Question: I live in Los Angeles County and I thought that yearly rental increases were limited to 2% of the total current rent payment. I have lived in this apartment for five years and the landlords have never raised the rent more than 2%.
Now we're renewing the lease for the sixth year and they want a 7% rent increase. Can landlords raise the rent indiscriminately like that?
Answer: Some apartments in L.A. County are rent-controlled, limiting the amount and frequency of rent increases. But even if you live in a city with rent control, such as Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica or West Hollywood, your unit may be exempt and thus not covered by the local rent-control ordinance.
If you live in one of the cities listed above, check with the local rent-control authorities to find out if your unit is covered. There is no L.A. County rent-control law covering all of the units in the county or any of the units in the unincorporated areas of the county.
If a unit is not covered by a rent law, the landlord may raise the rent to its market value with a 30-day notice for month-to-month tenancies, and in your situation, at the renewal of the lease term.
If your unit is covered by rent control, the owner may only implement annual rent increases as allowed by the particular rent law: 3% in Los Angeles and 1% in Santa Monica, for instance. In some jurisdictions, additional increases are allowed for things such as capital improvements.
Landlord Can't Add on Held-Back Rent Hikes
Q: About a year ago, I bought an apartment building that is under rent control in Los Angeles. One of the tenants, who has a month-to-month rental agreement, has not had a rent increase for the past two years.
I understand that under the L.A. rent-control law I may increase rents by 3% a year plus an additional 1% if I pay all of the tenant's gas or electric bills. That's 4%, since I pay for the tenant's gas service.
My question is, can I make it an 8% increase since it has been two years since the tenant had a rent increase?
A: Rent increases cannot be "banked" (saved for later) under the L.A. rent-control law. You may raise rents by 4% annually (because you pay the gas), and you may raise them only by 4% every 12 months for these general annual adjustments.
Even if you hadn't raised the rents for 20 years, you could still only increase them 4% under the law.
Renter Not Entitled to Interest, Repair Costs
Q: I have two questions regarding the home I rent in the Los Angeles area (not rent-controlled). Although my lease says that no interest will be paid on my security deposit, I was told by a rental agent that I am entitled to 5% interest. Is this correct?
Also, I found about a dozen receipts for some out-of-pocket repairs/expenses (totaling about $200) that I made on the property that date back to 1994. The landlord did not preapprove them. Am I entitled to be reimbursed for these expenses?
A: You are not entitled to any interest payment on your security deposit. The 5% payments he is referring to apply only to rent-controlled properties in the city of Los Angeles.
Many of the rent-control cities, such as Santa Monica, also require interest payments on rent-controlled units. The amount of the payments varies from city to city. For example, in Santa Monica it is 3%.
As for your unreimbursed expenses, it is unlikely that you can recover much, if any, money on them, unless you made a deal with the landlord about them, which apparently you didn't.
Under California's "repair-and-deduct" law, you can spend money on housing repairs that affect the habitability of the unit, but only after you notify the landlord of the problem and give him a reasonable amount of time to fix it.
Relocation Fees Due Evicted Renter
Q: I have been living in my Los Angeles apartment for 14 years. Now the building is being sold and the new owners would like to occupy my unit, which is one of four units, just because I pay the lowest rent.
My unit is also the most modern because I work in the home improvement business and have improved it. I have fresh paint, tile floors, hardwood floors and wooden blinds. You name it, I did it. What rights do I have in addition to being paid relocation fees?
A: Relocation fees usually are tied to rent-control laws. Under the city of Los Angeles rent-control law, which I assume covers your rental unit, you are entitled to relocation fees. You also are entitled to a written 30-day notice from the landlord to vacate.
There are two levels of relocation fees under the L.A. rent law. For most units, the fees are $2,000 per unit, not per tenant. For units occupied by "qualified" tenants, seniors 62 or older, the handicapped, or families with minor children under 18, the fees are $5,000.
As I said in the previous answer, it is extremely difficult to collect any money for voluntary improvements that you made to the property.
Kevin Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, 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.