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Don’t Suffer in Silence When Bothered by Noise Problem

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I have a problem with a very noisy neighbor. The local police department recently informed me that I should not be calling them until I have taken certain other steps. Namely, I should first speak to the neighbor; if that doesn’t work, then talk to the landlord; and, as the last resort, call the police. What are your thoughts on this advice?

Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

I would agree with the police advice. Communication at the early stages of any problem is important, particularly sensitive issues such as excessive noise.

I recommend that the first time the noise becomes a concern, you should contact the neighbors directly and speak with them politely.

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It is possible that your neighbors are not aware of their disturbing behavior and that they will agree to certain time parameters or (if music is the culprit) to an acceptable volume level.

The common response when confronted with a noisy neighbor is to ignore the problem the first few times, hoping it will stop. But if it continues, you may become angry and bang on the wall or take some other harsh action. At this point, your frustration makes it less likely that you will resolve the matter without escalation.

If the noise continues, you should immediately notify the on-site manager or owner of your property and make a written complaint. The on-site manager or owner may be able to resolve the issue or mediate by asking for a meeting with all parties to reach an understanding.

Sometimes we are tempted to complain anonymously, but written documentation is important if legal action is required.

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Also, several cities throughout Southern California have special noise abatement departments, which will investigate complaints. Should the noise-abatement investigator or your local law enforcement make a report or file an official complaint against your neighbor, this independent documentation can be helpful to the owner or manager.

Such documentation is critical in the event that you seek legal action against the neighbor. If the noise continues, you may have to consider terminating your lease, based on a breach of the “quiet enjoyment” clause contained in most leases.

Attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:

From a legal standpoint, noise problems between neighbors can be very troublesome. Calling the police was a responsible thing to do, but without your taking proper steps first, the police are put in a difficult position when the noisy person simply denies making the noise. It is then your word against his.

To best resolve the problem, be sure the noise level is enough to warrant legal action. One person’s loud noise may be another’s mellow music. Who is right and what do you do?

First, get an objective opinion from a witness as to the noise level. If independent witnesses share your feelings, take further action. As Griswold suggests, try to resolve the matter by simply contacting the people making the noise or meeting with them with the on-site manager or owner present. Many times the problem will end there.

But if it doesn’t, the next step is to document the problem. Make a log of occurrences by date and time. Send a letter to the noisy people asking for their cooperation. If you live in a common rental complex, the landlord may be responsible for acting to preserve quiet for all the residents.

If that fails, call the police and provide your record of attempts to resolve the matter, including your log, letter and witness name(s). Once this is presented to the officer, expect some speedy action on your behalf.

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Sale Raises Issue of Tenant Deposits

Q: I work for a public nonprofit organization that recently purchased an apartment complex that had been in receivership for a year until the lender foreclosed and sold the property to us. We were waiting for the receiver to finish the court-required final accounting in order to get the security deposits transferred to us.

Now the receiver tells us that the tenant security deposits were used to pay operating expenses. I thought that the tenant security deposits belonged to the tenants and that because we have assumed the tenants and their leases, the security deposits must be transferred to us as the new owners. Is this correct? If not, who oversees the receiver and prevents the receiver from disbursing the tenant security deposits?

Attorney Ted Smith replies:

This is a thorny problem, another one of those landlord-tenant issues that is not completely settled in California. In a voluntary sale of the rental property, the seller either returns the deposit to the tenant or transfers it to the buyer, with notice to the tenant. The buyer then assumes responsibility for the return of the deposit, subject to normal deductions.

Here, the receiver was ordered by the court to take control of the rental property, pending a foreclosure by the bank. In effect, the receiver steps into the shoes of the prior owner and becomes the landlord of the tenants.

Though it’s true that security deposit money can be held in the owner’s general account with other funds, there is a legal duty to return it upon termination of the tenancy. The receiver must account to the court for rents, deposits and disbursements.

Your case is different because it was not a voluntary sale. Instead, you bought the property at a foreclosure sale. The law states that the foreclosure sale wiped out the tenant leases and the buyer generally takes the property free and clear from all junior leases.

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Further, you, as the buyer at the foreclosure sale, never received transfer of the deposits from either the defaulting former owner or the receiver.

I think most courts would agree that a buyer at a foreclosure sale, unlike in a voluntary sale, does not have to recognize the former leases and is not responsible for return of the security deposits that he or she never received from the former owner or receiver.

Applicant Has Right to Financial Record

Q: Several weeks ago, my daughter applied to rent an apartment. She completed the rental application and paid a nonrefundable $25 fee for the credit report. She has checked with the on-site manager several times and is told only that the application was forwarded to the owner.

No one has called her references, place of employment or her current residence. The rental ad is still running and she has determined that the manager is still handing out applications for the same unit. She really wanted to rent this apartment, but she finally has given up and selected an apartment in a different building.

Our question now is: Can the manager-owner just keep taking applications and not do anything? Does she have recourse to get her money back?

Kellman replies:

There is a law regarding rental application screening procedures and fees. This law forbids charging an application screening fee unless there is a unit available or that the tenant is notified that one will be available in short order. The charges must be justified and currently cannot exceed $30.77 (after a recent inflation adjustment to the old limit of $30).

The tenant applicant has the right to receive an itemized receipt showing the breakdown of the use of that application fee. Your daughter can demand such a receipt to determine if the funds were actually spent on any credit or application screening. She is also entitled to a copy of any credit report generated in that application processing.

If that manager violated the law, she should demand the return of her money. Further, she may also have a valid claim for any damages she suffered waiting for the response that never came.

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This column is written by property manager Robert Griswold, host of “Real Estate Today!” (KSDO-AM [1130], 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.

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If you have a question, send it to Rental Roundtable, Real Estate section, L.A. Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Or you may e-mail them at rgriswold.latimes@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.


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