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Rent Watch

Tips on Today's More Subtle Discrimination

August 07, 1994| Special to The Times

QUESTION: My fiancee and I have a question about discrimination. We have been checking out rentals near our workplace because neither of our current apartments is big enough for a couple, and we plan to get married next month. We found an ideal complex with an available two bedroom apartment and were quoted a very attractive rent over the phone, so we made an appointment. The manager treated us cordially during our visit but the rent had mysteriously increased by $50 per month. Although we still qualified for the unit, we decided not to apply because it was over the range we had budgeted for housing. Since I am Latino and my fiancee is African-American, we wonder if discrimination might be involved. If so, what can be done about it?

ANSWER: Today, discrimination frequently takes a more subtle form than the old fashioned point blank refusal to show or rent an apartment. The higher rent quoted at the time of your visit may have been the result of an honest mistake or may indeed represent race or national origin discrimination. By quoting you a higher rent, the manager did discourage you from applying, and it is natural to wonder what his motives may have been. For assistance, contact the fair housing agency in your area. The agency will inform you of your rights under the law, conduct an investigation and assist you with referral to an attorney, or state or federal agency, if you choose. To locate an agency in Southern California, call (213)--HOUSING.

Law Changes Mobile Park Water Billing

Q: The manager of my mobile-home park recently told me that my water meter is connected to the sprinkler system that waters the flower bed at the entrance to the park. He said a newly amended law required him to disclose this. Shouldn't he have told me about this earlier, and shouldn't I be reimbursed for this added expense, since I pay the water bills?

A: Until Jan. 1, it was not necessary for park management to make this disclosure. But, since the first of this year, they must. (For law buffs, Civil Code Section 798.43 was so amended.)

Do they have to reimburse you? If they continue to use water charged to your meter for watering common areas, they are required to pay you for their use of the water. Their financial obligation extends back to Jan. 1, 1991, or back to the time that they discovered the situation; they are also required to enter into a written agreement with you regarding future compensation for the park's portion of the bill.

If management stopped using your meter as soon as they discovered this problem, or before the first of 1994 at the latest, you are not entitled to reimbursement. But talk it over with them; you have nothing to lose, and they may agree to some compensation. Your local mediation program may be able to assist you.

Commissioner Asks About 'Accessible' Act

Q: As a member of a local planning commission, I received an application from a developer to build new multifamily rental property in our city. The developer is talking about making a few of the units accessible to the handicapped. What does the Fair Housing Law say on this subject?

A: According to the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 all "covered multifamily dwellings built for occupancy after March 31, 1991, shall be designed and constructed to have one building entrance on an accessible route . . . and be designed in such a manner that the public and common areas are accessible." Also, all the areas within the units must meet the accessibility requirements as outlined in the Federal Register.

As one who reviews the building design proposals, you need to make sure that all the units are accessible as long as it it practical to do so. The burden of establishing impracticality because of the terrain or unusual site characteristics is on the developer. If you have any additional questions, call your local fair housing agency or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at (800) 347-3739.

Local Ordinances Can't Overrule State Laws

Q: I own property in a city that recently proposed an ordinance requiring landlords to give a 60-day notice to change the terms of a tenancy. Is that legal?

A: No. In the Tri-County Apartment Assn. v. City of Mountain View (1987), the court found that state laws relating to tenant/landlord matters are preemptive--that is they can't be changed or overridden by local ordinances.

Therefore, local rules cannot require more or less notice than is required by Civil Code Section 827, which requires only a 30-day notice to change the terms of a month-to-month tenancy.

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