QUESTION: I own an apartment building in West Hollywood, and one of my tenants has just discovered that he has AIDS. Can we evict him or at least prevent him from using the swimming pool?
ANSWER: You may not evict your tenant or prohibit him from using the swimming pool because of his illness.
According to Helen Goss, public information officer for the city of West Hollywood, if you attempt to evict the tenant or prevent him from using the swimming pool, you will be prosecuted under the city's anti-AIDS discrimination ordinance, which is one of the toughest in the country.
Goss said: "AIDS is not transmitted by casual contact, and the pool would have enough chlorine in it to kill the virus even if it was. If anyone in West Hollywood has any questions about AIDS, or the city's AIDS law, please call the West Hollywood Social Services Division at (213) 854-7471."
Deposits Cannot Be Non-Refundable
Q: I have just moved into an apartment in Toluca Lake. Upon moving in, I was required to make (in addition to the security deposit) a $150 non-refundable cleaning deposit. I have subsequently been told that non-refundable deposits are not legal in California. What can you tell me about these deposits?
A: Non-refundable deposits of any type have been prohibited in California for many years. You should first talk to the property manager or owner and make him aware of this fact. If he refuses to refund the $150, you may have to sue him in small claims court to get it back.
Evicting Drug-Taking Tenants as Nuisances
Q: I recently read in Apartment Life about apartment owners having to evict "drug-dealing tenants" from their Inglewood apartments. My mother owns an apartment building in Los Angeles and I have a different question: What about tenants who are drug users?
As far as we know, two of our tenants smoke "grass." My son tells me there's only a fine if they get caught. He also tells me that they can have as much as a "can" in their apartment. Is this true? (By the way, how much is a can?)
A: Marcia Gonzales, a Los Angeles deputy city attorney with the city's Special (narcotics) Enforcement Division, said: "For the landlord there is no penalty unless it becomes a nuisance. Then they would have to evict with the nuisance eviction or drug abatement."
Gonzalez said that for users there is only a fine for possession of up to one ounce (probably one "can"). For more than one ounce, the penalty is a fine plus imprisonment. She said, "This is only for marijuana. If it's another drug, such as crack, then any amount would qualify for prison time."
Gonzalez added: "If this tenant is providing this 'grass' to another tenant, the penalty would increase because they would, in effect, be dealing. If they are providing it to a minor, then the penalty would increase even further."
Damages Recoverable for Wrongful Eviction
Q: We moved into a Los Angeles apartment a while ago and were later asked to be its managers. Recently, the building was sold and the new owners asked us to leave because they were bringing in their own managers. They gave us a month to leave, with two weeks that we didn't have to pay any rent.
Now, we find out that the new tenants are not the managers. A previous tenant was given many of our former duties. Since we were under rent control, is there anything we can do now?
A: It sounds like you have been "wrongfully evicted," i.e., evicted in "bad faith," in violation of Los Angeles city ordinance.
You can sue the owner for damages including the difference in rent, relocation assistance, moving expenses, mental distress, and the like. If you elect to sue the easy way, without an attorney in small claims court, the limit on the damages is $2,000 (the minimum relocation assistance payment you may be due).
Otherwise, you may sue in Municipal Court for damages up to $25,000. There, however, you'll probably need an attorney.
Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of The Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to Rentformation, Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90005-3995.