Sliding Doors Excluded From Deadbolt Requirement

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I recently received a form from the property manager of my apartment complex asking me to verify that all my windows and swinging outside entry doors had locks. I returned the form and asked why sliding glass doors were not included, as they were also an outside entryway. I was informed that sliding glass doors had been excluded from the law along with a few other entryways.

Why were sliding glass doors excluded? It would appear that the intent of the law is to provide a safe and secure haven for renters. If sliding glass doors are not required to have locks, then it seems to defeat the purpose of the law.

Attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:

The law you refer to took effect on July 1, 1998. It requires a landlord to "install and maintain an operable deadbolt lock on each main swinging entry door of a dwelling unit" once the landlord is made aware of a door that lacks an appropriate deadbolt. The law specifically states that it "shall not apply to horizontal sliding doors," which, in many cases, are used as a front or rear entry door.

The law also does not apply to "louvered windows, casement windows and all windows more than 12 feet vertically or 6 feet horizontally from the ground, a roof or any other platform" and it does not require the installation of a door or gate where none existed on Jan. 1, 1998.

Clearly, many items excluded in the law should be modified to provide good security. This is especially true of sliding glass doors which, many times, are used as a front or rear entrance door. Though the spirit of this law may be to increase security, its true application to that end is limited.

Verbal Agreement to Sell Not Enough

Q: We have been renting a house for the last four years. Two years ago the owner approached us about buying the house. He asked us to wait one year, which we did. Well, last year after 6 months of being ignored, we finally got a selling price from him. Since he didn't want to use an agent, and the house is in "as in" condition, the sales price to us was very good.

After getting an offer letter together and making sure we could get a loan, we sent our offer letter, a copy of all house inspection reports and a copy of our mortgage approval to the owner as he instructed us. The owner does not return our calls. When we do track him down, he says he will approve and immediately return our agreement letter. He also indicates that he will come down and talk to us, but nothing. We are very frustrated. We asked if he wants more money for the house, but he says that he will honor his original sales price. Do we have any recourse to make him sell to us or at the very least go into escrow? All we have ever gotten from him is an oral agreement to sell to us.

Kellman replies: Under California Law, agreements for the sale of real property (or of an interest in real property) must be in writing to be valid.

Being deceived about buying the house and spending time and money preparing for the sale is unfortunate and frustrating. It does not, however, change the law about oral contracts.

Despite this, you may still have rights in the matter. You may be the victim of a fraud. This is where someone lies to you about an important fact causing you to rely on that lie and lose money.

Also, you may have a claim for the breach of a contract to make a contract. It is possible to have an oral agreement to make a written contract as long as the written one is to be signed within one year. But this may cause some problems since he asked you to wait a year. Thus, while you can not enforce an oral agreement to sell you the house, you may have a claim for breaking his agreement to make a contract that will sell the house.

While the claims for fraud and breach of contract (to make a contract) will not get you the house, they may get you reimbursed for your losses. For your next home purchase attempt, you should enlist the assistance of a real estate professional.

Attorney Ted Smith replies: Based on these facts, you are going to have a tough time convincing me that you have a legally binding contract to purchase the house. California law requires real estate sales contracts to be in writing.

The telephone calls and other verbal discussions between you and a landlord/owner won't be enough to force a sale of the house. Escrow will not recognize the verbal agreement.

You may want to sit down with the owner and hash out something in writing that would be legally binding.

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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, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Or you may e-mail them at rgriswold.latimes@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and to the point and cannot be answered individually.

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