Landlord Can Charge City Inspection Fee to the Tenant


Question: I and many other renters in Los Angeles would appreciate your clearing up the confusion over the Systematic Code Enforcement (inspection) Program that landlords claim allows them to charge tenants $12 a year for inspecting rental units for housing deficiencies.

Today the L.A. Housing Department (LAHD) told me that tenants do not have to pay this fee. The landlord says we do. Yet there are owners who are not charging their tenants.

Can you give me the legal basis for this charge? If there isn't any, what can tenants do about it?

Answer: If someone at the LAHD told you that tenants do not have to pay the $1 monthly fee, they are wrong. According to Bill Jones, Director of Enforcement for the LAHD:

"That is not our policy. In fact, it's out of our hands because the L.A. City Council voted to pass the fee through to tenants of rent-controlled properties.

"For owners of properties built after 1978, which are not under rent control, it's a business decision."

The legal basis for the charge is found in the L. A. Municipal Code, Ord. No. 172537, effective April 12, 1999. To be eligible to collect the fee, an owner must give a renter a 30-day notice and must have first paid the fee--to the city.

Parking Gates Needn't Be Remote-Controlled

Q: I rent an apartment in a 45-unit building in Pasadena. Recently, security gates were put up to protect our cars. Today, I found out they are manual and do not operate via remote control so we have to get out of our cars every time we come and go. What is the point?

Not only are these gates heavy and hard to move, they've now made me susceptible to crime (carjacking, assault, etc.). Do I have any recourse at all? Would a letter or phone call to the management do any good? Which carries more weight, a phone call or a letter?

A: I assume that the owners of the property put the gates up at the request of the tenants because there were problems, probably with some of your cars, in the parking area at the building.

Although there is no doubt that gates that feature remote controls are far more convenient, I'm not sure that there is any evidence proving that you are any safer if you use them instead of manually operated gates.

Even if they were proven safer, you could not legally compel the owners to put remotes on your gates.

But it never hurts to talk and write, without being antagonistic, to the owners about your concerns. While letters usually have more impact than phone calls, doing both may be best. I would call the resident manager first. Since the building has more than 16 units, state law requires it to have a resident manager.

You should be able to tell from this conversation whether there is any point in writing a letter. The manager probably would prefer an automatic gate, too, and letters from tenants, particularly those outlining potential safety problems, could be of value.

If the manager indicates that he or she already has talked to the owner about remote control mechanisms and there's no way the owner is going to put them in, there is no point in writing. The only answer may be to move somewhere where they have remote-controlled gates and where you will feel more secure.

Code Covers Heating, Not Air-Conditioning

Q: My West Los Angeles apartment is great except for one thing, the temperature. There appears to be little insulation in the walls and the longest wall of the apartment faces south, basically baking in the sun all day long.

I do what I can, keeping windows open and fans on, but the temperature has reached more than 100 degrees on a hot day, making it difficult to work (I work from home) or sleep.

The windows in the apartment are irregularly shaped and have no ledges inside or out, making it impossible to install an ordinary air-conditioner. I'm afraid that installing a custom air-conditioner would be prohibitively expensive, and the apartment manager told me when I moved in that if I wanted air-conditioning it was my responsibility.

The apartment also gets extremely cold in the winter. The gas heater in the living room doesn't reach the bedroom or bathroom, both of which have gotten down to the 50s. My question is, does California's habitability law cover temperature? If so, what is the range?

A: According to the California Code of Regulations, Title 25, Article 5, Section 34, heaters must produce a minimum heat of 70 degrees three feet above the floor in all habitable rooms in the apartment.

There are no requirements as to minimum or maximum air-conditioning temperatures, or for providing air-conditioning at all. However, a portable air-conditioner may solve your problem without requiring you to spend a fortune.


Apartment Renters' Survival Guide

A few years ago, the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles published "The Best of Apartment Life: How to Survive Apartment Living and Ownership," a 154-page compilation of columns printed in The Times over the previous few years.

It provides answers to many of the most frequently asked questions about apartment living, managing and ownership. The 23 chapters include "Nightmare on Elm Street: Tenant Screening," "Water, Water Everywhere: Rules for Pools" and "When the Party's Over: All About Moving Out."

The book is selling for only $6.50, including tax, postage and packaging. It previously sold for $12.75. Checks, payable to the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, should be sent to AAGLA, c/o Kevin Postema, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005. Allow two weeks for delivery.


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 California. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.

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