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Rent Watch

Tenant Wants Out Early If Dog Can't Stay

June 27, 1993|Special to the Times

QUESTION: One of the tenants in the complex I manage had a large dog that barked excessively, causing the neighbor below to complain to me on a daily basis.

Although the tenant had originally been given permission to keep this pet, the constant complaints of her neighbor drove me to give her a one-week notice to get rid of the dog.

She responded by putting Fluffy in a kennel and giving me a 2 1/2-week notice that she was leaving. Doesn't she owe me a 30-day notice even though, as she claims, her leaving was provoked by the one-week dog notice?

ANSWER: Technically, the tenant remains responsible for a full 30-day notice and accompanying rent. Under the circumstances, however, you may want to consider the tenant's shorter notice as a fair solution. If the tenant had permission to keep a dog, a one-week notice, typically used when a clandestine pet is discovered, was probably not appropriate, especially if the tenant had no previous warning that such a notice might be given.

You could have issued either a 30-day notice of change in terms of tenancy or a three-day notice to abide by the rules or quit, on the basis of nuisance. Either way, your intentions would have been clearer to the tenant.

Of course you as a manager have an obligation to maintain a peaceful environment for all of your tenants, but the barking dog is a classic neighborhood problem and perhaps some less drastic solution might have been reached through a neighbor-to-neighbor mediation.

How to Collect for Damages From Fire

Q: After a small kitchen fire in a rental unit I own, I attempted to collect cost of the damages from the tenants. The tenants have delayed in paying the $350 they owe even though they have admitted their responsibility and I have receipts to substantiate my claim. Can I deduct this amount from their rent payment, and then serve the tenants with a three-day notice for the remainder of the rent?

A: Deducting the cost of the repair from the rent may only involve you in an expensive and possibly unsuccessful eviction action if the tenants do not pay in response to your three-day notice. Try instead to persuade the tenants to pay for the cost of repairs, perhaps by offering them a written agreement specifying a payment plan for the amount owed. If they refuse to cooperate, contact a tenant-landlord mediation service, or the Small Claims Court Advisory in your county. Although renters do at times deduct repair costs from their rent, under these circumstances, mediation or Small Claims Court can provide simpler, more effective and less expensive means of dealing with your problem.

Renter Wants to Put Agreement in Writing

Q: For the last 5 months I have lived in a cottage behind a larger, owner-occupied house. My relationship with the landlord has been friendly; but we have never gotten around to signing a written agreement. Should I be concerned about this? I'd feel more secure with a written agreement, but I don't want to cause a problem by proposing something that's not really necessary.

A: Although tenants and landlords in situations like yours may get along for months or even years with only an oral agreement between them, written agreements are strongly recommended. Disputes can often be easily solved or prevented if expectations are clear from the beginning. Oral agreements may be binding in California and both parties are protected by state rental laws, but it would be to everyone's advantage to state the rights and responsibilities of both parties in writing.

Suggest to your landlord that you value your rental situation and would like to formalize it, either with a lease or a month-to-month agreement. He'll probably agree, especially if he understands the advantages from his point of view. If you do decide to enter into a written agreement, be sure that you both have a signed, dated copy for your records. If you opt to continue with an oral agreement, you should keep careful records of all of communications with your landlord, including rent receipts and repair requests. These will document the history of your tenancy should any problems occur in the future.

Spousal Support Must Be Accepted as Income

Q: My husband and I recently divorced, and I must now find less expensive housing. I have located several suitable places but in each case the owners require tenants to have a monthly income equal to three times the rent. I earn almost that much and, with the spousal support the court has ordered, my income exceeds the required amount. Unfortunately, none of the places I have applied to will count the $1,000 per month that I receive in spousal support as part of my income. My ex-husband is a responsible person and has been diligent in making his monthly payments. I have to be out of this house within the next month. Is there anything I can do to persuade the owners of these properties to recognize my full income?

A: The law requires your prospective landlord to recognize any regular income as legitimate, regardless of its source. Tenants frequently receive income from Social Security, pensions, child and spousal support and interest payments. As long as the income can be documented, the landlord cannot discriminate on this basis. Some landlords may be reluctant to accept child or spousal support because, they believe such income is irregular or unstable. It may help if you can provide a letter from your attorney documenting the arrangements, or offer some other specific evidence that the payments actually occur on a regular basis. If the landlord still refuses to count spousal or child support as income, call your local Fair Housing organization. Such refusal is a form of discrimination, based on source of income, and is prohibited under California State Law.

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