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Get Answers Before Signing a Lease

August 06, 1995|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group

QUESTION: I lease a house rather than an apartment but can identify with many of the issues you discuss in the column. Where can I write to get similar information about the rights and responsibilities for those who rent or lease houses?

ANSWER: Even if it's not a house, an apartment is a home. As such, the rights and responsibilities of renters, whether they are apartment or house renters, are essentially the same with only a few notable differences.

For instance, many apartment contracts prohibit using at least some of the "common" areas for storage or recreation while such restrictions don't generally apply in house rentals.

You may also be required to pay the water bill at a house. Most apartment owners, on the other hand, pay their renters' water bills.

The bottom line is that the lease or rental agreement should specify in writing the rights and responsibilities of both parties, whether you are renting a house or an apartment.

If there are things left unsaid, or unclear, in the agreement, you should always clear them up before signing on the dotted line. Problems with rentals are always best solved before the tenancy commences.

30-Day Notice Required to Vacate a Rental

Q: I gave the landlord a written notice on July 21 that I will be vacating my Los Angeles apartment unit on Aug. 1. The full rent has been paid until then.

The landlord says that I am required by law to submit a 30-day notice of termination. He says I am liable for rent through Aug. 20 and must pay for this rental period.

I don't think that's right and I am considering legal action, particularly since he has $875 of my security deposit money. Do I have a cause of action for a lawsuit if the owner keeps any of my security deposit to pay for this disputed rent?

A: I don't think that you have a good cause of action for a lawsuit based upon the information you have provided. Here's why.

State law requires that you give the landlord a written 30-day notice of your intention to vacate your apartment if the term of the rental contract is month to month, which I am assuming it is, and no other time limit is provided. It also requires him to give you a 30-day notice if he wants you to move out.

Since you gave the notice on July 21, you are liable for the rent through Aug. 20, as the landlord told you.

Also, according to state law, the landlord may use the security deposit to cover unpaid rent as well as to repair damages that exceed "normal wear and tear" and to get the apartment cleaned to the same level as it was when you moved into it.

Booklet Answers Many Rental Questions

Q: I live in Montebello and I read your column regularly. Unfortunately, I have not saved them. Is there any kind of book or booklet that can be had for reference. If so, how can I get it?

A: The Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles has published a book, "The Best of Apartment Life: How to Survive Apartment Living and Ownership," which is a 154-page compilation of columns printed in The Times over the past few years.

It provides answers to 85 of the most frequently asked questions about apartment living, management and ownership. The 23 chapters include "Nightmare on Elm Street: Tenant Screening," "Water, Water Everywhere: Rules for Pools" and "When the Party's Over: All About Moving Out."

The book sells for $12.75, which includes tax, postage and packaging. Checks, made payable to the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, should be sent to AAGLA, c/o Kevin Postema, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90005. Allow two weeks for delivery.

Only Judge Can Rule on Legality of Late Fee

Q: The Torrance apartment complex where I live adds a 10% surcharge to the rent if it is not received by the third of the month. Is 10% of a month's rent an excessive penalty? It seems so to me. Can I refuse to pay it?

A: Trevor Grimm, general counsel to AAGLA, says, "An apartment owner may charge a reasonable fee to compensate him for the late payment of rent. The amount of such a fee is not defined by the law. However, it must be reasonably related to the owner's anticipated expense and inconvenience that result from the late payment.

"Therefore, a 10% late rent fee may be legal, but only a judge, after hearing evidence from both parties, could determine that."

Grimm adds that if the fee is too high, it is then considered a penalty by the law and is not legal.

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