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Owner Wants to Motivate Tenant to Move Out on Time

October 11, 1998|From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: Two weeks ago, I gave my tenant a 30-day notice to move. It's my impression that she doesn't plan to move by the end of the notice. I'm selling the property and have scheduled major repairs. The notice to move expires nine days into next month.

To motivate her to move on time, I want to collect next month's rent in full and then refund the balance of the unused rent after the property is vacated. Do you see a problem with this approach?

ANSWER: Yes. If you collect rent for the days beyond the first nine days of the month, your action probably will cancel your original 30-day notice of termination of tenancy. The reasoning is that it is inconsistent to accept rent for any time after the rental agreement has been terminated.

If you think your tenant is not planning to move, you may want to find out why. Perhaps she needs just a short amount of extra time, and you may be able to work the repair schedule around this additional time.

If you give her any amount of additional time beyond the original 30-day notice to move, be sure you all agree, in writing, that this is an extension only, not a cancellation of the original notice.

Remember, a legal action for eviction will be costly, aggravating and time-consuming for both of you.

Tenant Must Approve Any Change in Lease Q: I recently signed a year lease and paid the first month's rent, last month's rent and security deposit. The owner now wants to amend the lease by switching the last month's rent to the security deposit. Can he do this?

A: No. The designation of last month's rent cannot be changed. One of the purposes of a fixed-term lease is to avoid what the property owner proposes--to change the ground rules.

With a fixed-term lease, the owner cannot change any terms unless the lease says they can be changed or unless you agree, in writing, to the change or modification.

Mediation May Help Border and Landlord Q: I rent a room of my house to a man who has given me a 30-day notice and is leaving at the end of the month. He has been a good tenant, but six months ago he demanded that I lower his rent by $100 a month. I reluctantly went along, although I always expected that he would later make up the difference.

Now I want to take the $100 a month from his security deposit, but he claims we lowered his rent by mutual agreement. Who is right?

A: Your tenant is probably correct. The terms of a month-to-month rental contract can be changed by a mutual agreement, followed by a course of action by the parties that demonstrates with a degree of certainty that the parties accept the change.

In your situation, your acceptance of the reduced rent for six months would be a strong indication that you had agreed to the change. You did not take any action, such as serving a notice to pay the higher rent, to show a lack of acceptance. Legally you have probably collected all the rent you can.

The key, however, is the word "probably." No one can tell you with certainty how a judge in Small Claims Court would rule if this situation came before him or her.

So why wait for a judge to impose a solution on you? Why not work out your problems outside the court system in a win-win environment? Your local mediation program can explain the benefits (there are many) of mediation.

This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 1055 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Suite 3, Sunnyvale, CA 94087; they cannot be answered individually.

For housing discrimination questions, complaints or help, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Fair Housing Council, Fair Housing Institute or Fair Housing Foundation office in your area:

Bellflower: (888) 777-4087.

Carson: (888) 777-4087.

El Monte: (626) 579-6868.

Hawthorne: (888) 777-4087.

Lancaster: (888) 777-4087.

Long Beach: (562) 901-0808.

Pasadena: (626) 791-0211.

Redondo Beach: (888) 777-4087.

San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185.

South-Central Los Angeles: (213) 295-3302.

West Los Angeles: (310) 474-1667.

Orange County: (714) 569-0828.

San Bernardino County: (909) 884-8056.

Ventura County: (805) 385-7288.

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