Question: I have lived in an apartment for several months with no problems. Recently, the manager passed out "Tenant Rules," which delineate 22 items, many of them very harsh. I am totally shocked by these new rules, as many are very different from the rental agreement I originally signed. They are demanding that I sign them, including my initials at each of the 22 items. I am devastated and do not want to move. Can they do this?
Property manager Robert Griswold replies:
Yes, the owner or manager has the right to change the house rules or guidelines upon proper legal notice. A properly delivered legal notice changing the terms of your agreement would take effect at either the expiration of your current lease should you continue to live there or after 30 days if you have a month-to-month rental agreement.
Naturally, you should carefully review each "new rule" and make sure that it does not violate any law or discriminate against a protected class.
For example, a rule indicating that "children may not ride bicycles on the property" would be improper. However, a rule stating "no one may ride bicycles on the property" would be enforceable.
Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords, replies:
You are going to have to make a decision. Either play by the rules of your tenancy or vacate the premises. The landlord has the right to modify the terms of a lease or rental agreement, if proper legal notice is given.
While you may think the 22 new rules are harsh, assuming the rules neither discriminate nor violate public policy, they are legal.
They become a binding part of your agreement if proper notice is given, and you will be obligated to comply as long as you live there.
Limits to Landlord Entering Apartment
Q: I am an on-site manager at a large apartment building. My new owner wants to include new language in the rental agreement that gives us the right to enter each apartment two times per year to inspect the smoke detector, check for leaky faucets and other items needing repair.
Currently, we use a written maintenance request system in which the tenant gives us permission to enter when they are not home. This has worked very well. Some of the tenants have heard about the proposed system of biannual inspections and are so concerned that they claim they will move. Can the new owner do this?
Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center in San Diego, replies:
The law allows the landlord the right to enter the premises under certain conditions and situations and with due notice to the tenant.
For example, entry is permitted to make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, improvements or alterations. The unit may be shown to new tenant applicants or to agents of mortgage banks.
The law specifies many reasons to enter, including in case of an emergency. However, the one ground not mentioned as an acceptable reason for entry is to make an inspection.
Be aware, however, that if the landlord cannot make inspections, the tenant must be sure to report all problems before they cause any property damage or risk having some liability.
The best solution is to have a compromise that allows some limited inspections while still respecting the tenant's right of privacy.
Warn Tenant of Lawsuit if Move Isn't Timely
Q: My rental home has been for sale for more than a year. It is rented and the tenant has received a rent discount for allowing me to show the home and for the fact that they will have to move on a 30-day notice when it sells.
I have now sold the home and have given my tenant the required 30-day notice in writing. My tenant has informed me that he cannot move until one week after the escrow is due to close.
My buyer insists that they will cancel the sale if the unit is not vacant since they must immediately move in the day escrow closes, which is in about two weeks.
I know that I have legal remedies, but an unlawful detainer action will take at least three to four weeks, and I will lose my sale. What can I do? If I lose the sale, do I have any recourse against my tenant?
Here the tenant was very fortunate to have had a rent discount to accommodate the inconvenience of showing the house and having to move on a 30-day notice. Many tenants are put through this inconvenience with no such rent discount.
The last thing the tenant should do is to create a problem by refusing to move within the 30 days. Such an act could harm or even "blow" the sale altogether. This may make the tenant liable to the landlord for all damages caused by the lost sale.
Further, a lesson would be taught to landlords that it does not pay to try and be fair and accommodating to tenants when marketing properties. This is a lesson that should never be taught since mutual respect and cooperation will serve to benefit both landlord and tenant.
Your tenant needs to understand that he will have a legal problem if he does not honor the 30-day notice. An unlawful detainer can be filed, but it won't be finished until after the close of escrow--which could be too late.
You might try to get an immediate restraining order from the court authorizing the tenant's removal from the property based on the extenuating circumstances of the escrow. The court might be inclined to order him out immediately without doing the formal unlawful detainer, based on the facts of this case.
Let the tenant know that if he causes the loss of the sale, he will be on the receiving end of a lawsuit that will result in substantial damages against him.
This column is written by property manager Robert Griswold, host of "Real Estate Today!" (KSDO-AM , 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays), and attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords. For questions write to Rental Roundtable, Real Estate section, L.A. Times, Times Mirror Square, L.A., CA 90053. Or you may e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions cannot be answered individually.