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Using Move-In Checklist Avoids Move-Out Woes

July 03, 1994|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: After I moved into my apartment, I found out that the bedroom window was broken. I called the landlady and asked her to have it fixed as soon as possible.

It took her two weeks to send a handyman. He tried to fix it twice but failed. When I called to let her know that the window broke again, and the carpet needed to be cleaned (there were large hidden stains under the furniture), she got angry.

She told me to clean the carpet myself, and she told me that if I didn't like it I could leave. I have a one-year lease and I don't want to leave.

What can I do to have her replace the window? Can she break the lease because of my requests? If I do have to move out before the end of the lease, can I claim moving expenses from her?

ANSWER: While broken windows in apartments are habitability violations and must be fixed, I can understand your landlady's frustration at fixing the same one three times.

You don't say how or why the window is breaking, but if you are causing it to break you may be liable for the costs of repair. Since she's had a handyman out to fix the window twice already, I'm sure she'll send him out again.

As for the carpet, the owner must maintain it in a safe condition. Cleaning it is up to you.

I always recommend to owners and renters alike that they use a checklist, like the inventory checklist the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles produces, at move-in to determine the condition of apartments and everything inside them. At the same time, you should determine what needs to be done and who is to do it.

Move-in is your window of opportunity for using the checklist, which includes everything from air conditioning to windows and everything in between. When you move in, the "original condition" of items is noted. When you move out, the "final condition" is noted.

Then, when you move out there is no question about who broke what and handling security deposit refunds is greatly simplified for both parties.

You also ask if she can "break the lease because of my (maintenance) requests." The answer is no. First, you have a one-year lease. She can terminate it only if you break it first.

Second, even if you were on a month-to-month tenancy, she is specifically prohibited by state law from requiring you to move as retaliation for such a request.

Civil Code Section 1942.5 specifically prohibits an owner from trying to evict you within six months (if the rent is paid) after you notify an appropriate agency (Health, Fire or Building and Safety departments) of a habitability problem, like a broken window.

If I were you, I wouldn't go that far just yet. If she refuses to get the window fixed, which doesn't sound like the case, you can always go to them later.

Finally, you ask if you can claim moving expenses if you have to move before the end of your lease. I think that recovery would depend on circumstances.

If you persuaded a Small Claims Court (where you would likely take such a case) judge that things were so bad you had to move, he might find in your favor, but it isn't common practice.

Also, if you break the lease, you may be liable for the unpaid rent at the premises until it is re-rented. Since you seem to like the apartment, I recommend that you try to work out your differences.

30-Day Notice Doesn't Have to Be Given on 1st

Q: I lived in an apartment in Playa del Rey on a month-to-month rental agreement. I gave a 30-day notice on the 20th of the month, indicating that I would be moving out on the 20th of the following month.

The landlady told me that I was not allowed to give notice on the 20th. Rather, she said, since rent was due on the first, a 30-day notice to vacate had to be given then. She also said that I would be liable for the rent through the 30th of the following month unless she re-rented the unit before then.

Of course, it didn't rent until much later than the end of the month. I always understood that with a month-to-month tenancy, a notice to vacate could be served at any time during the month. Who is right, my prior landlady or me?

A: You are right. In a month-to-month tenancy, a notice to vacate may be given at any time during the month, regardless of when the rent is due.

If you had been on a lease the owner would have been right, but that's not the case here. Assuming you moved out on the 20th, she probably owes you the 10 days' rent, from the 20th to the 30th, unless you had an unpaid cleaning bill or damages that exceeded any security deposit you may have had.

If she owes you the money, and she won't refund it willingly, you can sue her in Small Claims Court to recover.

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