QUESTION: For the past few years, I have been working out of my apartment. I am a fashion consultant, and in the course of my work fashion models come to the apartment for interviews, on average, about one visit per week.
However, the resident manager started poking around. "Who are those people? They dress funny." "They are models," I made the mistake of saying. So this week I received a notice that according to the rental agreement, I can't conduct business out of my apartment, and I am to cease and desist. What can I do?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, your landlord is correct, and there is very little that you can do, except to attempt to renegotiate the terms of your rental agreement. You are entitled to have as many friends drop by as you like, but business dealings are regulated by the agreement. A rental housing mediation program may help you explain to your landlord that your business visitors do not generate more traffic than personal guests, and that in this day and age, many people work at home. Nonetheless, your landlord can enforce the terms of the contract and that means no business, as your rental agreement states.
An exception to this rule has been made for day-care. A tenant may operate a small-home day-care facility in a rental property, and a landlord cannot interfere with that right.
How to File Discrimination Suit Against Neighbors
Q: Can I file a housing discrimination complaint against my neighbors? My husband and I and our three children rent a three-bedroom condominium in a complex that is mostly owner-occupied. The homeowners association has decided to fine the owner of our condo because anonymous neighbors have filed several unjustified complaints against us. We have heard anti-Chinese remarks from time to time, but we were willing to ignore them.
Now, we are scared. We fear that our landlord, who has been very supportive, will find that we are a liability. It would be impossible for us to find another three-bedroom unit in our price range and we don't want to pull our children out of their school. We don't want to get our nice landlord in trouble; it's just the neighbors who cause the problems. What can we do?
A: You can file a discrimination complaint against your neighbors. The Federal Fair Housing Act offers you protection from discrimination in housing due to your national origin. The act specifically protects you and your family against coercion, intimidation, threats or interference in the enjoyment of your rights to fair housing (sec. 818,42 U.S.C. 3617). Because the discriminatory remarks by your neighbors and the impending threat to your housing appear to be linked, you may want to call the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (800) 347-3739 or California Department of Fair Employment and Housing at (800) 233-3212.
What You Can Do When Tenants Don't Pay Rent
Q: When I rented an apartment to new tenants during the last week of the month, I collected only one week's rent plus a security deposit equal to one month's rent. It's now the 10th of the month and I have not been paid the current month's rent. I don't think the new tenants want to pay, nor do they seem to want to move. How can I avoid this in the future?
A: Make sure that your rental agreement clearly states when the rent is due. If you wish to allow a grace period, this should also be stated in the rental agreement. If your tenants don't pay the rent within the allotted time, you should give them a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. By giving a formal notice, you are following good business practices and are reminding your tenants that you will enforce the terms of your contract with them.
One way to avoid this problem is to have your new tenants pay a full month's rent before occupying the apartment, regardless of when they move in. If they move in on the 15th of the month, they pay to the 15th of the next month, and payments are due in the future on that date. If you like to have your rents due uniformly on the first, collect a full month's rent on the 15th, and on the first of the next month, collect for another 15 days. In the future, all payments are due on the first.
Does Wood Stove Meet Local Heating Code?
Q: I rent a studio apartment where the only source of heat is a wood-burning stove. I wonder if this is legal, and if so, who is responsible for providing the wood?
A: You can check with your local building inspector's office to see if this type of heating meets current codes in your area. Under the Uniform Housing Code, the heat source must be capable of maintaining a room temperature of 70 degrees F at a point three feet above the floor in all habitable rooms.
If your rental agreement does not specify who buys the wood, this is probably a negotiable item. There is probably a good argument that whoever is now responsible for the other utilities such as electricity and water will also be responsible to supply the wood.