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Apartment Life

What 'Wear and Tear' Means

September 06, 1998|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I am a regular reader of your column and have seen a number of attempts to define "wear and tear" in a rental unit. None of them has helped me very much. Can you please define, once and for all, "normal wear and tear"?

ANSWER: As I've said before, this is a tough one. Even the judges who determine the law in court don't have precise definitions for it.

Here's an explanation from a reader who's an expert on the subject:

"As a claims adjuster and former insurance agent, I find your insurance-related answers to be excellent. A recent letter headlined "Ex-Tenant Says Stains on Carpet Not Damage" touched on an area I run into all the time. I am frequently called by the owner of the property to pay for carpet stains caused by tenants.

"There can be a fine line between a covered loss and one that is not. What I normally see is food stains by careless people. From an insurance point of view, we call that wear and tear by the tenants or, in severe cases, "hard living" by tenants. We cannot cover either of these.

"We normally look at a time element for distinguishing between wear and tear and damages. Wear and tear is gradual, while damages are sudden."

I hope that helps clarify it for you. If not, and you believe that you have been treated unfairly and sue your landlord, a Small Claims Court judge will determine the difference for you.

Relocation Fees Are Not Required by Law

Q: We live in Woodland Hills and signed a one-year lease when we moved into an apartment last September. We paid a $100 deposit, and we intended to stay a minimum of two years since we hated moving and were very happy with everything.

Now, the management company is planning on doing extensive remodeling to all the units over the next several months. All tenants are being forced to move out of their apartments. We will be able to move into newly renovated ones upon credit approval. The new apartments' average cost is $200 higher, though.

The management company is offering $200 to cover the cost of moving if tenants are out of their apartments within five days before the required move-out date.

Can the company offer an amount as small as $200 for the inconvenience of moving, let alone the cost of movers and truck rental? What about a deposit at a new location? Shouldn't the company have to pay that as well?

A: The state of California does not require landlords to pay relocation fees to tenants. Unless required by a specific local ordinance to do so (most California cities don't require such payments), landlords don't have to offer you anything.

As for the deposit at your new apartment, since you are renting the apartment, you are responsible for it, just as you were when you moved into your Woodland Hills apartment. You must pay the deposit yourself.

In the city of Los Angeles (of which Woodland Hills is part), landlords under the city's rent control law are required to pay relocation fees to their tenants under certain circumstances, known as "no-fault" evictions.

The fees are $2,000 per unit for "unqualified" tenants and $5,000 for "qualified" ones. Qualified tenants include those age 62 or older, the disabled and tenants living with minor children, those younger than 18.

Again, the law applies only to rent-controlled apartments in the city of Los Angeles, although a few other cities in L.A. County require relocation fees in certain situations. Those include Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

To find out whether your apartment is covered by the Los Angeles rent control ordinance, call (213) 847-7490. If your apartment is covered by the law (I am guessing it isn't), you may be entitled to the fees outlined above. Otherwise, take the money and move.

Are Gopher Holes Owner's Responsibility?

Q: I rent a small back house on a very large lot in Los Angeles. The front house is also rented out. I garden a lot and pay for the water, and I have quite an investment in it. Because of the many gopher holes and tunnels on the property, it's now getting hard to walk on the grass without stepping into a depression.

It's a twisted ankle waiting to happen (me, the gardeners or the little kids who live in the front house). It seems to me that the landlord should be responsible for making the area safe. Is he responsible for the gopher removal or is it the tenant's problem?

A: I have called several city and county agencies regarding your problem. None have been able to help. If any readers know the answer to this gopher question, please write to me at the address below.

In the meantime, you might make the landlord aware of your concerns about the safety of the tenants and guests. Often, when there is a foreseeable problem and the landlord does not take steps to mitigate it, he can be found liable for damages resulting from injuries as a result of it.

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Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, 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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