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What to Do When Rent Increases Beyond Limit


QUESTION: I rent in Los Angeles and the owners of my building just increased the rent from $425 to $495, a $70 increase. When I called them to ask about it, I was told that there is no longer any rent control. When did rent control end in the City of Los Angeles?

ANSWER: Rent control is still in place in Los Angeles. Under the L.A. law, owners of rent-controlled buildings in the city are limited to annual rent increases of no more than 3%, unless they pay the gas or electric bill for a unit, in which case they are entitled to an added 1% for each utility.

The 3% increases are effective in Los Angeles until at least June 30, 1995, at which time they may change.

The owners also may be entitled to special increases for things such as capital improvements, like a new roof, but you would be notified of such increases and the reasons for them.

I would let the owner know that rent control is alive and well in the city of Los Angeles and that he is only allowed to increase the rent by 3%, $12.75, unless special circumstances prevail.

Is Owner Responsible for Outside Lighting?

Q: I rent an apartment in a 32-unit building in Glendale and I have a question for you. Are the owners responsible for outside lighting at an apartment building? I have been burglarized once and at that time there was no outside lighting.

They did provide lighting after the burglary, but now they refuse to replace the burned-out bulbs. They say it's too expensive and they are only responsible for inside lighting. I say they're wrong. What does the law say?

A: I think I can shed some light on your problem, if not on the building. Although the law does not specifically require outside lighting at apartment buildings, many courts have determined that apartment owners can be liable if unsafe conditions of which they are aware are not corrected.

Many courts have found that the absence of outside lighting of the building's common areas was a contributing factor to crimes committed at the properties. The owners who knew of those problems also have been found all or partially liable for the damages resulting from them.

You should inform the owners that it is in their best interest to provide outside lighting at the property. If a serious crime occurs there, they could be liable for major damages if a court determines that lack of lighting contributed to the crime.

How to Get Deposit From Bankrupt Owner

Q: I am having a problem getting my security deposit back from the owner of the Burbank apartment where I used to live. The owner said he was filing for bankruptcy and could not refund my deposit.

The day I moved out, the manager distributed court papers to all tenants. The papers are from the bank that foreclosed on the owner. They say the bank is not responsible for the deposits either.

I spoke with a bank representative who told me that the bank is not the new owner. I don't know who to bring to Small Claims Court to get my refund. Can you help?

A: While you could bring the former owner to court, even if a judge awarded you anything you may not be able to collect from him since he has filed bankruptcy. And, since you got copies of the bankruptcy papers, the security deposit debts probably already have been discharged by the bankruptcy court. Your best bet is to sue whoever holds title to the property now. That may or may not be the bank.

The best way to find out who has the title to the property, if you only have an address, is to go to one of the regional Los Angeles County Assessor's Offices and request ownership information based upon the address of the property.

If the assessor cannot find the property based upon the address you provide him, because the assessor's address for the property may not be the same as the mailing address (especially on corner properties), you will have to find the map book page and parcel number of the property in order to find out the ownership information.

Also, it takes six to eight weeks after a change of ownership occurs for the new ownership information to get into the system.

Rent Costs More With Additional Child

Q: I responded to an advertisement for a vacant apartment in Burbank. The rent was listed at $1,195 a month. Since I liked the location, I wanted to rent the apartment.

However, when I expressed my interest in the apartment, the owner said the rent would be $1,250 because I have two children instead of one, like she thought. Is this legal? What can I do?

A: According to real estate attorney Duane Hall, "Since there was no contract or agreement entered into at a monthly rent of $1,195, the landlord was not bound to rent it to you at that level, even though he had listed the rent at that level."

Hall also said that if the landlord's intention in raising the rent were to discourage you from renting the apartment because of the additional child, he could have had some exposure to liability for child discrimination.

However, he said, the landlord's motive here appears to be a willingness to rent to you regardless of the number of children you have and just to charge more for the extra person. The landlord appears to have acted legally. All you can do is rent the apartment at $1,250 or look elsewhere.

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