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Apartment Life

Stubborn Subtenant Refuses to Move Out

June 13, 1993|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group

QUESTION: I live in Rancho Palos Verdes and I read your May 23 column item headlined "Landlord Threatens to Evict Subtenant." My problem is the opposite of the one answered there.

I had a good tenant. She paid her rent on time and seldom bothered me about the apartment. Then, she got a roommate. My manager doesn't know exactly how long ago the roommate moved in, but it was about six or seven months ago.

Two months ago the original tenant gave us a notice to end the tenancy. Unfortunately, the subtenant does not want to go. The manager gave her an application to rent to fill out, and we checked out her credit. Boy, is it bad. No wonder our tenant left.

The problem is that this person thinks that she is a tenant and she wants to stay rent free. I called the police to ask them to take her out as a trespasser, but they say they cannot do that and that we cannot change the locks either. They say we have to evict her. Here are my questions:

Does this mean that we have to put our former renter's name on the eviction? Is there a law that protects innocent housing providers and ex-tenants? Finally, do you have any good suggestions about how we can get rid of this illegal subtenant besides going through the expensive and time-consuming eviction process?

ANSWER: I'll assume that you have never agreed that the roommate could become a tenant and that you have accepted no rent from her, since you say she wants "free rent."

Unfortunately, though, even if the above assumptions are correct you still must evict this "subtenant." That is the fastest, and only, legal way to get her out, short of a negotiated settlement between you and her. I always recommend that approach prior to any legal action.

For instance, you could offer to forgive the apparent unpaid month's rent, and any rent that accrues until her departure, if she'll leave willingly. (If the original tenant gave notice two months ago and moved out one month ago and paid her last months' rent, one month seems to be owed.)

The terms of any such settlement should be put into writing, and I would recommend that you have them reviewed by an eviction attorney before signing anything.

If you can't settle, you must evict. You have not rented to her and, in fact, never would based upon her credit. As such, she is an unapproved subtenant and you can give her a three-day notice to quit (move).

You may, but need not, add the name of the departed tenant to the complaint. Arguably, the departed tenant has not terminated the tenancy since she left a roommate behind, which makes her a proper party to an eviction action.

If you are sure that the tenant is not coming back, there is no reason to add her name to the complaint and mar her credit, unless you think you can collect unpaid rent from her.

As far as protecting yourself from future indiscretions, the best way to do so is to thoroughly screen prospective residents before they move in. Had you done so, you may have prevented this problem.

You can check a prospect's bank and employment references yourself at no charge, and you may usually do it by phone.

Banks will usually tell you an individual's average balance, whether or not a deposit check is good and the last four checks that have cleared the account.

When checking employment, always ask for the personnel manager. Never ask for the individual that the prospect tells you to ask for. That person could be his best friend.

Most employers will tell you average salaries, length of time employed and the applicant's prospects for continuing employment at the firm.

Other credit checks, such as credit history, eviction record and "telecredit" (tells you if a prospect writes bad checks) can be made through organizations such as the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), for nominal fees. For more information about those, call Pat Thompson at (213) 384-4131.

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