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RENT WATCH

Negotiating With Landlord Over Rent Hike Can Pay

June 16, 1996|From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: Only six months after a rent increase, I received another large increase. My budget is now stretched to the limit, but I would rather not move. My city does not have rent control. What can I do?

ANSWER: With the exception of cities with rent control ordinances, property owners may charge whatever rent they choose, provided that the market will bear it. However, they cannot change the amount of the rent during a fixed-term lease; they must wait until the end of the lease. For month-to-month tenants, property owners are required to give a 30-day notice before they can increase the rent.

It used to be relatively easy for a tenant who did not like or could not afford the new rate to find a new place. In the current rental market, however, there are few vacancies.

First, try to negotiate with the landlord. Point out why it would be beneficial to him to allow you to continue your tenancy at your current rent or with a smaller increase. A move represents expenses for property owners because of the cost of preparing the apartment for a new resident.

If you have paid your rent on time regularly, kept the unit in good condition and if the landlord had no complaints about you from your neighbors, he may be willing to waive or reduce the amount of the rent increase to allow you to stay. Point out that you are a known factor and that a new tenant may be a problem.

If you must pay the full increase, you might try to obtain some improvements, such as a new appliance, blinds or a new carpet.

If negotiating on your own is difficult or unsuccessful, try mediation. Most areas in California have access to a free mediation program for rental housing issues.

The advantage of mediation is that parties meet face to face with a trained mediator whose role is to facilitate communication, to encourage parties to understand each other, and to focus on finding mutually acceptable solutions.

In your case, if the owner did not agree to waive or reduce the increase, other possibilities would be to obtain a longer lease or a longer notice period or even to stagger the increase over a longer period, in smaller increments.

If all fails and you cannot afford the new rent, you may consider looking for a smaller unit, maybe in the same complex. If moving is not practical, consider sharing your unit with a roommate, if your circumstances allow it.

If so, ask the potential roommates to fill detailed applications that include source of income and lifestyle preferences, to make sure that you are compatible. The property owner or manager should also be able to screen all potential roommates and have the final say. Most areas have nonprofit groups that can help you find a roommate.

Tenant Owes No More After Second Notice

Q: My month-to-month tenant gave me a notice that he would be moving out in 60 days. Five days later, he gave me a second notice that he wanted to move in 30 days, not 60. This is OK with me; however, I feel I'm entitled to the extra 30 days of rent. My tenant does not agree. What do you think?

A: The length of time required to terminate a tenancy is based on the time between rent payments, although California Civil Code section 1946 prohibits notices of less than seven days. If both the tenant and owner wish, and if it is included in the rental agreement, any notice period greater than seven days would be acceptable.

Since your tenant was on a month-to-month agreement, he only needs to give you a 30-day notice. Because there was such a short period of time between the two notices, there is no reason to believe you were financially damaged because your tenant changed his mind; therefore, you are not entitled to additional rent after your tenant vacates.

The Quiet Parakeet Poses a Problem

Q: I own a small apartment complex with a "no pets" clause in my rental agreement. I recently rented to a nice young couple and have had no problems of any kind with them. The other day they asked if I would check on a plumbing problem. When I went in, I saw a bird cage with a small parakeet.

I like birds and have always had one or more at my house, and this parakeet is apparently quiet--at least I haven't had any complaints. However, if I allow this pet, am I opening myself up for requests for dogs and cats--which I do not want? Should I get involved in charging pet deposits?

A: For starters, you can put a pet clause in your rental agreement that says something like the following: "No animal, bird or other pet shall be kept on the premises without the owner's prior written consent, except support animals for residents with disabilities."

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