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Looted Tenants Out of Luck


QUESTION: My spouse and I rent an apartment in the San Fernando Valley. The complex has storage units above the carport area. A couple of weeks ago several of the storage units, including ours, were broken into.

We do not carry renters' insurance. Should we take the loss, or do we have any other options? Can you recommend any companies that provide renters' insurance?

ANSWER: You probably will have to take the loss rather than litigate this locker-looting incident. You may have a shot at collecting some damages from the owner if the lockers were broken into previously and he knew about it and didn't inform you about it.

But even then, any damages you may collect would depend on the circumstances and would be at the discretion of a Small Claims Court judge.

I don't have any specific recommendations of insurance companies from which to get a renters' insurance policy, but do call several of them as the rates and coverage can vary significantly.

If you are going to be storing valuables in the storage lockers in the future, make sure that the policy you select includes them or that a rider for their coverage is available.

Owner Cannot Legally Collect Double Rent

Q: I recently vacated my apartment, for which I had signed a six-month lease. I gave the proper notice and moved out at the end of the lease. The lease commenced on the 10th of the month, but I was asked to pay a full month's rent for the first month.

When the rent became due again, I asked the manager if I should pay it on the 10th or prorate it. He asked me to pay a full month's rent on the first of each month. I assumed that the extra 10 days' rent ultimately would pay the rent for the last 10 days of my tenancy.

I soon found out that the management company signed a lease with a new tenant starting the first day of the next month (a day after I moved out).

I called to find out about the refund of my rent overpayment and the manager was very rude. He told me that my second month's rent had been prorated and that I was out of luck.

I explained that I had paid a full second month's rent and had the canceled check to prove it. He then mentioned that I broke the lease by vacating the property and that gave him the right to sign a new lease. This doesn't sound legal to me. They are collecting double rent from two tenants for 10 days. Can they get away with this?

A: California law prohibits landlords from collecting double rents on residential property. You should write a letter to the management company informing them of this. Also include copies (not originals), with explanations, of all rent and deposit payments made so there can be no doubt about any prorating of rents.

Request a refund of the extra rent money and explain in your letter that the law also provides for a fine of up to $600 for the "bad faith" retention by the management company of any residential rental security deposit, which is what your extra rent payment should be considered.

Any consideration paid for an apartment in addition to the first month's rent, no matter what it is called, must be treated as security deposit.

You also may want to remind the management company that deposit refunds, or an accounting of how deposit money was used, must be made within 21 days, according to state law.

If the management company still doesn't cooperate, you will have to sue them in Small Claims Court for the money. If you follow all of the steps explained here, you should have a good chance at prevailing in court and getting some penalty money.

Interest Not Paid on Some Deposits

Q: I leased out a single-family home in Tujunga three years ago, and now the tenants are moving out. I collected security deposits of $1,200. The lease agreement did not specify any interest payments on deposits. Am I required to pay interest on the whole $1,200 or on that amount left after cleanup, maintenance and so forth?

A: You probably are not required to pay any interest on any part of this security deposit. The owners of most single-family rental homes in the city of Los Angeles are not required to pay interest on deposits.

Only owners of residential rentals covered by the city's rent control ordinance are required to pay interest on deposits. Most single-family rentals are exempt from the law.

You may be under rent control if you own two or more single-family homes on the same lot or if you have more than one set of renters in one single-family home. To find out, call the city's rent control registration department at (213) 847-7490.

If you have to pay interest on the deposit, you must pay it on the entire deposit of $1,200. If your lease agreement had specified that you would make interest payments on the deposit (most don't), you would be liable for them. Interest is computed and paid at 5%, simple interest, per year.

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