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Rent Watch

On-the-Move Tenants Must Honor Their Lease

August 20, 1995|From Operation Sentinel

QUESTION: We leased an apartment six months ago. But it has been our intention to buy a home when we found something appropriate and affordable. Last month we found such a house, and escrow closes in two weeks. Our problem is that we have a year lease on the rental. Can we break the lease and, if so, how?

ANSWER: Yes, you can break the lease, but you still have obligations to the owner. You have made a contract and are obliged to pay rent for the full term of the lease, whether you still live there or not. If you do not pay, the owner can sue you and most likely get a judgment against you.

Sounds grim, doesn't it? Fortunately, the owner also has the obligation to rent the property to another tenant as promptly as possible and to use that tenant's rent payments to offset your obligations.

An example: Let's say your rent is $1,000 a month payable on the 1st. You move into your new home on the 1st. The landlord places an ad in the daily newspaper at a cost of $100 and finds new tenants who move in on the 15th of the same month. You will owe $500 in rent plus the ad cost, a total of $600.

Landlord May Be

Violating Housing Law

Q: I'm a young professional who recently decided to find a classier apartment. After a few days, I found a place that was very nice and put down a holding deposit. It is a two-bedroom apartment that I plan to share with a roommate; my roommate and I have known each other since college and we have been good friends for quite a while. He is African American and I am white. When the two of us went to sign the rental agreement, the manager seemed to be taken aback. She said she was understaffed that day and too busy to complete the agreement and said she'd call me later.

She called me the next day and said she did not want to embarrass me in front of my friend, but the apartment complex does not allow blacks. I was incredulous--in this day and age--to hear that. I want to do something about this, but don't know what.

A: You can go to your Fair Housing Opportunity Center. Recent court cases have established that the right of whites to live in integrated housing is protected under law. If you complain, there probably will be a fair housing test using an African American tester and then a white tester. If the African American is refused and the white is accepted, the case will be pursued. To locate your fair housing center, call (213) HOUSING from Southern California or (415) HOUSING from Northern California.

Late Rent Payment Can Incur a Penalty

Q: I mail my rent to my landlord. This month my check arrived after the 5th and my landlord says I owe a late fee. I mailed the check on the 4th, because it usually takes just a day to get to my landlord's post office box. Should I be charged for a delay in the mail, since I mailed the check before the deadline?

A: In most cases, rent is due on the 1st and is late after that date, but most landlords give a grace period before they charge late fees. Apparently you have a five-day grace period to enable you to get your rent to your landlord without incurring these fees.

The general presumption is that intrastate mail may take up to five days to arrive at its destination, so you face the possibility of being late every time you mail your check after the 1st. If you mail your check by the 1st and it is unduly delayed by the Postal Service, you may be able to persuade your landlord to waive the late fee. But if you mail it at the last minute, hoping that it will arrive by the 5th, he may not be accommodating.

Water Bed Is Giving Landlady the Jitters

Q: My landlady insists on inspecting my water bed every three months. I think this is too often, as well as being annoying, and I want her to stop. She has never found a problem, but she says she has the right to make the inspections. Is there anything I can do?

A: According to California Civil Code 1940.5, after the initial move-in inspection, a property owner can "periodically" inspect to ensure that a water bed remains structurally sound. Does periodically mean as often as every three months? It can be; the owner has a potential liability with a tenant's water bed, because the bed can leak a long time before the problem is detected. (This hazard is reflected in the rules regarding security deposits; normally, a deposit for an unfurnished dwelling cannot exceed two times the monthly rent, but if the tenant has a water bed, a deposit can be up to 2 1/2 times that amount.)

If the installation or maintenance is found to be faulty, the owner can give the tenant a three-day notice to either correct the problem or remove the bed. If the bed is installed by someone other than the tenant, the property owner can request a written installation receipt, stating the installer's name and business address.

Essentially, you need to establish a balance between your privacy and your landlady's peace of mind by developing an inspection schedule that is unobtrusive for you, yet still assures her that there are no leakage problems.

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