QUESTION: I live in a senior citizens apartment building in Hacienda Heights. How does one find out if an apartment building has rent control?
When I first moved into the apartment, I paid $520 monthly rent. A year later they reduced the rent to $480 because, they said, they were new owners. They now have raised the rent this year to put in new showers. If they have rent control, can they raise the rent?
ANSWER: There is no rent control in Hacienda Heights, which is an unincorporated part of L.A. County. However, even under rent control laws, owners are allowed to increase rents periodically, pursuant to local codes.
In general, new owners are more likely to raise rents than reduce them. Rent control or not, these owners are not out of control if they decreased rents last year and only now are increasing them to put in new showers.
30-Day Notice Starts Any Time in Month
Q: I have a tenant who wants to move out of my Los Angeles apartment. His lease says that he must give a 30-day notice of his intention to vacate. Does the 30 days start when the rent is due?
His rent is due on the first of the month. He gave notice on the 15th of the month and said he would pay only two weeks of the next month's rent.
Is this correct? Shouldn't the 30-day notice start on the first of the month?
A: Many apartment owners ask this question. Just as tenants can move into apartments on the 15th of the month (or any other day of the month), with prorated rents, they can move out on the 15th of the month with 30-day notices and prorated rents.
You say in your letter that the renter is on a lease, though. Most leases do not contain provisions for 30-day notices to move, as most are for fixed terms, such as a year.
For instance, the lease agreement published by the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles says, "Upon expiration of this agreement, renter shall vacate the premises without further notice. Any holding over after the expiration of the lease, with the consent of the owner, shall be construed as a month-to-month tenancy. . . ."
The association's month-to-month rental agreement, on the other hand, says, "Renter shall give owner 30 days' written notice of intent to vacate the premises and renter shall be liable for 30-days' rent following the giving of such notice. . . ."
If you are using leases that allow renters to give 30 days' notice of their intention to vacate, it's time to get new leases.
Lease Should Specify Use of Dishwasher
Q: In one of our L.A. apartment buildings, we use a dishwasher made by a well-known commercial manufacturer. Although these machines are rugged and long-lasting, they have one flaw. If they are not used periodically, the motor shafts swell up and must be replaced at a cost of more than $100.
Can we charge the tenants for these repairs? In other words, can we charge for misuse because of nonuse?
A: If you write a provision requiring periodic use of the dishwasher into your lease or rental agreement, and spell out the consequences of nonuse, you can charge the tenants for these repairs if they don't abide by the terms of their agreements.
Likewise, if you can prove you advised them in advance about the problem, you can write a provision into the agreement requiring tenants to pay for the repairs at the time they are made. However, it is unlikely that many judges would evict tenants for nonpayment of these charges. They may tell you to take them out of the security deposits.
There is no guarantee that Small Claims Court judges, who usually adjudicate residential security deposit disputes, would uphold such provisions.
An Update on Finding Renters Insurance
In the Nov. 3 and Nov. 24 installments of Apartment Life, we answered questions from our readers about renters' insurance, saying that policies for rental homes should be available for about $300 annually. At the time we did not have information about specific carriers that write such policies. Now we do.
According to one writer, "Your readers can obtain renter's insurance for about $300 a year for a rental house from California Casualty Insurance Co." A spokesman for California Casualty verified that. The company can be reached by phone at (800) 800-9410.
Jeffrey S. Beckett, president of the Lloyd S. Berkett Insurance Agency Inc., said, "Our agency has no problems placing renter's policies in L.A. or Orange counties. As an example, we offer $25,000 of personal property and $100,000 liability for about $350." The agency may be reached by phone at (213) 937-2150.
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.
Apartment Renters' Survival Guide
AAGLA has published a book, "The Best of Apartment Life: How to Survive Apartment Living and Ownership," a 154-page compilation of columns printed in The Times over the last few years.
It provides answers to 85 of the most frequently asked questions about apartment living, managing 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, care of Kevin Postema, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005. Allow two weeks for delivery.