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Complex Tiffs Don't Appear to Be Enough for Lawsuit

May 19, 1996|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I live in Hollywood, and I am hoping you can help me solve some problems I'm having with the resident manager and a 19-year-old tenant at the building.

First, I had a problem with the tenant. Some time ago the manager asked me to confirm loud talking in the courtyard of the building by the tenant and his company the previous night at 2 a.m. I agreed, confirming it in front of both the tenant and manager.

Without arguing the point, the tenant spit in my face. The manager didn't say anything and I didn't either. Instead, I went directly to my apartment.

A short while later, I had a problem with the manager. For her convenience, she likes to prop the fire door open. One of the doors is directly between my apartment and the laundry room.

I don't like the fire door open because I don't like the smell of the laundry. I asked the manager to keep it closed, but she wouldn't do it.

Then I talked to her supervisor. He said that we must obey all fire department regulations. He said I should close the fire doors whenever I see them open. So I started closing them whenever I saw them open.

This made the manager extremely mad. Once, she even shouted to me, "[Expletive.] Move out." I called the management office and they apologized to me. The manager never did, and since then she completely ignores me.

Such primitive people cannot hurt my feelings, but if I say nothing they may think their attitudes were justified. In the future, they may act even worse.

Is there any legal action I can take against the manager and tenant because of these problems, or should I forget the whole thing? I do like my apartment and I don't want to move this summer when my lease expires.

Can the manager make me move out or raise the rent when the lease expires?

ANSWER: If you really like the apartment, and plan on staying there, your best bet is to close the door on these past heated exchanges. If there are no verbal brush fires burning now, don't light any.

It seems as if the manager and the other tenant have been instructed to leave you alone and they are doing that. I don't think you will have to worry about them in the future unless you start something, like a lawsuit.

That takes us to your question about legal options. You may have something of a civil lawsuit, but there appear to be few "damages" (ways in which you were financially or emotionally "damaged"). Since awards in civil suits are based upon damages, there appears to be little point to filing such a suit.

On the other hand, such a lawsuit would almost assuredly make the manager and the other tenant's blood boil, which may start new problems.

As for the manager making you move out at the end of the lease term, I think that is an unlikely occurrence whether the unit is regulated by the city of Los Angeles' rent-stabilization law or not.

Regardless of any local regulations or what the economy is doing, there is nothing more valuable to a landlord than a quiet, rent-paying renter, which you appear to be.

The landlord or management company is not about to let the manager evict you because of what sounds to me like a personality conflict.

And if the unit is rent-controlled, the manager must have a specific "just cause," such as nonpayment of rent, nuisance or illegally subletting the unit, to evict you.

Since you always pay the rent on time and don't do anything wrong, it would be very difficult for the manager to evict you under rent control, except for a "no-fault" eviction, the type used to move in a manager or for major rehabilitation of the unit. For this type of eviction, the tenant must be paid relocation fees, which probably would rankle the manager more than your being there.

As for the rent, the management company may raise it at the end of your lease term. The amount of such a rent increase depends directly upon whether the unit is rent-controlled by the City of Los Angeles. If it is, the rent increase is limited to 3%, at least until July 1, at which time it may change. Unless the unit is a luxury unit, under the city's definition, or relatively new construction, it probably is rent-controlled.

Otherwise, the rent increase, or decrease, will be determined by market forces. Although rents have fallen for the last few years, they seem to have stabilized in recent months, so a slight increase would be more likely than anything.

Nevertheless, it's still basically a renter's market. Don't expect a big rent increase, if any.

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.

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