Rent-control rules vary city by city

From Project Sentinel

Question: I'm considering buying rental property. A friend told me to be aware that California has rent control and I would be limited in the amount of rent I charged. Is this true?

Answer: California has no statewide rent control law. But some local jurisdictions have enacted rent control ordinances that cover a variety of issues, from the amount of rent charged to how much notice is required to terminate a tenancy.

A partial list of California cities that have some type of ordinance includes Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Campbell, East Palo Alto, Fremont, Hayward, Los Angeles, Los Gatos, Oakland, Palm Springs, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and West Hollywood.

Contact your local housing program or department for more information about the specific regulations in the city in which you are thinking of buying rental property.

Request violates fair housing laws

Question: The owner of the apartment complex I manage says she does not want me to accept rental applications from anyone who is receiving financial assistance such as disability benefits. Is this OK?

Answer: It could be a violation of both the federal Fair Housing Act and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act if you deny applicants based on their income from disability benefits.

Both laws state that you cannot deny rental housing to someone because he or she has a disability.

So the fact that you turn someone away because you know that person is receiving disability benefits would support a discrimination lawsuit against you and the owner of the complex.

Other sources of income protected under the California act include retirement pay, Aid to Families With Dependent Children or CalWorks, alimony, child support, unemployment insurance, veteran's benefits, pensions and Social Security. However, a property owner is not required to accept a Section 8 voucher, so refusal to rent to an applicant seeking to use such a voucher is not illegal.

As a manager, you are considered an agent of the owner and therefore can be held liable in discrimination suits. Unsuspecting owners also can be held responsible for the actions of their managers or agents. It is always a good idea to contact a local housing agency to discuss a questionable policy before implementing it.

Ways to resolve co-tenant's deposit

Question: My roommate moved out without giving notice to either the manager or me. She now wants her portion of the deposit returned. The manager said that since we both signed the rental agreement, she is a co-tenant and he is not going to return any portion of the deposit until I move. He said I have to settle the deposit with her, or else she can make a deal with the new roommate. Is this correct?

Answer: Yes. In general, a security deposit is assigned to the rental property, not to individuals. If two or more tenants have signed the rental agreement, they are co-tenants and the deposit does not have to be settled until all the original co-tenants have moved.

There are several ways to resolve this matter. The new roommate could pay the outgoing tenant the deposit amount requested or agreed upon. Then you and the new roommate could agree, in writing, that the existing deposit will be settled when both of you move.

If the manager wishes, he could settle the original deposit between you and the outgoing tenant and sign a new agreement with you and the new roommate. However, the manager is not required to offer this option since you and the outgoing tenant are co-tenants. If the manager offers this option, you and your new roommate would be required to pay a new deposit, which would be settled when both of you move.

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 Southern California Housing Rights Center at (800) 477-5977.

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