Tenant complaints arising from October earthquakes centered near Whittier have changed from "How can I get my rent or deposit refunded?" to "How long do I have to wait before this place gets fixed?" a housing official said.
Brigitta Wamsher, program coordinator for the Fair Housing Council of San Gabriel, said that those who remain in damaged apartments still in need of repair "want to know if they should withhold their rent until the repairs are completed."
The Housing Council is advising tenants to give landlords 30 days to make repairs, Wamsher said. After that, tenants may be entitled to a rent reduction or can pay full rent and take the matter to small-claims court, she said. There is no specific state law governing damaged rental units, but some leases contain clauses concerning responsibility for damages and repairs.
Since the Oct. 1 quake, the Housing Council has advised about 250 residents who stopped by its table at the Whittier Community Center and to another 250 who have called the agency's offices in San Gabriel and Pasadena.
Wamsher said the calls to the Housing Council have dropped in the last two weeks to the normal level of about 30 a week.
Most landlord-tenant disputes reported to the Housing Council concerning prepaid rent and deposits have been resolved, she said, and none has gone to court.
However, the emerging problem of housing that is damaged but not destroyed often leaves tenants in difficult financial situations, Wamsher said.
If a building is condemned or uninhabitable, the Red Cross would provide a grant of a month's rent to assist in moving those left homeless. The Red Cross has spent more than $78,000 to help 121 Whittier-area families move to new apartments and another 64 families are being kept in hotels while searching for a new place, according to Samatha Ridout of the Red Cross.
But renters in damaged residences were left with the options of trying to qualify for federal assistance for personal property damage, moving into another place where first-month deposits and rent are likely to exceed $1,000, or waiting for their homes to be fixed.
The agency will hold a free Fair Housing Forum on Nov. 12 at the Whittier Community Center when attorneys will advise landlords and tenants of their rights and obligations. For more information, call the Fair Housing Council at (213) 945-1861 or (213) 960-1970.