Question: The manager of our complex has just posted a sign by the laundry room that reads: "Bicycling or Skateboarding Is Prohibited by Children on Complex Grounds." Many children live in this complex and they play in the enclosed courtyard and on the lawn, or ride their bikes and skateboards around the outside of the complex. Can the manager limit the children's activities in this way?
Answer: By posting any sign that targets one group of people, in this case children, the landlord is subject to allegations of discrimination.
According to the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, children have the right to enjoy their dwellings the same as adults. By specifically prohibiting children from riding bicycles and skateboards, the landlord is saying it would be all right for adults to ride bicycles and skateboards. If this is the case, the landlord is clearly discriminating against children.
Contact your landlord to discuss the exact meaning of the sign. If the rule is that no one is to participate in these activities on the premises or grounds, the sign should read "Please Do Not Ride Bicycles or Skateboards on the Premises." This sign would address the landlord's legitimate concern about property damage or personal injury liability.
Deposits Can't Be Deemed Nonrefundable
Q: The rental agreement I use states if a month-to-month tenant does not stay for at least six months, their security deposit will not be returned.
It also has a clause that provides for deducting late fees if they are not paid during the tenancy. Several potential tenants have told me these clauses are wrong. Are they correct?
A: As to the security deposit clause, California Civil Code 1950.5 states that a deposit cannot be designated as "nonrefundable" regardless of the length of tenancy. This civil code says that deposit funds can be used for any past due rent, to repair damage (exclusive of ordinary wear and tear) caused by the tenant or their guests, for any necessary cleaning and for repair or replacement of property that existed in a furnished rental.
As to the question of late fees, the civil code does not state specifically that late fees can be deducted from a deposit.
Tenants Are Responsible for New Phone Jacks
Q: I rent a house to several college students. They have asked me to install additional telephone jacks for their computers and fax machines. Am I responsible for the cost of installing additional telephone jacks?
A: No, California Civil Code makes landlords responsible for the installation and maintenance of only one telephone jack per rental unit as well as maintenance of all outside and inside wiring (up to the telephone outlet) in rental property. Any additional telephone jacks are the financial responsibility of the tenant and subject to approval by the landlord.
Circumstances that would require a landlord to provide and maintain multiple telephone jacks would be if a homeowner rents out multiple rooms in their own home or separate rooms in a rental home to multiple tenants. In this case, a telephone jack would be required for each room.
Even in a single room rented to two roommates, only a single telephone jack is required. The civil code applies to the room rented, not the number of tenants.
Terms Can't Be Changed Until Lease Expires
Q: I recently received a phone call from my landlord stating that the terms and conditions of my tenancy were being changed. The landlord said that in 60 days from the date of his phone call, the complex would no longer allow pets and that I would need to remove my cat. I am on a one-year lease that does not expire for another six months. Do I have to get rid of my cat?
A: No, you do not have to remove your cat yet. Because you are in the middle of your lease, the landlord cannot change any terms and conditions of your tenancy. However, the landlord can change or implement new terms and conditions if you sign a new lease after the current one expires.
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, Fair Housing Institute or Fair Housing Foundation office in your area:
Bellflower: (562) 901-0808.
Carson: (888) 777-4087.
El Monte: (626) 579-6868.
Hawthorne: (310) 474-1667.
Lancaster: (888) 777-4087
Long Beach: (562) 901-0808
Pasadena: (626) 791-0211.
Redondo Beach: (888) 777-4087
San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185.
South-Central Los Angeles: (213) 295-3302.
Westside Los Angeles: (310) 474-1667.
Orange County: (714) 569-0828.
San Bernardino County: (909) 884-8056.
San Diego County: (619) 699-5888.
Ventura County: (805) 385-7288