QUESTION: I own a three-unit, family-owned triplex in Los Angeles covered by the city's rent control law. I rented to a young couple a while back, and the rental agreement specified "two people only."
About 21 months ago, the wife became pregnant. She asked that I change her rental agreement to include her pending bundle of joy, upgrading the rental agreement to allow for three people.
Because I love babies, and knowing they would be pressed for money, I said they could stay for a while and didn't even charge them the extra 10% rent that was allowed by the rent law at that time.
I believe the law has since been changed. (A recent proposed amendment to the law would require the apartment owners accept first children, regardless of their rental agreements, and at no charge for the first child. While approved by the City Council in concept, the law has not yet been drafted by the city attorney's office.)
Now, I have a problem. My daughter is on disability and needs some place to live. I would like her to be close to me so that I can help take care of her son. Here's the rub. While the tenants are willing to move, they expect me to pay them relocation fees.
I am willing to give them plenty of time to find a new place, but I don't feel that I should have to pay them relocation fees. They want the fees, and at the higher rate because of the minor child. I said they could only stay until the child walked. She says I said they could stay forever.
Do I have to pay relocation fees if I ask them to move so that my daughter can move in? After all, I'll be losing rent money on the unit after my daughter moves in because she can't even afford to pay the market rent. Does that make a difference? Just what are my rights in this sticky situation?
ANSWER: You will have to pay your tenants' relocation fees if you ask them to move so that your daughter can move into their unit. That's the law.
Since you allowed the tenants to stay in the unit with their new baby, and accepted rent with that knowledge, you have basically accepted the baby as a tenant. That means that you will have to pay the relocation fees at the higher rate of $5,000, which goes to seniors, the physically challenged (handicapped), and those with minor children. Others get $2,000.
The fact that you will be making less money on the rental of the unit has no impact on the situation.
Breaking Lease Could Cost Tenant Dearly
Q: I live in an apartment in Century City, and in your Oct. 14 Apartment Life column, you had a letter that was of great interest to me.
The letter referred to the problem of noisy children in the apartment above. You said that the tenant had no recourse since the landlord's assurance of quiet was only verbal. You also told the tenant that if she broke her lease she would be responsible for the unpaid rent until the unit was rerented.
My apartment is very desirable. It would, no doubt, be rerented immediately if I broke my lease. Does this mean, since I find the noise upstairs unbearable, that I can break my lease and move? I want to ask my landlord to use up my last month's rent, which was paid when I moved in. Is that ok?
A: You say that you're sure your apartment will be rerented immediately because it's desirable. I'm not so sure of this as you are. There are many vacant apartments in the city, particularly in the higher income ranges, such as you would generally find in Century City.
Since you will be liable for all damages flowing from breaking your lease, including the cost of rerental, advertising and so forth, and unpaid rent until it's rerented, you would be wise to attempt to help the owner find a new renter for the unit in order to minimize your damages.
Tenant "noise" is very difficult for an apartment owner to control. The rental agreements of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, the largest owners' association of its kind in the nation, go so far as to specifically exempt owners from liability for such rule infractions as noise. Good luck.
Reader's note: As a reader of Apartment Life, and an administrator at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU), I want to thank you for writing the only column I know of that renters can refer to and find answers to commonly asked questions.
I thought you might be interested in a publication the ACLU publishes called "The Rights of Tenants." It is extremely informative, covering everything from leases and security deposits to evictions and rent control.
The book is helpful for minor disputes as well as legal ones, since it refers to precedent-setting legal cases. Needless to say, it is one of our most popular titles.
The cost of the 192-page book is $2.50, plus $1 for shipping and handling. Readers may write to ACLU, Attn: Joyce Shelby, 633 S. Shatto Place, Los Angeles, CA, 90005. Readers may also pick the book up in person at the above address during business hours (Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) and save the shipping and handling charges. Please feel free to call Joyce Shelby with questions at (213) 487-6614.
Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), an apartment owners' service group. Mail your question on any aspect of apartment living to "Apartment Life," AAGLA, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90005-3995.