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Apartment Life

Rules for Subleasing When You Must Leave Town

March 16, 1997|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group, and manager of public affairs for the California Apartment Law Information Foundation

QUESTION: I live in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica and will be leaving town for the summer. Can I sublease my apartment for three months while I am gone?

Also, what are my rights as a renter if my job requires me to go out of state for three months? Do I have the right to sublease my apartment in this situation?

ANSWER: According to Joseph Fitzsimons, a property manager with the Santa Monica-based Sullivan-Ditruri Realty Co.:

"If your landlord used the rental agreement prepared by the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, you are prohibited from subletting your apartment or assigning the rental agreement to another party.

"It doesn't matter whether you will be on vacation or temporarily relocating for your employment."

Most written agreements provide such prohibitions, according to Craig Mordoh, a Santa Monica attorney specializing in landlord-tenant matters.

"If you have no written agreement with the owner, you are free to sublet the unit," Mordoh said. "You should be aware, though, that under the Santa Monica Rent Control Charter Amendment, you may not have the ability to regain your unit from the subtenant upon returning from your trip.

"If your subtenant chooses not to relinquish the apartment at the end of the three-month period, you may have to look for another place to live."

Rent Increase Notices Have to Reach Tenants

Q: I live in Pasadena and I have a question about rent increase notices. Isn't it a law that any notice of a rent increase to a tenant be specifically mailed so that it goes through the post office and is personally delivered to a tenant's mailbox?

Our manager simply puts the notices in the tenants' wooden box, usually used for throwaway, junk mail. I have seen that mail stack up for days with a rent notice somewhere in the middle of the stack. Occasionally, it gets tossed out.

The previous manager, who retired after several years on the job, always mailed such notices. Who is right and what is legal?

A: Although California law requires written notices of rent increases, neither putting them in a "wooden box" nor simply mailing them satisfies California Code of Civil Procedure requirements for serving them to renters.

Civil Code 1162 requires that such a notice be served by delivering a copy to the tenants personally or by leaving a copy with someone "of suitable age and discretion" at the tenant's residence or usual place of business and sending a copy through the mail addressed to the tenant at his residence.

Failing those two approaches, the code allows a third option for serving the notice.

"If such a place of residence and business cannot be ascertained, or a person of suitable age or discretion there cannot be found, then by affixing a copy in a conspicuous place on the property, and also delivering a copy to a person there residing, if such person can be found; and also sending a copy through the mail addressed to the tenant at the place where the property is situated."

This last method of service, commonly know as the "nail-and-mail" approach, requires the landlord to post (nail) a copy of the increase (usually on the front door at eye level) as well as mail a copy to the tenant. Otherwise, the code requires that the landlord serve the notice of rent increase on the tenant personally.

Home or Apartment, Your Rights Are Same

Q: I live in Palm Desert and I have a question for you. Where can I get a list of California laws and rights for rental home tenants? Are the laws different for home renters than for apartment renters?

A: The rights and responsibilities of California's residential renters, whether in homes or apartments, are essentially the same. Many local rent-control regulations do change the rules, however. Also, some of these laws exempt single-family rentals from their provisions.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs will send you information sheets on a variety of topics, such as rental housing repairs or security deposits, at no cost. Call the department at (800) 344-9940 or (916) 445-1254.

If you live in a rent-controlled jurisdiction, check with the department for information about how the laws may affect you and your tenancy.

*

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group, and manager of public affairs for the California Apartment Law Information Foundation, which disseminates information about landlord-tenant law to renters and owners in California. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.

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