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Apartment Life

Tenants Take Action to Oust Harasser

March 28, 1993|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; 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 read your Feb. 28 "Apartment Life" column about a woman's problems with a tenant stalker in her building. About a year ago, I lived in an apartment in San Bernardino. I had lived there for 14 years, like many of the building's other long-term tenants.

About five years ago the property management firm that "managed" the building rented a unit to a wanna-be biker type of guy. He, too, used to harass the tenants. He did so by riding his bike around the complex and sitting in front of our apartments and revving his engine.

We could get no help to get rid of the guy from the management company or owner. So, we called the police. They warned him that they might arrest him but that's as far as it went.

We didn't give up. We all signed a letter that we sent to the owner and had hand-delivered to the management company. It said that they had better get rid of the guy or get sued.

Two days later, the management company served the guy with a 30-day notice to vacate the premises, with which he voluntarily complied. We also hired a private investigator to find out where he moved in case he retaliated against our actions.

Why not give your readers a positive solution to this problem?

ANSWER: I commend you for solving this tough problem quickly and efficiently in a non-confrontational way.

I also was contacted by a group called Women Refusing to Accept Tenant Harassment (WRATH), which is based in Vacaville. The writer of the letter mentioned in the Feb. 28 column contacted them and is being helped with her problem.

According to Molly McElrath, WRATH project coordinator, "WRATH is dedicated to promoting public awareness of sexual harassment in rental housing. First, and above all, we try to stop the harassment immediately. We do that by reducing the level of fear, helping them to investigate their rights and strategizing a plan of recourse.

"We also make referrals to the appropriate fair housing and governmental agencies," she said.

If you or someone you know is having such a problem, WRATH is there to help. You can contact McElrath or Catherine Hanson at WRATH, 607 Mira Road No. 299, Vacaville, Calif. 95687. Or phone (707) 449-1122.

Renter Can't Take Carpet and Drapes

Q: I've been a renter in this Northridge apartment for the past 12 years. About three years ago, I decided to refurbish the apartment with new carpeting, drapes and paint.

I did this at my own expense. Now that I'm thinking of moving, I have a few questions about it. Do the carpet and drapes belong to the building or are they mine? If they are mine, can I remove them when I vacate the apartment?

Or, if they are mine, maybe I can sell them to the building owners. What do you think about that?

A: Although I believe that you would like to be able to sell these carpets and drapes to the apartment owners, I think that it is unlikely that you will be able to do so. Here's why.

Since you have no agreement with the owners about buying the carpets and drapes, they are not required to do so.

Even if you had such an agreement, which would be rare, I can't imagine that the owners would place any value on the carpets or drapes after three years.

That's because small claim courts, where security deposit refund disputes about cleaning, repairing or replacing carpets and drapes are settled, unless they exceed $5,000, generally define the useful lives of carpets, drapes and painting as being three years, which is how long you say they have been in the apartment.

Therefore, according to the courts, and most apartment owners, they have no value.

It is also unlikely that you can take them with you without penalty. The rule-of-thumb when dealing with such alterations is that you must restore the apartment to its original condition, subject to ordinary wear and tear, if you remove the carpet and drapes.

That means that to restore the unit to its original (used) condition you would have to reinstall them in order to take the existing ones with you.

Assuming you can't restore the unit, you will likely be penalized from your security deposit for the damage resulting from removing the carpet and drapes even though they, nor their predecessors, have any value.

Credit Check Fee Is Legal, Non-Refundable

Q: Recently, while looking for an apartment in Los Angeles, I was required to post a $25 non-refundable fee for a credit check. Is this legal?

A: It is legal to require such fee. However, it is refundable in at least one circumstance. If you qualify and are accepted for the apartment, and the owner or manager thereafter changes his mind, and that change of heart is not related to any mistake on your part, such as incorrect information on the rental application or inaccurate credit information provided by you, the fee is refundable to you.

In today's "renter's market," prospective tenants should know that there are more vacant units around than tenants to fill them and they can probably find a suitable apartment where no credit check fee is required.

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