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Apartment Life

'Last Month' Rent Receipt May Be Prize

August 23, 1992|KEVIN POSTEMA | Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of The Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group

QUESTION: I have lived in the same Montebello apartment for 22 years and now that I'm thinking about moving I have a question about my last month's rent.

In 1970 the rent here was $150 a month. Now it's $555. In 1970, when I moved into the place, I paid $150 for the last month's rent. Is that the amount of the last month's rent or am I required to pay $555?

I still have a receipt showing that the last month's rent is paid in full at $150. Is that true?

ANSWER: Before I answer your question, I want to congratulate you on your filing and record-keeping. That 22-year-old rent receipt may be a $405 treasure. If you have a receipt that says the last month's rent is paid in full, then it probably is.

Often, apartment owners write into rental agreements and leases that last month's rent deposits are "deposits toward the last month's rent," meaning that the last month's rent is the rent amount prevailing when you move out.

If your receipt said that, you would probably have to pay the difference in the rent. That doesn't sound like the case here. Good luck with your move.

Political Sign OK If Lease Doesn't Bar It

Q: Are there any laws in the city of Los Angeles regarding the rights of renters to display political signs in the windows or on the balconies of their apartments?

I can find nothing in the lease about the subject. With November rapidly approaching, I would like to be prepared in case the landlady objects to the signs I want to hang. What do you think?

A: Absent any language in the lease regarding political signs, I don't think the owner could evict you for hanging them.

Of course, the lease may contain prohibitions against permanently affixing them to walls or balconies, so if you elect to hang them you'll want to do it so they're easily removed without any damage to the structure, which usually is prohibited in the lease or rental agreement.

Also, while your First Amendment rights permit you to express your political views as you want to, that does not include lawn signs.

Almost all leases prohibit personal use of the common areas, like lawns, in rentals.

If Foreclosed Owner Reneges, Go to Court

Q: My husband and I rent a small beach house in Hermosa Beach and we recently learned that the bank started foreclosure proceedings against the owner on June 30.

The owner has $1,150 of our money as the last month's rent, and we're wondering what are our rights as tenants if the foreclosure goes forward? What can we expect to happen?

A: If the foreclosure proceeds, the current owner must either transfer your deposit to the new owner and give you notice of having done so, or he must refund it to you, less any costs for itemized deductions, such as damages or unpaid rent.

In the event that he does neither, the law provides that the buyer and former owner are "jointly and severally liable" (together and separately) for the deposit, meaning that you still have a last month's rent deposit with the new owner, who may be able to sue the former owner to recover it for himself.

If there is a problem with the deposit refund, you may sue the new owner for it in small claims court. You may also sue the former owner to recover it, however, since he lost the house in foreclosure it may be difficult to recover any money from him.

Upstairs Flood Causes Downstairs Damage

Q: I have lived in this Sepulveda apartment for 4 1/2 years and I am having a problem with the neighbor who lives upstairs from me.

I'm sure I haven't done anything to offend him. We've only chatted a few times and there was no hostility then.

I know that the plumbing is OK, but for some reason he, apparently, continually plugs up his kitchen sink, six times, and then lets the water run over until it floods my apartment. The floods have ruined throw rugs, dry goods and so forth.

I have talked to him about this problem, and I have also written a letter to the management company about it. I am in constant fear that the next cascade will cause the ceiling to collapse and the stress is becoming unbearable.

As a solution, I am putting the rent into what I call an "escrow" account until they get rid of this tenant. I think that they have had enough time to deal with the problem, since April. Is what I'm doing proper? If not, what should I do?

A: Your current problem has to be solved, but your rent escrow program may not be the proper solution. While there are some habitability circumstances under which you can withhold rent, you must navigate some legal waters before doing so.

For instance, you must notify the owner or manager of the problem in writing and give him ample time to correct it.

In this case, the problem is not easily fixed by the owner, since nothing is "broken" and the apparent cure of the problem is, as you say, to evict the tenant. Therefore, I'm not sure that rent withholding under the habitability law applies to this situation.

You're probably better off suing your neighbor for the damages, up to $5,000, in small claims court. A victory there should dissuade him from continuing the torrents.

If you have a renter's insurance policy, and depending upon its deductible amount, you may also get some relief for damages there.

Continue talking, and writing, to the management company about the problem. It has a responsibility to the owner to maintain the integrity of his asset, the building, and should make efforts to either get the tenant to stop the flooding or evict him.

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