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RENT WATCH

Landlord Must Give Notice to Enter Despite Lease Clause

March 23, 1997|From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: I've been renting a single-family home and just gave the owner a written 30-day notice that I will be moving. Yesterday, I came home from work at about 7 in the evening to find the owner and a group of potential renters inspecting my bedroom. I had no idea these people were going to be there and had personal items in plain view. My embarrassment turned to anger when the owner later pointed out the clause in our rental agreement that allows him to enter without letting me know in advance. Is this legal? Aren't I entitled to some notice?

ANSWER: Despite the provision in your rental agreement, the property owner may not just walk in and show the house; in other words, that part of the agreement is invalid. Unless there is a genuine emergency, California Civil Code Section 1954 requires that the owner provide reasonable notice of his or her intent to enter. This right to enter cannot be expanded by a rental agreement, and you cannot be forced to waive or modify your privacy rights.

If the owner wants to enter to make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, he or she may enter only during normal business hours with reasonable notice to you, generally at least 24 hours. The notice can be oral or in writing.

If the owner wants to show the house, the same rules apply, and you are within your rights to insist that they be followed. Any owner who persists in attempting to enforce a clause such as the one in your lease, or otherwise ignores the law, may end up facing a lawsuit for trespass, invasion of privacy, etc.

You might consider working with the owner to come up with a schedule for showing the property that will be convenient for you and that is practical for the owner. In the event that you and the owner cannot reach such an agreement, you might contact your local housing mediation program for assistance or an attorney for legal help.

Law Requires Prompt Repair of Leaky Roof

Q: The roof of my apartment leaks, and the landlord essentially ignores my requests to fix the leak. He promises to make the repairs, but nothing happens. Any suggestions?

A: State law requires that a landlord maintain rental units in a "habitable" condition. This means that problems that potentially threaten the health or safety of the resident must be repaired within a reasonable amount of time after the landlord is made aware of them. "Habitability" refers to such issues as heating, electrical and plumbing systems, roofs, locks, windows and smoke detectors. Usually, 30 days should be sufficient time to complete repairs. What is a "reasonable" amount of time to repair a problem depends on the circumstances of the case but, in general, the more serious the problem, the more promptly an owner should repair it.

Your leaking roof is a habitability issue, and your landlord should repair it quickly, especially during the rainy season. If your landlord has not started to do the repairs within a reasonable time after receiving your letter, you can contact your local housing inspector, who would probably tell the owner to fix the roof on a fairly tight schedule or be subject to fines.

Recovering Alcoholic Needn't Tell Landlord

Q: As a recovering alcoholic, I participate in the Alcoholics Anonymous program. I am about to start looking for an apartment and wonder if I should mention this to my prospective manager. Is it illegal for an owner to refuse to rent to me for this reason?

A: Yes, it is illegal for an owner to discriminate against you because you participate in Alcoholics Anonymous. The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 provides protection for people like you who are recovering from a disability, although the act will not protect you if you are using alcohol. Alcoholism is considered a disability and you are therefore protected under the above-mentioned act.

You can contact your local fair housing agency to file a complaint against an owner who refuses to rent to you because you are a recovering alcoholic. However, it is not necessary for you to disclose the presence of your disability, unless it relates to an accommodation you need the owner to approve.

Tenant's Background Might Explain Request

Q: My tenant called concerning some repairs at her apartment. When I arrived to do the repairs, I was told to take off my shoes before entering. I resent the idea of having to do so. Do I have to comply?

A: Rather than responding on a straight yes or no basis, it might be better to understand why such a request may have been made. In certain ethnic groups and cultures, it is accepted, and even expected, that people take off their shoes before entering a home. The reasons vary from cleanliness to a custom ingrained in the culture. The tenant may be simply asking you to observe this custom by removing your shoes before entering.

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