QUESTION: I am new to California and was shocked to find that my security deposit on a $500-a-month-rent apartment was $1,000, meaning I need $1,500 just to move in. Isn't there a law protecting tenants from such exorbitant move-in costs? How can those strapped for cash meet these high move-in costs? They seem grossly unfair to me.
ANSWER: California law says an apartment owner may charge up to two months rent as a security deposit for an unfurnished apartment and three months rent for a furnished apartment.
Unfortunately, because of a few abusive tenants, many landlords charge maximum deposits. While the majority of tenants are hard-working and caring people, it's awfully tough to judge a book by its cover.
There is also a new program designed by the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles and Volunteers of America that helps those with low or very low incomes meet high move-in costs.
It's called the Renters Assistance Program (RAP). It provides deposit assistance for those who qualify. For more information on this program call Frank Foster at the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, (213) 384-4131, or Lynn Davis at Volunteers of America, (213) 467-4006.
Boyfriend as Tenant? Pay Up or Move On
Q: The tenant moved in last month and now her boyfriend appears to be living with her. The rental agreement calls for only one tenant. What can I do to stop the unlawful sub-tenant from living in my Los Angeles building?
A: If the boyfriend is living in the apartment, he is, indeed, an unlawful sub-tenant, which leaves you with a couple of options. First, let's see if he is a resident.
If the boyfriend has moved in clothing and furniture, gets mail at the apartment and comes and goes on a daily basis, the courts would likely consider him a resident. Assuming he is, what can you do?
You can require that he move out. Because you have a written rental agreement specifying one person only, you may give the tenant of record a three-day notice to perform covenant or quit, which asks her to comply with the written agreement. This gives her three days to have him move out. If she doesn't comply, you may begin evicting her after that time.
You may, on the other hand, raise the rent and allow the boyfriend to stay. Under the city of Los Angeles rent control law, you may raise the rent by any amount specified in the rental agreement.
If there is no provision for extra rent for extra renters in the agreement, then you may raise the rent by 10% under the law.
Those are your options in Los Angeles. Rules differ for other rent-controlled municipalities.
When a House Sitter Becomes a Tenant
Q: I am a tenant in Santa Monica, and I am going on vacation to Europe for a month. While I'm gone, I'd like to have a friend look after my place as a house sitter. The landlord says he can't allow it because he'll become a tenant. Is that right?
A: He's probably right. The rental agreement or lease you have probably limits the term for "guests," which you are asking about. Many Santa Monica rental and lease agreements limit guests to no more than seven days and/or nights in any month.
If an owner with whom you have such an agreement violates his own rules, he may be accepting your house sitter as a tenant--should he decide to stay--which would mean you would have a new roommate as well.
If you lived in Los Angeles, you would stand a much better chance of being able to negotiate a house sitter with your landlord. There, like in most non-rent-controlled cities, you can seek, and often get, your owner's permission for a house sitter.
Deposits Are Returned Only at End of Tenancy
Q: My roommate and I have had a falling out. I am moving out of our West Covina apartment. The problem is that when I asked the landlord for my half of the security deposit, he said to talk to my roommate. I don't want to talk to him. Besides, I gave the money to the landlord. Shouldn't he refund it to me now that I'm leaving?
A: Security deposits are refundable at the conclusion of a "tenancy." However, the end of your tenancy is not the end of the tenancy under California law. The landlord does not have to refund the money until your roommate moves out. You're going to have to talk to your roommate or forgo the refund for now.
Can't Evict a Renter for Writing Bad Checks
Q: Every month my tenant in West Hollywood gives me a bad check. I have to wait one to two weeks to really collect the rent by the time my bank lets me know his checks are bad. When I give him a three-day notice to pay rent or quit he always gives me another check right away. It's always good. Can I evict him for this?
A: You cannot evict a renter in California because he gives you bad checks, if he subsequently makes good on them. All is not lost, however. You can require that a renter who perpetually gives you bad checks pay his rent in the form of cash, a cashier's check or a money order.
You must serve the renter with a 30-day change of terms of tenancy notice. In the notice, you should make reference to the series of bad checks and let the renter know that from now on he must pay his rent by one of the above-mentioned means.
Of course, by definition, a 30-day notice requires at least that long to become effective. So, you'll likely have to take at least one more check from this renter.