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Manager Requires Parents at Playground

March 21, 1993|Special to The Times

QUESTION: The manager of our complex has just handed me a copy of the new "House Rule" requiring me to supervise my 9-year-old when he uses the playground. I feel that this rule will limit my son's opportunity to develop his independence in a safe environment that is, after all, a part of his home. He is a responsible child and no one has complained about his behavior. Can the manager enforce an unreasonable rule like this one?

ANSWER: With the exception of a California Health and Safety Code section requiring children 14 and under to be supervised in pools and spas, there is no law defining when children must be supervised, whether in or out of doors.

To avoid misunderstanding, the manager should identify a health and safety reason for establishing the new rule. Otherwise, it may appear to have been designed just to keep children off the playground. It is not the role of the manager to dictate to parents how to supervise their children, as long as other neighbors are not disturbed and the house rules are respected.

You may want to check with other families in the complex about setting up a meeting with management so all of you can share your concerns about children on the playground and move toward a workable solution of any problems. If you feel that management may be unduly restricting children in the complex, contact your local fair housing agency for information and assistance.

Judge Can Rule Even If Ex-Landlord Absent

Q: I failed to resolve a dispute with my former landlord and have decided to take him to court. He lives on the East Coast, and told me he does not intend to appear in court, since his travel expenses will be larger than the amount contested, although he still refuses to satisfy my demand and believes I am wrong. What should I do? How do I serve an owner who lives in another state?

A: You have the right to take your ex-landlord to court even if he lives out of state. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, Section 116.540 (g), your landlord, because he owns real property in the state of California, must respond to your legal action. An out-of-state property owner can be represented by an agent as long as the agent is not a paid attorney. As an alternative, he may submit a written declaration describing his position. Even if the owner does not respond to your suit, and does not appear personally or send a representative to court, the judge will hear the case and enter a judgment.

Tenant Told to Remove Apartment Clutter

Q: When my landlord came to make a repair in my apartment, he told me that if I didn't clean up my apartment, he would evict me because he felt I was creating a health hazard. My apartment isn't dirty, I just have a lot of stuff and nowhere to store all of it. Can my landlord tell me how to live in my own apartment?

A: If your landlord has reason to suspect that your unit is creating a health hazard, he has both the right and the responsibility to ask you to clean it up. Although your unit may not be dirty, clutter can also pose health hazards, such as pest infestations or a fire danger. If you are in doubt about your landlord's motivation, you should ask him why he feels your housekeeping is a problem and what things he would like you to correct. The problem may not be as bad as either of you think. If you would like a second opinion, you could consider calling the local housing inspector or fire marshal.

Landlord Can't Enter Unit Without Notice

Q: My landlord claims he has a right to inspect my apartment every three months without giving notice. This seems unfair to me, what do you think?

A: Your landlord cannot insist on frequently inspecting your apartment just to keep tabs on your living habits. Inspections of this type could be seen as a breach of your privacy. Further, as a rule, landlords must give reasonable notice of intent to enter.

For example, if a landlord intends to show an apartment to prospective renters or to enter for maintenance purposes, the law deems 24-hour notice to be reasonable. The landlord can enter without notice only if there is an emergency, such as a fire or broken water pipes. Check with your local tenant/landlord program for assistance.

Management Slow in Returning Deposit

Q: I received my security deposit refund several weeks later than the law requires, and I am told by friends who lived in the same complex that the management does this regularly. If I was one day late with my rent, management charged me a late fee, no excuses accepted. Because of their rigid policy, I hoped that they would use the same principle when it came to returning my deposit. Now that it is their turn to make a payment, shouldn't they have to pay a late fee?

A: Your rental agreement probably stated that when rental payments are late, the tenant must pay a late fee. Landlords are not allowed to use the late fee as a punishment, but only to cover their actual losses, be they additional accounting costs, trips to the bank, etc. Unfortunately, no similar provision exists for the benefit of tenants, although a landlord's willful retention of a security deposit may be subject to legal action in small claims court.

This column is prepared by Operation Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 582-b Dunholme Way, Sunnyvale, Calif. 94305, but cannot be answered individually. For help in the Los Angeles area, call the Metro Harbor Fair Housing Council at (310) 539-6191 or the Westside Fair Housing Council at (213) 475-9671.

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