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The new year puts new laws in place

Special to The Times

A number of new real estate laws, including more involving rentals than in years past, took effect Jan. 1. A few more of note will kick in this summer or next year.

The laws arm potential home buyers with information about airport noise, make homeownership easier for teachers and enable non-English-speaking renters to feel more confident about signing lease agreements.

Here is a sampling:

Homeowners

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* Airport noise disclosure (AB 2776): Requires disclosure to potential buyers that a property is affected by airport noise.

Sellers’ disclosure of airport noise was added to California’s Transfer Disclosure Statement last October in anticipation of the new law, according to Ann Pettijohn, president of the California Assn. of Realtors.

Outside experts preparing natural hazard disclosures during escrow must now disclose if a home is within an “airport influence area.” Reported by each county’s airport land-use commission, these are areas where airplane noise is at 65 decibels and above

“We don’t want someone to move into a home and in the middle of the night get awakened by the UPS plane flying overhead,” Pettijohn said. “This will help buyers make better-informed decisions.”

* Down payment assistance (AB 304): Authorizes the California Housing Finance Agency to double the amount of down payment assistance to 6% of the home price for low-income first-time buyers in programs such as Homeownership in Revitalization Areas.

“The 3% was not adequate in a high-cost area,” said Glenn Hayes, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Orange County. First-time buyers in the region needed more help just to keep up with rising housing costs, he said.

The increase also applies to the Extra Credit Teacher program, which provides down payment assistance to first-time buyer teachers, educational staff and administrators who work at poor-performing schools.

* Eminent domain (AB 1309): Allows local governments to use eminent domain to acquire property on which to build housing to replace homes destroyed for the construction of schools.

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Renters

* Foreign-language contracts (SB 146 and AB 309): Expanding on existing law that requires certain business contracts, including rental agreements, to be translated into Spanish, effective in July the law will include such other languages as Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Korean, unless the consumer provides a translator.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Valerie Small Navarro, of the American Civil Liberties Union. “If a business is negotiating a contract in another language, it behooves the business to provide the terms in that language to make sure the terms are absolutely clear.”

The law was spurred by the fact that non-English-speaking immigrants were being taken advantage of by unscrupulous business practices, according to Vivek Malhotra, a legislative advocate for Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality in Sacramento.

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Businesses will be required to pay for the document translations, which should not be too costly, according to Malhotra, as many forms are standard boilerplate and will require, at least initially, a one-time-only translation cost.

Contracts dealing with mortgages do not apply, however, because of their complexity.

“This will open a lot of doors for people in these communities who didn’t feel comfortable signing an apartment lease or for those that had to rely on others,” Malhotra said.

* Penalties for landlord’s menacing conduct (AB 1059): This law subjects a landlord to a $2,000 fine for threatening or extorting a tenant to vacate a rental house or apartment by using force, threats or other menacing conduct.

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According to Debra Carlton, of the California Apartment Assn., such behavior is already punishable criminally, but the new law added monetary damages as well. “This law should help tenants if they find themselves in this type of situation.”

* Water heater strapping (AB 1576): Existing law requires new, replacement and existing residential water heaters to be braced, anchored or strapped to resist falling during an earthquake.

The law states that penalties may be imposed against rental property owners who have not strapped water heaters in compliance with the 1996 state law. Rental property owners have 30 days from citation to correct the violation without penalty.

* Residential security deposits (SB 90 and AB 1384): Designed to reduce Small Claims Court action, this law requires landlords to provide copies of receipts for labor and materials for work deducted from a security deposit.

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* No move-out inspection required when owner serves tenant a three-day notice (AB 1384): Rental property owners do not have to provide notified evicted tenants a walk-through inspection at the end of the tenancy.

* Entry by landlord and access to unlawful detainer action documents (SB 345): Gives owners the right to enter an occupied unit to make repairs or other agreed-to services without a 24-hour written notice when the tenant has requested the repairs or services. Additionally, the law seals court records when a tenant prevails in an eviction case.

* Damages increased for slumlords (AB 647): Increases damages from a maximum $1,000 to $5,000 against slumlords who increase or demand rent from tenants when the property is declared substandard by an enforcement agency.

* Notification (SB 538): Requires a landlord of affordable housing to notify prospective tenants when federal or state agreements that subsidize rent are within a year of ending.

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Construction

* Construction to accommodate disabled people (SB 1025): Expands on the Fair Employment and Housing Act, requiring some accessibility for the disabled.

The law requires that any new development issued a construction permit after July 1, 2005, consisting of four or more two-story units, have 10% of those units with an accessible bathroom on the entry level and meet existing accessibility requirements.

* Housing for the disabled (AB 1400): Requires a developer of single-family housing to give buyers a list of features that make a home fully accessible to people with disabilities. Violation will be punishable with a $500 fine. The list will be adopted by the Department of Housing and Community Development, but not before July. Then developers have 90 days to comply.

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“We think both these laws are an important step forward for including people with disabilities in their community,” said Eve Hill, executive director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights at Loyola Law School.

Allison B. Cohen can be reached at a.cohen@ix.netcom.com.


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