Disabled Renter Needs a Ramp
Question: My brother has become disabled and now uses a wheelchair. For the past year, we have carried him up and down the front steps of the single-family house we rent because there is no wheelchair ramp.
When we asked the property owner if we could add a ramp so my brother could enter and exit the house on his own, the owner refused our request. He told us to move if the arrangement was not satisfactory.
Is there an agency that assists with this type of issue?
Answer: Persons with disabilities are protected under state and federal fair housing laws, which provide that these individuals are entitled to “reasonable modifications.” A reasonable modification is a change in the physical structure that will allow for an individual to enjoy the dwelling unit.
A reasonable modification in a single-family dwelling is the responsibility of the tenant, not the property owner. There are agencies that provide funds for this type of modification so long as the modification does not violate any local ordinances or fire codes.
You should contact the fair housing agency in your area for assistance in requesting a ramp as a reasonable modification. If there is no fair housing agency, contact the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.
Marital Status Can’t Be Used to Reject Applicants
Q: My boyfriend and I recently applied for a rental house that is close to our jobs. When we submitted the application, we used our own last names.
The landlady said she only rented to individual applicants or married couples. She took the applications, but has not returned phone calls inquiring about the status of our application.
Is it legal for her to refuse to rent to us because we are living together but are not married?
A: No, even if the property owner has a religious objection to unmarried couples living together. When property owners determine who will be an acceptable tenant, their decision must be based on legitimate business reasons.
A few examples of legitimate reasons are credit checks, rental history and amount of income. Examples of impermissible business reasons are marital status, race or national origin, presence of children, age, religion, gender and disabilities.
Owners should utilize a tenant-screening process that only incorporates legitimate business reasons.
Landlord Uses Storage Promised to Tenant
Q: My landlord has been storing his personal belongings in the garage area promised to me two years ago. Should the landlord compensate me for not having use of this space?
A: If the promise was verbal, it is difficult to say whether you are entitled to be compensated for not having use of the garage area.
Even if use of this area was part of your month-to-month rental agreement, this arrangement could be changed at any time with a written 30-day change of terms notice. For a lease, these terms could not be changed until the lease expired.
You might want to talk with your landlord to try to resolve this matter. If this is not successful or you chose not to address the issue personally, contact your local mediation program for assistance. The mediation program can provide a neutral and skilled mediator to help both of you reach an acceptable solution.
Cancellation Period Is Not a Legal Mandate
Q: I rent out several townhouses I own. At a recent signing of a rental agreement, the new tenant said she had the right to cancel the agreement within 72 hours after signing. Is this true? Are tenants allowed time to change their mind after signing a rental agreement?
A: There is no legal requirement to provide a cancellation period unless you personally chose to offer this option.
A tenancy is established when a rental agreement is signed and money is paid. Once there is a signed rental agreement, unless there is a violation, the tenancy can only be ended with a 30-Day Notice of Termination of Tenancy from either party. For leases, a tenancy can only be ended at the expiration of the lease term.
Whether you voluntarily offer a 72-hour recision clause is up to you. Unless you are able to quickly re-rent the property after a new tenant cancels, offering this “escape clause” might not be a good business practice. It is unlikely that a prospective tenant would agree to give you 72 hours to cancel or rescind their tenancy after they signed a rental agreement and became tenants.
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:
Long Beach: (562) 901-0808.
Pasadena: (626) 791-0211.
San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185.
South-Central L.A.: (213) 295-3302.
Westside L.A.: (310) 474-1667.