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APARTMENT LIFE

Buyer Not Liable for Seller's Agreements

April 18, 1999|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I just purchased a rental property in Los Angeles and the tenants are in the process of moving out. I knew that they made some improvements while living there and brought it up during escrow. As a result, the seller credited me $450.

Now that the tenants are actually moving out, they sent me a letter listing extensive repairs and total expenses of about $2,300. These improvements include such things as the front door, kitchen cabinets, garage cabinets and shelves, recessed lighting, various plumbing, a cedar fence and gate, and landscaping. Do I have to pay this? Shouldn't they have worked it out with the previous landlord?

Answer: You are not obligated to pay for capital improvements, supplies or services that you did not contract for unless the prior landlord agreed with the tenant to pay for them in writing and you assumed the obligation in your escrow. It sounds as if the prior landlord agreed to something. He put $450 into escrow for this purpose. If so, you should pay the renters that amount.

If he made some other agreement with the tenants and put some other amount as compensation into escrow you are liable to pay that, up to the entire $2,300, if that's what it says.

If there was no agreement and nothing written about the improvements, you are not liable to pay anything for them (except, perhaps, for the $450).

Even if there was no agreement, it may be wise to try to reach some kind of an accommodation with the tenants since they still have possession of the unit and angry people can be very creative.

Whether you are a renter or a housing provider, for your own protection you should always make an agreement about improvements, including their costs, in advance and in writing.

Outstanding Judgment a Blot on Credit Record

Q: I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles for about five years with a roommate. When I left we were under a month-to-month rental agreement. We always paid the rent on time. Then I accepted a job outside of the country. I verbally notified the apartment manager that I would be vacating while my roommate stayed.

Recently, I applied for a loan and was denied due to a judgment for $3,000 against me. Apparently, my former roommate was evicted for failing to pay the rent, and I was listed as the responsible party in the court papers.

What can I do to resolve this problem? My primary concern is to get the judgment against me voided since I was no longer a resident at the apartment and no longer responsible for the payment of rent.

A: First, you did have an obligation to pay 30 days' rent after giving your oral notice of your intent to move, less any time that was already paid for.

Second, when you vacate an apartment while leaving someone else behind, you take the chance that you will be named in a lawsuit but never receive a copy of it.

That's because a plaintiff can "serve" you with a lawsuit by leaving a copy of the complaint at the apartment with someone living there and by mailing a copy of it to you at the apartment. It's called substituted service.

Your remedies are to settle with the plaintiff if you actually owed a part of the rent or try to get the judgment set aside (voided) by a court. If the judgment was entered over six months ago, your job is much more difficult. Then you have to prove that the plaintiff committed some type of fraud in getting the judgment against you.

According to Pat Thompson, tenant screening manager for the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, there is a question whether a credit agency will remove the judgment even if you get it set aside. If the judgment is set aside, start by contacting the credit agencies to see whether they will delete the judgment from your file.

Ideally, next time get the apartment manager to sign your written notice to vacate. If you can't do that, at least give him a written notice of your intent to vacate. Obviously, you should keep a copy of the notice for future use if needed.

No Phone, No Water, Not a Single Luxury

Q: I signed a lease to move into an apartment in Hermosa Beach. When I moved in, I found out that there was no water coming out of the kitchen or bathtub faucets. The only water I got out of the bathroom faucet was ice cold. The water problems finally were fixed about a month after I moved into the apartment.

I also tried to get the phone hooked up upon moving in but there was not a working jack in the apartment, as required by law. I had the jack fixed and paid the phone company $96 to do the work.

Because I am a single woman living alone, I deemed the apartment unlivable because of the water and phone problems. I told the landlord that I would be withholding one month's rent due to these problems. He expects me to pay all of it.

What are my rights? If I refuse to pay the month's rent, can the landlord deduct it from my security deposit?

A: You have the right to hot and cold running water and a working phone jack under the law. How you go about getting them, and how much the lack of them is worth, are the questions.

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