QUESTION: I am writing on behalf of a young couple who recently moved to this country. Their English is limited and they are in a predicament. Here is the situation.
They signed a one-year lease and moved into their Bellflower apartment, but after living there for four months, they realized how unsafe the building's location was and moved. They gave the rental office a 30-day notice of their intent to move. A representative of the office gave them back a receipt saying that they left the apartment clean and undamaged.
Now, they have received an accounting from a collection agency saying that they owe the apartment owners six months' rent, the amount of time left on the lease. Their security deposit was deducted from the balance of the allegedly owed rent.
The apartment has been re-rented to another party and it seems unfair that my friends should have to pay rent for the balance of their lease too. Can apartment owners collect double rent like this or is it illegal?
ANSWER: Apartment owners in California may not collect double rents. Your friends only owe from the time they vacated the unit until it was re-rented. They should inform the collection agency and rental office of this fact.
If you know, or can find out, when the unit was re-rented, your friends may be entitled to a refund. If the unit was re-rented before the deposit was used up, based upon the daily rental value of the premises, your friends are entitled to a refund of the balance of the deposit.
Even if your friends are not entitled to a refund, they will want to clear this matter up to avoid a blemish on their credit files.
Tenant Wants Owner to Repair Phone Jacks
Q: My Brentwood tenant wants three telephone jacks repaired by me. Apparently, they were working when she moved in. GTE wants $85 an hour to fix them because she doesn't have "wiring insurance." She says I should pay.
Phone jacks, she argues, are like electrical outlets. She claims that if it's inside the owner's building, it's the owner's responsibility. She has a point, but I'm not sure she's right. If I do have to fix the jacks, do I have to let the phone company fix them or can I use someone else?
A: Most phone companies, since deregulation a few years ago, have offered renters inside wiring insurance. The reason the phone companies offer the insurance to renters is because renters are responsible for fixing it.
For your tenant's information, she is not required to use the phone company to repair the phone jacks.
Evicted Renter Asks About Relocation Pay
Q: I was amazed to read in your Jan. 21 column about the $2,000 relocation fee that is due to those relocated because of landlords' family members taking over their apartment units.
I am wondering if this matter can be pursued after the fact. Last April I had to move after my landlord gave me one month's notice to vacate my Van Nuys garage apartment so his son could move in. He gave me notice on March 4 and I was out by April 4.
Am I still eligible for the relocation fees, if any are due me? If I am eligible, how do I go about collecting them?
A: If the rental unit is rent-controlled, you may be eligible for the fees. If the garage unit is the only rental unit on the lot, and it is unattached to any other housing unit, such as a house, it is probably exempted from the law and ineligible for the fees. Similarly, the garage unit may be exempted if it is new construction, as defined by the rent law.
Check with the city's Rent Stabilization Division (RSD) at (213) 624-RENT to find out if the unit is rent-controlled. If it is, you can report the situation to them.
According to RSD Director Barbara Zeidman, you should also sue the former owner in Small Claims Court for the $2,000, which is the court's upper limit for lawsuits. Time is a concern to file this small claims action since you must file suit in the court within one year of the incident.
Can Rent Be Withheld for Lack of Cooling?
Q: I would greatly appreciate any information you can provide me with about my Fullerton apartment dilemma. I have been living here for about five months. The complex is large, 100 to 150 units, and I have no idea whether it is under rent control.
Here is the problem. Since the day I moved in, the central air conditioning has never worked. After about three months, I decided to deduct some money out of my rent to compensate for the lack of air conditioning.
The manager told me she couldn't accept a partial payment for rent. She said she would contact the central office to see what could be done. A month has passed and I have heard nothing.
I don't feel it is fair to pay for something you do not get. Do I have any recourse?