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Rental Agreements Aren't Kept as Public Records


QUESTION: I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles during 1995. I lost the rental agreement when I moved out. Then, the IRS audited me and I could not prove that my two kids lived with me in the same apartment at that time.

I called the leasing agent and he told me that they destroy all rental agreements after two years. Can I get a copy of the rental agreement at a public records place, as you can get marriage licenses or birth certificates?

ANSWER: Being born and getting married are significant life events. Renting an apartment is not. There are no public records of residential rental agreements.

I'm guessing that the IRS told you the rental agreement would prove residence, but there may be other alternatives. Ask them if any other types of records, like the children's school records or records of visits to doctors or dentists, will suffice. Otherwise, check with a tax expert, like a CPA.

Offer to Help Pay for New Carpeting

Q: My husband and I have lived in the same Burbank apartment for the last four years. The rent here is very reasonable and we like the neighborhood. Now we have a problem with the carpet. When we moved in, it was already 8 years old. Now it is really starting to look bad from general wear and tear.

We want to start a family next year and I don't want our baby crawling on carpet that is over 10 years old. Someone I know mentioned that we have a legal right to make the owners change the carpet if it is over 10 years old. Is that true? If it's not true, do you have any suggestions to me about what I can do other than moving?

A: It is not true. Your friend's suggestion about compelling the owner to replace the carpet after it is 10 years old should be swept under the carpet.

On the other hand, you do have a right to a safe apartment. For instance, if the carpet is torn, you can compel the owner to repair or remove it, making it safe.

But trying to compel the owner to do something is almost never the best approach. Asking politely or proposing a solution are far better strategies.

Since you say the rent is "very reasonable" and you like the neighborhood, proposing a modest rent increase for new carpeting or paying for half of it at installation seem like reasonable proposals.

If the owner doesn't like any of your suggestions, ask him for his. If he doesn't have any, moving out may be your only alternative.

Tenant Is Entitled to Refund After Break-Ins

Q: We own a house that we rent out in Los Angeles. The last tenant who lived there was broken into twice in the first two weeks of occupancy. He promptly gave us a 30-day notice of his intent to move and asked for the refund of his entire security deposit since the break-ins were not his fault. Is he entitled to this?

A: I hate to have to break the news to you, especially after you just lost your tenant, but he probably is entitled to the full refund of his deposit.

If there are any tenant-caused damages (break-ins are not tenant-caused unless the tenant or his guests broke in), you can deduct for them. You also can deduct for cleaning if the house isn't as clean when he moved out as it was when he moved in.

New Owners Are Not Taking Care of Business

Q: I live in Upland and have been renting in this particular complex for about five years. During this time, the ownership has changed a few times. In the past, we always got notice of the changes in advance.

The upkeep has always been good throughout these changes, until now. We didn't get any written notice of the last ownership change until after we went into the office to pay the rent. Its decor also had changed drastically.

I don't want to see the complex go downhill. I've expressed my recent concerns to the front office, but they've gone unheard.

For example, there is now an abandoned car parked in front of the complex, neighbors are hanging laundry out to dry on the balcony, which is visible from the street, and some neighbors have gotten very loud after midnight.

What can we as renters do to find out what's going on?

A: It sounds as if you've already asked what's going on and gotten little response. There are some options you can pursue to solve some of the problems, like calling the city about the abandoned car (many cities will tow them), but the real solution to your problems can be provided only by the management.

Ideally, managers would want to keep up the complex and would take steps to do so. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, that's not always the case.

As I said in the previous answer about carpeting, compelling people to do things is usually not the best approach. You already seem to be at that point, where they won't do anything unless you compel them to.

If things don't improve in the near future, moving may be the best solution to your problem.


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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