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RENTAL ROUNDTABLE

Knock Against Hollow Door Has Merit

April 11, 1999|ROBERT GRISWOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I live in an 11-unit apartment complex. Our front entry door is a hollow-core door (just like our bathroom door). These doors are not very secure and are showing serious signs of weathering because of age. I asked my landlord for a new door and was denied. My neighbor even offered to pay for a new solid-core front door and was told no. Are there regulations regarding exterior doors on rental units? If not, what can I do about getting a new door?

Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

There are regulations concerning exterior entry doors. In virtually all municipalities, the Uniform Building Code addresses the legal requirements and regulations concerning issues such as the required materials for your dwelling, including the front door to your unit.

The problem you have is that your hollow-core front entry door met the building code in effect at the time of construction of your rental unit. While the building codes have been dramatically changed over the years, many of the new regulations and building standards allowed existing construction to be "grandfathered."

In other words, no changes or upgrades are required to meet the new or more stringent building code unless major renovation or reconstruction occurs.

Also, though a hollow-core front entry door does not meet the current uniform code requirements for new construction, the code may not have been used in your particular area when your apartment unit was built.

Though the code is now incorporated into the regulations of most planning and building departments throughout California, be sure to verify the code requirements for your specific building.

Assuming that the code is the standard for your building, I would strongly suggest that you contact the owner in writing and put him on formal notice that your front door is deteriorating and that it should be replaced at once with a new solid-core door per the code.

The failure or deterioration of the front entry door may trigger the need for compliance with the current code. If this is true for your area and the owner fails to respond, you have two choices.

You can either contact your local code enforcement or consider using the "repair and deduct" statutes (California Civil Code section 1942) that (if you followed the required procedures) would allow you to replace the door and deduct the cost from your next rental payment.

Mutual Agreement Can Terminate Lease

Q: We are in a long-term lease with nine months remaining and need to move. Can we mutually agree with our landlord to a buyout of our lease? Does our landlord then have a monetary obligation to us if he rents to another tenant during the remaining term of our bought-out lease?

Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, replies:

A landlord and tenant are free to agree on the early termination of their lease. The landlord may pay the tenant to return possession to the landlord before the lease expiration. Ordinarily, if the landlord has paid something to the tenant for the early move-out, the landlord will be free to rent the unit to someone else with no obligation to the tenant.

This usually does not come up as a problem because the tenant got what he wanted, which was payment to move early. There can be some complication, however, on the rare occasion when the tenant just moves out with no agreement and the landlord immediately re-rents the unit for more than that tenant was paying.

Under certain circumstances, that tenant may be entitled to these profits from the landlord. Of course, vacating a rental before the lease expires isn't recommended without an agreement to do so or legal advice if an agreement cannot be reached.

This column is written by property manager Robert Griswold, host of "Real Estate Today!" (KOGO-AM [600], 1 p.m. Saturdays); attorney Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center; and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

If you have a question, write to Rental Roundtable, Real Estate section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Or you may e-mail them at griswold@cts.com.

Questions cannot be answered individually.

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