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RENT WATCH

Can Manager Force Tenant to Clean Up Unit?

June 04, 1995|From Operation Sentinel

QUESTION: The property manager at my complex does a yearly inspection of all the units to verify that smoke detectors are operating properly. Shortly after the property manager visited my apartment, I received a notice requiring me to "clean up the clutter" within the next 30 days. I admit I have stacks of books and papers throughout my apartment, but it is my home, so shouldn't I be able to keep it as I like?

ANSWER: Yes and no. To a great extent, management cannot dictate how tenants keep their apartments; but when a tenant's living habits create a danger for other residents, or a risk of damage to the property itself, management can intervene. If a tenant were to let dirty dishes and garbage pile up, causing an infestation of ants, roaches or rats, it wouldn't be fair to other tenants for the management to allow this to continue. In your case, it is probably the increased fire potential that has the management concerned.

If you feel that management is overreacting, consider calling the local fire marshal or housing inspector for a second opinion, or contact your local mediation program for help in setting some guidelines that are acceptable to both of you.

Tenant Wants Repairs But Won't Admit Service Person

Q: One of my tenants has been complaining about a malfunctioning disposal. On two occasions the appliance store where I do business sent a service person to install a new unit, but both times the tenant refused to let him in, saying the time was not convenient. I am frustrated. She makes a complaint and within hours I arrange to take care of the complaint, and now this. What can I do?

A: Explain to your tenant that she is expected to cooperate in allowing entry, particularly when she requests repairs. The law allows you or your representative to enter a rental unit under five conditions: 1) to deal with an emergency; 2) to make necessary repairs or alterations; 3) to show the property to prospective tenants or buyers; 4) when the tenant has moved out or abandoned the property; 5) by court order.

In this case, you attempted to make necessary repairs, and the only mistake you made was not giving adequate notice to your tenant. Adequate notice is deemed to be at least 24 hours before entry. You can inform your tenant of the planned schedule by phone, or if you can't connect by phone, write a brief note stating when you or the service person will enter the premises. Keep a copy for your records.

Pungent Odor Comes Between Neighbors

Q: My downstairs neighbors cook fish frequently and use pungent seasonings. No matter what I do, the smell always gets into my apartment, and even though I enjoy a lot of ethnic foods, this is getting to be too much. I have asked the manager to intervene, but he says he doesn't speak their language. In addition, he's afraid they'll claim discrimination. What can I do?

A: The manager's concern about fair housing law is appropriate. Both state (Rumford and Unruh acts) and federal law (1968 Civil Right Act) prohibit differential treatment of tenants on the basis of national origin. Understandably your manager does not want to limit tenants' rights to cook their native dishes just because they produce unfamiliar odors.

Why not contact a community mediation agency for assistance with this issue? If you and your neighbors could sit down with a mediator, perhaps some solution could be found. If a language barrier exists, bilingual mediators and translators may be found to assist you in resolving the problem.

This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 582-B Dunholme Way, Sunnyvale, Calif. 94087, but cannot be answered individually. For help in the Los Angeles area, call the Westside Fair Housing Council at (310) 477-9260.

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