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Landlord Is Liable If Dog Hurts Tenants

August 15, 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: After reading your July 4 column, "Landlord Has Right to Prohibit Dangerous Pet," I started thinking about my situation and I have a couple of questions for you about my Hawthorne rental agreement.

About a year ago, I rented half of a duplex with a large back yard that I thought would be available to my family. Instead, I was told that the yard was being used as a "dog run" for the neighbor's pet.

Also, I had to sign an addendum to the rental agreement that said that we would not hold the owner responsible for any injuries incurred from the dog if we enter the back yard.

Since both of the rear doors in the unit exit into the back yard, isn't it a "common area" that should be shared by all of the renters?

And is it legal for the landlord to make prospective tenants sign such an addendum?

ANSWER: According to Trevor A. Grimm, general counsel to the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), Section 1953 of the California Civil Code provides that any agreement that requires a tenant to waive a claim for damages against a landlord in advance, like the addendum does, is void and unenforceable as being contrary to public policy. You can subtract the addendum from your agreement.

As for your rights to use the common areas of the property, there is no law defining any rights to use of common areas in rentals. They are governed by the provisions of your rental agreement. For instance, the owner probably could have written an addendum to your agreement that prohibited you from using the back yard altogether.

You say in your letter that you thought you would have unfettered access to the back yard. However, since you signed the addendum with the rental agreement, which usually occurs before move-in, that doesn't appear to be the case.

If the dog has "dangerous propensities," the landlord probably has a strict liability obligation to you for your safety. That means that you do not have to prove negligence on his part to recover damages in a lawsuit for injuries caused by the dog.

Ex-Tenants' Mess Is Not New Tenant's Problem

Q: Before moving into my Burbank apartment, I had to pay a "cleaning fee." Later, while reading my rental agreement, I noticed that when I terminate my tenancy my security deposit may be used to clean the apartment, repair damages and pay for unpaid rent.

It seems to me that I've paid for the cleaning and repairs from the former tenant. Can I be forced to pay for cleaning twice? What is my legal standing?

A: While the owner can charge you the actual costs of cleaning the apartment after you move out, he cannot charge you for cleaning up after the previous tenant. He also cannot charge you twice for cleaning the same apartment.

Every cent that you pay at the outset of the tenancy, other than the first month's rent or prepaid rent, is a part of the security deposit. That includes cleaning fees such as you describe, regardless of how the owner identifies them.

Security deposits are covered in California's deposit law, Civil Code Section 1950.5, and are fully refundable, unless they are used to pay for any or all of the three things you describe in your letter--cleaning (unless the unit is as clean when you move out as it was when you moved in), unpaid rent and damages exceeding normal wear and tear.

Landlord Not Required to Supply Security Bars

Q: I am a renter in Los Angles and my duplex has been burglarized four times during my 13-year tenancy here. I've repeatedly asked my landlord for security bars on my windows and a security gate, but have gotten nowhere. I've even offered to pay for them but have been refused permission to alter the premises.

After talking to every state and local agency I could find, it appears that there is no law or regulation that requires landlords to respond to the safety concerns of a tenant. Do I have any legal rights other than to move?

A: As you point out in your letter, you cannot compel the landlord to put in such safety devices, but there are other alternatives.

For example, you can probably get a security company to put an alarm system into the unit without altering it, which should help some. There are many types of systems available, some of which may even be less expensive than security bars and a gate.

Also, deadbolt locks in the doors and devices that prevent the windows from opening all of the way are inexpensive options. Of course, you'll need the landlord's permission to put them in, because that constitutes altering the unit, and you'll have to provide him with any keys to the new locks.

If the landlord won't allow that, moving may be your best option.

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