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Tenant Must Be Upfront About Credit Flaws

November 19, 1995| From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: I am a professional woman who earns a good salary. I need an apartment, but three years ago I was out of work for several months. Because I had no savings at that time, I was evicted from my apartment and had to move in with my family. As a result, my credit rating is lousy, and whenever I apply for an apartment, I am turned down. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Property owners need to have steady and reliable cash flow from their rentals. Most of them rely on information from credit reporting services, which, in your case, is negative.

To overcome this problem, your best bet is to be upfront about your past money problems; don't submit an application and wait for the owner to find out the bad news. (Also, you may save money since credit-report fees do not have to be refunded.) You need to convince the owner that your financial problems are behind you. You should state that you have a good-paying job and should bring pay stubs to verify your income. Perhaps a letter from your employer or supervisor that states that you are a valued employee would help. If you have a friend who has a good standing in the community, a letter of reference from that person may also be useful.

If you find a place that you really like but are turned down, you may try to offer a higher security deposit than normally requested or to prepay your rent for several months. You could also find someone to co-sign the rental agreement, a person with good credit that will guarantee your rental payment if you default.

To re-establish a good credit rating, you could consider renting, on a temporary basis, a more modest home. A less expensive apartment would require a smaller deposit and fewer assurances for the owner that you can afford it.

Frightened Tenant Billed After Moving

Q: My family and I have been living in an apartment complex for three years. In the last year, the complex has been heading downhill. There are some scruffy-looking tenants who have threatened me and, worse, my daughter. After the episode with my daughter, I told the manager we'd be leaving in 30 days, which we did.

My mistake, I know: It should have been in writing. But we were really scared at that point. Now, I got a bill from the management company for more than $500, representing the monthly rent minus part of the deposit. I'll have difficulty paying this and even wonder if I really have to.

A: You are obliged (under California Civil Code 1946) to deliver a 30-day notice in writing to the owner or manager, preferably in person or by certified mail.

That's the bad news. If the manager accepted your notice, however, that's another issue. If you can prove that the manager knew you were leaving and acknowledged your notice, then you shouldn't have to pay. If the owner showed the apartment to prospective tenants or gave you a move-out check list, detailing your responsibilities for cleaning, and if you can verify this, you should request the manager to rescind the additional charges.

Ex-Tenant Can File Lien, Attach Wages

Q: My landlord tried to evict me because I complained about repairs that weren't being done. In court we arrived at a stipulated judgment, the terms of which were that we would move out of the unit in 30 days and our landlord would not be entitled to back rent. He was also to refund our entire security deposit when we vacated the unit. When it came time to move, our landlord was nowhere to be found. Needless to say, we have yet to receive our security deposit. What can we do to get it back?

A: You are halfway there, since you already have a judgment. Now all you need to do is enforce it. There are several ways you can do this; for example by filing a lien against the owner's real property or by attaching his wages or bank account. "Collect Your Court Judgment," published by Nolo Press, is an excellent source for more specifics on these and other processes available to enforce your judgment.

Interest May Be Due on Security Deposit

Q: One of my tenants recently gave me a 30-day notice. At the bottom of the notice was a memo stating that the tenant expected the return of his full deposit plus interest. I have no problem refunding the deposit, if the unit is left clean and in good condition, but do I really have to pay him interest?

A: It depends on where your property is located. There is no state law that requires landlords to pay interest on deposits, but many cities have local ordinances that require interest payments. These include Berkeley, Cotati, East Palo Alto, Hayward, Los Angeles, San Francisco, city and county of Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Watsonville.

Some property owners agree to pay interest on the deposit as part of their rental agreement. Check your agreement for such a clause. Unless you had an agreement with the tenant to pay interest on the deposit or your property is in one of the cities listed above, you have no obligation to pay him interest.

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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