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Cost of mixing business and friendship can be high

Special to The Times

Question: I rented a place I own to a friend and her two children and dog. Because she was my friend and needed a place to stay, I let her move in with no security deposit. She said that when she moved out she would pay for all of the cleanup costs. Now I have serious doubts.

They have destroyed my place, haven’t paid rent in almost two months and have outstanding balances on their electric and water bills. I finally told her she had to move out and turn off all of the utilities, which are in my name. Because I live out of town, I had a friend go over to check the place out. She has not moved or turned off the utilities. Can I take her to court to recoup the money she owes me for rent, utilities, damages and cleaning?

Answer: Assuming this former friend is still living in the place, your first course of action is to serve her with a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. If she doesn’t pay, you must file a lawsuit to evict her for nonpayment of rent. You may ask for the unpaid rent in that lawsuit. In a subsequent Small Claims Court lawsuit, you can sue her for all the other money she owes you for everything else.

But proving that she owes you all the money you may be entitled to could be difficult. For example, since she was your friend and you let her move in without a security deposit and with just an oral agreement regarding payment of cleanup costs, there is a good chance you also did not execute any type of a written lease or rental agreement with her.

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If that’s true, the responsibility for paying utility bills may come down to her word against yours. If she never paid any utility bills, she may claim that utilities were included with the rent and she never agreed to pay them. If she paid some utility bills in the past, however, your chance of proving they were her responsibility is greatly enhanced.

And speaking of the rent, you don’t say whether she ever paid any of it or not. If she did pay some rent, and it was the entire amount of the rent, you are in a good position to prove how much it was. If she never paid the rent, or she paid only partial rent, proving the actual amount of the agreed-upon rent may be challenging.

You should always run residential rental properties like the businesses that they are. Next time you rent to a friend, put everything in writing and require a security deposit. If the tenant can’t afford to pay a security deposit all at once upfront, work out a monthly payment plan.

Her eviction is a stumbling block

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Question: I want to move in with my girlfriend, but she was evicted four years ago, and the management company at the apartment complex we want to move into said anyone with an eviction is automatically excluded from consideration. Of course, they want everyone who is over 18 and moving into the apartment to fill out a rental application.

I make enough to cover the cost of the apartment on my own. Do you think it’s OK to just run my information and we all move in, then tell the management company a month or two down the line that she will be moving in?

Answer: Your plan is flawed, in addition to being dishonest. It is not OK to secretly move in your girlfriend and perhaps others as indicated by your use of the word “all.” The management company could and doubtless would say no to her moving in either when you move in or at a later date.

Moving her in would violate the lease or rental agreement you sign, which would stipulate that you would be the only resident. This is cause for eviction and could tarnish your credit rating and your ability to move into another apartment.

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Your best bet is to look for an apartment where management does not automatically discount applications from people who have been evicted. If your girlfriend’s credit has been good for the last four years, you have a much better chance of convincing an apartment owner that she is a good risk.

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners’ service group. E-mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to aptlifeaagla@aol.com, c/o Kevin Postema, or mail to AAGLA, c/o Kevin Postema, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005.


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