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Renters of Unit for Sale Retain Right to Privacy

August 08, 1993|Special to The Times; This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif

QUESTION: The condo that my wife and I have rented for years has just been offered for sale and we have decided to move out when our lease expires in six weeks. Unfortunately, the owners have listed the condo with the pushiest real estate agent we've ever encountered. She thinks nothing of dropping by at any hour with clients who often seem more interested in our housekeeping habits and taste in art than in the condo itself. She also insists on putting a lock box on the front door. The owners, who desperately need to sell the property, refuse to interfere with her activities. Do we have to put up with this?

ANSWER: You do need to allow prospective purchasers to see the property. However, as long as you continue to live there, your privacy rights should also be respected. You may wish to discuss the issue directly with the agent herself, pointing out your right to a 24-hour notice for each showing as guaranteed by Civil Code Section 1954. It may be possible to work out a schedule in advance that allows her reasonable access and protects your privacy as well.

Lock boxes present another problem as they technically allow real estate agents to enter at any time, without previous notice to the tenant. Lock boxes currently in use may allow the tenant more control if they're left out only for prearranged appointments and the agent must register by punching in a code.

If you do decide to accept a lock box, it's best to be quite specific about how and when it may be used. Many owners and tenants prefer to avoid the use of lock boxes because of liability problems if any of the tenants possessions are broken or missing.

If the agent continues to violate your privacy rights, you should notify the owners in writing. You may also wish to call the real estate agent's broker, or complain to the State Department of Real Estate.

Defining 'Normal Wear and Tear'

Q: What does the expression "normal wear and tear" really mean as it applies to security deposits? My former landlord has withheld some charges from my security deposit that I think should be his responsibility. Can you clarify the distinction between allowable charges for cleaning and damage repair, and those expenses for upkeep of the premises that should be assumed by the landlord as part of his cost of doing business?

A: "Normal wear and tear" is a difficult concept to pin down, but the following examples may help. A carpet that has been kept clean and free of stains and soil may still show signs of "normal wear and tear" in heavy traffic areas. The carpet is not dirty, but is simply wearing out due to normal use, and the landlord will eventually have to bear the cost of replacing it.

The same carpet may be considered damaged if someone drops a cigarette on it, causing a burn hole, or rips it while moving furniture. If the tenant moves into an apartment with a clean carpet and the landlord discovers soft drink stains and muddy footprints after the tenant's departure, he might justifiably charge the tenant for the cost of cleaning the carpet.

If we apply the same basic set of rules to the condition of walls, we can assume that a tenant will be charged for cleaning of walls covered with fingerprints, or for painting or touching up walls damaged by nail holes that he leaves unrepaired, but not for the repainting that becomes necessary after several years of the most considerate occupancy.

Who Is Responsible for Exterminating Rats?

Q: I have been renting a townhouse for several years, and recently I have been hearing noises at night, which I believe are roof rats. The rats probably gained access through several overgrown trees on the side of the house. Even though I am not responsible for maintaining the grounds, my landlord seems to feel that it's my duty to get rid of the rats. Shouldn't this be his responsibility?

A: According to both Sec. 17920.3 of the California Health and Safety Code, and Sec. 1941.1 (f) of the California Civil Code, a rat infestation is considered unsanitary and should be corrected to comply with the law.

If you were not responsible for maintaining the yard surrounding your unit and if you did not contribute to the infestation, you should not have to pay for the rat extermination. Your landlord should pay a professional exterminator, and should also have the trees trimmed.

To prevent the problem from recurring, any openings should be screened or sealed.

Owner Must Authorize Towing in Complex Lot

Q: I own a 40-unit complex with limited parking. Lately, there have been several complaints about tenants from neighboring complexes parking in my lot. To alleviate this problem, I issued stickers to all my tenants and sent a notice stating that all cars must display this sticker or they will be towed. I have an agreement with a towing service that allows the tow truck drivers to go through the lot at any time and tow cars that are illegally parked.

One of my tenants said it is illegal to leave the towing to the driver's discretion, is this true?

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