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On-Site Managers Aren’t Always Required

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I live in a 14-unit apartment building in North Hollywood. For about 1 1/2 years I was being paid to assist the management with such things as changing light bulbs and keeping an eye on the laundry room. They paid me hourly rather than bringing in an on-site manager.

Now, the building has been sold. The new owners released me and will not bring in an on-site or assistant manager. They have been completely ignoring my requests to change light bulbs, and several stairways are dark. I have offered to assist three times but they say it isn’t in the budget. Is it legal not to have an on-site manager?

Answer: It is legal for them not to have an on-site manager at your building. California Code of Regulations, Title 25, section 42, requires property owners of apartment buildings with 16 or more units to have on-site resident managers living on their properties. There is no such requirement for apartment buildings with less than 16 units.

If the new owners say your services are not in the budget, there is not much that you can do about it.

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The real problem here is the dark stairways. The new owners must be in the dark about landlord liability if they are knowingly leaving stairways dark for extended periods of time. If someone slips and falls, or worse, gets mugged in one of them, the owners are facing major liability for having knowledge of a potential danger and not doing anything to correct it.

You might make the new owners aware of their potential liability and at least persuade them to pay you to change light bulbs for your safety and theirs.

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Use of Security Deposit Isn’t Renter’s ‘Right’

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Q: I am moving out of my Los Angeles apartment and need clarification of my right to use the deposit to pay the last month’s rent. My deposit is equal to the amount of the rent. I want to tell the landlord to apply the deposit to the last month’s rent so that I do not have to send another rent check and can use that cash toward the deposit on my next apartment.

Because she would normally deduct cleaning fees from the deposit, I probably would end up owning her money. If my approach is legal, could she report something negative on my credit report if I wound up owing her money and paid her within a couple of days of the receipt of her bill?

A: You do not necessarily have the “right” to use security deposit money to pay the last month’s rent on your apartment. You may do so only if the lease or rental agreement authorizes you to do so. As for your credit report, although the landlord technically could report you for paying the amount late, it is unlikely she would unless you wound up owing her money and did not pay in a timely fashion.

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L.A. Landlord Can’t Raise Rent Beyond 3% a Year

Q: I’m an apartment owner in Los Angeles. Seven years ago, I rented an apartment in a single-family home in L.A. for $450--$50 less than the $500 rent I was getting at the time--to help out an acquaintance. I never raised the rent, but now I want to raise it to $475 or back to the original $500.

I know the current rent-control increase allowed is 3% in Los Angeles. Can I make the rent higher than that rate on the grounds that I never raised the rent in seven years?

A: No. When you pass up a rent increase under the L.A. rent-control law for one year, or 20 years, it is gone forever. Also forbidden under the law is the ability to rent-bank (decrease the rent from $500 to $450 today and then go back up to the $500 rate with a 30-day notice at some later time).

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You are correct that 3%, or $13.50, is the maximum rent increase allowed under the law. Therefore, you can increase the rent only up to $463.50 with a 30-day notice.

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Swimming Pool Fixes Aren’t Mandated by Law

Q: I live in a single-family home in L.A. Does the swimming pool fall under the warranty of habitability? In other words, is the landlord responsible for any repair costs to the swimming pool the same as any other item in the house?

A: Swimming pools are not covered by California’s habitability law. It does cover some waterproofing: “Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.”

The habitability law (Civil Code section 1941.1) also covers plumbing and gas fixtures; heating facilities; electrical; trash, rubbish, rodents and vermin; and floors, railings and stairways.

You also ask if the landlord is responsible for “any repair costs to the swimming pool the same as any other item in the house?” If you believe that the landlord is always responsible for all repair costs, regardless of the cause of damages, you are misinformed.

The landlord may be responsible for getting habitability and other problems fixed, but if the cause of damage is negligence or misuse on the part of a tenant, the tenant is responsible for the repair costs.

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Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners’ service group. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.


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