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Rent Watch

'Mandatory' Deduction Not Legitimate

March 15, 1992|to The Times; This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif

QUESTION: After living in the same duplex for four years, my boyfriend and I gave a 30-day notice to our landlord. At that time our landlord told us that we would not get our entire security deposit back, no matter how clean we left the apartment.

She explained there would be a mandatory deduction for painting. The only marks on the walls are six to eight small pinholes from hanging pictures. Other than that, the walls are fine. To what extent are we responsible for painting or any other repairs?

ANSWER: Your landlord is not permitted to withhold any "mandatory" fees from your security deposit. She must first assess the condition of the unit, and within 14 days provide you with a written summary of deductions, along with any refund due. When you move out, the unit should be returned to the owner in the same condition it was when you moved in, with the exception of normal wear and tear. Any tenant moving out of a rental unit is responsible for cleaning and for repairing damages that exceed normal wear and tear.

For example, a tenant can be charged for cleaning or painting walls that are left with dirty fingerprints or for unrepaired nail holes, but not for repainting to cover up normal wear and tear. If you repair the nail holes and cover them with a competent touch-up paint job, you should not be responsible for additional painting costs. If you do not repair the holes, your landlord can deduct from your security deposit a reasonable amount to repair them, but she should expect that, after four years of tenancy, there are going to be other costs that she must incur as a natural part of doing business.

Fair Housing Act Protects Disabled

Q: My mentally disabled son lives independently in a studio apartment. A visiting nurse who sees him once a week provides the only outside assistance he needs. Occasionally he experiences difficulties in communicating with the manager, and the nurse has offered to help assist him with this in person or by telephone, as the need arises. The manager refuses to work with the nurse, and says that if my son cannot communicate normally, perhaps he shouldn't be there at all. What can we do?

A: Advise the manager that the Fair Housing Act of 1988 requires him to make reasonable accommodation to meet the needs of the disabled, and that your son's need for assistance in communicating with the manager qualifies as such an accommodation. If his manager refuses to cooperate, or you need more information about meeting the needs of disabled tenants, call (213) or (714) H-O-U-S-I-N-G.

Landlord Responsible for Supervising Repair

Q: My tenant has a broken stove and has asked me to have it fixed. I told her I would call the repairman, but when I asked her when she could be available for the repairman to come, she had a fit. Whose responsibility is it to stay with the repairman while the work is being done?

A: No one needs to be present when the repair person performs the work. Since the repair person is working for you, the landlord, you are responsible for any damage or loss of your tenant's property caused by him. If this person has worked for you for a long time, and you trust him, you may feel comfortable in giving him the key.

However, if you do not know the repair person very well, it is your duty, and in your best interest, not only to schedule the work, but also to supervise the repairs to the property. Some tenants do not object, and in fact prefer to be present when a stranger enters their home, but it is not their obligation.

You may protect your interests by using a bonded and insured contractor., In any case, you should give a 24-hour notice to the tenant before either you or the repair person enters the unit, unless the tenant has acknowledged that the needed repair is an emergency.

Trouble Predicted in Manager's Future

Q: My mother is a palm reader and has a small shop in a neighboring mall. After my father passed away, she decided to sell her house and rent an apartment. Last week the manager of the apartment for which she had applied told her that because her job did not seem legitimate to him, she needed to pay a higher deposit than the other applicants. Is this reasonable?

A: The manager cannot require your mother to pay a higher deposit if she can provide proof of her income and credit references. As long as what your mother is doing is legal, the source of her income should be of no concern.

The unusual nature of your mother's occupation is not sufficient reason for the apartment manager to require her to pay a higher deposit. Your mother should be treated as any other self-employed prospective tenant in the application process.

The manager should be informed that California fair housing law forbids differential treatment on the basis of a tenant's source of income. Also, state law limits the amount of a security deposit to two months of rent for unfurnished units. Please advise your mother to contact her local fair housing agency, or dial (213) or (714) H-O-U-S-I-N-G.

Rental Business Runs on Cash, Not Credit

Q: My landlord refuses to accept credit card charges for the rent. I explained to him this would allow me to pay my rent on time, and have a full month to pay my credit card bill. How can I convince him?

A: Businesses that allow credit charges as a convenience and service to their clients pay a percentage to the companies issuing the credit. That percentage differs according to the amounts collected through that business. A small landlord would probably end up by paying a large percentage, and you could end up with an increase in rent. Housing rental, and other businesses are still run the old fashioned way: payment by cash, money order or personal check.

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