleaning charge and that you are aware that charges can't be assessed at the beginning of a tenancy. If you are unsuccessful, you can go to Small Claims Court, or better yet, contact your local housing mediation service for assistance.
30-Day Notice May Have Expired
Q: Three months ago, I received a 30-day notice to move out. I continued to pay my rent each month, but my landlord now says I must move. I've been unable to find a place I can afford since I'm a senior citizen and live on a fixed income. What can I do?
A: You have two issues. The first issue concerns payment of your rent. Since your landlord has accepted rent past the end of the original 30-day notice to move, that notice is probably now invalid. If your landlord still wants you to move, he or she must give you a new 30-Day Notice of Termination of Tenancy.
The second issue concerns your inability to move. If you know you will be unable to move if a new 30-day notice is issued, you should talk with your landlord now about continuing your tenancy. Perhaps there are some issues or concerns your landlord has that can be resolved by the two of you--or with the assistance of your local mediation program.
If your landlord still insists on your moving, you should find out which complexes in your area provide affordable housing. If there are no immediate vacancies, inquire about putting your name on as many waiting lists as possible.
Your next step is to try to persuade your landlord to allow you to stay until another unit becomes available. You may also want to consider shared housing as a temporary solution. Contact your local community center, senior center or HUD counseling agency for assistance in locating low-income housing.
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 or the Fair Housing Institute 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
Pasadena: (626) 791-0211
Redondo Beach: (888) 777-4087
San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185
Westside Los Angeles: (310) 477-9260
Orange County: (714) 569-0828
San Bernardino County: (909) 884-8056
San Diego County: (619) 699-5888
Ventura County: (805) 385-7288