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30-Day Notices to Tenants Must Be in Writing


QUESTION: I plan to remodel the small apartment building I own. Because I need cash flow, I will do this work unit-by-unit. I plan to do part of the work myself and subcontract the rest. I verbally gave a 30-day notice to a tenant who is always late with her rent. I thought that her unit would be a good place to begin the remodeling project.

The day before she was supposed to leave, and shortly before the contractors were scheduled to arrive, she came to me with a check for next month's rent. "I gave you a 30-day notice," I said. She replied, "Not in writing, you didn't. I'm staying." What can I do now?

ANSWER: Immediately, give her a 30-day notice, this time in writing. Then, if you wish, you may try to persuade her to move out before the 30 days are over by providing her with an incentive. If she stands fast, you will have to postpone your remodeling for another month. And, as you have learned, put all your notices in writing in the future.

Whose Fault Is It If Notice Doesn't Arrive?

Q: My lease states that I must give my landlord at least 60-day notice of my intention to renew my lease or else the agreement automatically expires on the last day of the lease term. The agreement also states that the notice must be given by certified or registered mail.

Two-and-a-half months before the expiration of my present lease, I mailed a certified letter to my landlord telling him that I planned to renew. Several weeks passed and I never got my return receipt, so I called my landlord. He said he hadn't received my notice and, as a result, had rented the apartment to another person. Whose responsibility is it when the notice is mailed on time, but the post office messes up? Can my landlord force me out?

A: Because your landlord designated the method of service, the risk of loss of the notice shifted to him once you deposited the letter with the postal service. He need not receive actual notice for your renewal option to be effective as long as you can prove that you complied by mailing the notice according to his instructions. So, he must now notify the other party that he cannot rent to them.

Contact your local mediation agency for help in resolving this housing matter. Better communications between tenants and landlords can prevent problems like these from arising. It is good practice to double check the steps required for significant actions, such as renewals of a lease, terminations of tenancy or major changes in a lease.

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.

The mounting concern over air pollution may make this academic. It is possible that the daily use of wood-burning stoves will be prohibited in the not-too-distant future.

Guide Dog Pet Deposit Beyond Tenant's Means

Q: My friend has been trying to locate an apartment that will also accommodate his guide dog. Several managers have told him that both he and the dog would be welcome, but they have also quoted a pet deposit ranging from $200 to $500. This represents a real hardship for my friend who only has enough money to pay the first month's rent and the regular deposit. Can this extra deposit be waived because of his circumstances?

A: According to a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, landlords may be required to waive special charges for guests or pets when these charges have an adverse effect on disabled tenants. The 1988 Fair Housing Amendments Act makes it unlawful for landlords to impose different terms and conditions relating to deposits because of a person's handicap. In light of these decisions, a waiver of the pet deposit may indeed be a possibility. Urge your friend to contact his local fair housing agency for further information. For a referral in Northern California, call (415) HOUSING.

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