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Owner Seeks Information, Finds Brick Wall

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I own a rental condominium and have a great tenant. Unfortunately, a neighbor who is conducting a business out of his unit is disturbing my renter.

I have verified my tenant’s allegations but have been unable to find out who are the owners and/or renters of the unit in question.

My association bylaws confirm my rights of access to information, as do the civil code sections under the Davis-Sterling Act.

However, the management company refuses to divulge the name of either the owner or the tenant unless the board approves, and the board refuses to release any documents for review other than the basic invoices for association operating expenses.

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It claims that all other documents are exempt based upon attorney-client privilege.

Is the management agent for my homeowners association required to release these records to me even though the board won’t authorize their release?

Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

The association management company is the agent for the board of directors and may find that it is in a very uncomfortable position based on the facts you present.

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You definitely have certain rights of access to records, which are subject to certain limitations. Under California Civil Code 1363 and the state Corporations Code (Sections 8330-8338), all members have the right to inspect records of the association upon reasonable notice during normal business hours as long as the request is for a purpose reasonably related to such person’s interests as a member.

The code does provide for clarification regarding which records are required to be kept, as well as uses that may be prohibited, especially involving membership names or address lists.

Assuming that your request meets these requirements, you could suggest that the board contact its legal counsel to clarify its rights and responsibilities concerning your request.

If the board still is unwilling to cooperate, then you may need to seek your own legal counsel.

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Another avenue is to check ownership records on file with the county recorder. However, in many cases, ownership records will not reveal the identity of the actual occupant if, for example, the unit is being occupied by a son or daughter of the owner.

Records kept by the association tend to be more reliable in terms of your being able to make contact with the responsible parties. And if the unit is being rented, the homeowners association should know who the renters are.

Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants’ Legal Center, replies:

Certain association records must be made available to condo owners. The bylaws usually will set forth the procedure for access to these records.

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It is very suspicious that the records you seek are being concealed behind the excuse of “attorney-client privilege.” This privilege protects communications, including writings, between an attorney and his or her client.

Routine association and accounting records should not fall into this category unless there is some ongoing litigation with the condo association (not uncommon these days).

It is certainly unfair and improper to have an attorney suggest that these records may be cloaked from view by those entitled to see them.

If the bylaws do not have a procedure to resolve your dilemma, the courts certainly may oblige you.

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Smoker Can Remain if Lease Isn’t Specific

Q: I rented an apartment through a rental locator service and moved into an upstairs unit right above the owner.

I am a light smoker. Recently, I notified the owner of a maintenance problem, and when she came to fix it, she noticed a cigarette butt in the ashtray and was very upset.

She said that she had a strict no-smoking policy and if I didn’t comply, I would have to move. Neither the rental agent nor the owner, who had first shown me the unit, ever told me about the no-smoking policy, and there is no reference to smoking whatsoever in the lease.

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Though I have been considerate and voluntarily restrict my cigarettes to two per day next to an open window, I am concerned that I may be evicted. Can she evict me or must she wait until my 12-month lease expires?

Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

The owner cannot evict you during the 12-month lease unless the no-smoking policy is a term of the lease. Since the lease does not contain such a clause, the landlord must wait until the lease expires.

Since it is unlikely that you will be able to stay in the long run unless you quit smoking, you may be able to get your landlord to return your full deposit and even provide funds to cover some of the costs of your move.

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Owner, Tenant at Odds Over Leak Damage

Q: The homeowners association installed a new roof on a rental condominium we own. It then sprang a leak. We immediately called the property managers to have it repaired.

As luck would have it, more storms came and it took several repairs to fix.

The tenants were told where the repairs stood and were advised to move their dresser, which had suffered minor damage after the leak was noticed.

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They waited a few weeks before notifying us, however. Now, they have requested that we replace the dresser because of the damage. We offered to have the repairs done by a professional carpenter. That offer was rejected. We feel responsible for a portion of the damage but not all of it. If the tenant takes this matter to Small Claims Court, what factors may the court consider?

Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

There are several factors for the courts to consider, including the tenant’s obligation to notify you immediately to mitigate their damages.

In this case, you were not notified for a few weeks after the initial leak. Your situation is further complicated because your rental is in an association.

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Generally, the roof is a common area that is subject to the control of the homeowners association and the owner has no ability or legal standing to make any repairs directly and must go through the property manager or board of directors. So, it is not unusual for a reasonable delay before repairs are made in this type of scenario.

An additional consideration is if the leak occurred during heavy winter rains, when it is virtually impossible to receive even a return phone call from many roofing contractors.

Your tenant should make a claim under a renter’s insurance policy.

It sounds like you would like to amicably resolve this situation, so you should contact the tenant as soon as possible and seek agreement on a fair amount to reimburse them for their damages.

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You may also consider contacting your association property manager to see if they can seek reimbursement for the damage from the roofing contractor.

Depending on the source of the leak, and because of the failed efforts to fix it, the roofing contractor may offer to cover a portion or all of the reimbursement made to your tenants.

This column is written by property manager Robert Griswold, host of “Real Estate Today!” (KOGO-AM [600], 1 p.m. Saturdays), and attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants’ Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

If you have a question, write to Rental Roundtable, Real Estate section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Or you may e-mail them at griswold@cts.com.

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Questions cannot be answered individually.


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