Question: I live in Glendale, and in your Aug. 22 column you stated that apartment owners must pay interest on security deposits to renters who have lived in their apartments for five years. Is that compounded interest? Also, what is the going rate?
You also stated that the tenant is responsible for cleaning costs. At what point are cleaning costs part of ordinary wear and tear?
Answer: You misread the answer to the question you refer to, "Renter Is Not Entitled to Interest, Repair Costs." It said, "The 5% [not five years] payments he is referring to apply only to rent-controlled properties in the city of Los Angeles." The payments are based on simple interest, not compound.
In any event, since you live in Glendale, interest payments on deposits do not affect you or your landlord. For your information, renters in Los Angeles need to occupy their units for only one year to qualify for the payments.
As for your other question, when do cleaning costs become part of ordinary wear and tear, the answer is never. It doesn't matter how worn and torn something is, you are still obliged to return it clean to the owner if it was clean when you got it. If you don't, he can bill you for cleaning.
Tenant Feels Rent Refund Is Due
Q: I lived in an apartment in Downey for eight years. When I moved in, I paid first and last month's rent, a $315 security deposit, and a $75 cleaning fee.
I recently moved out but couldn't give a 30-day notice. They told me that I owed another month's rent because of no notice and they did not refund anything to me. This doesn't seem right to me. What do you think?
A: You may owe one month's rent if you didn't pay your last month's rent and used up the last month's rent deposit. If the amount of the unpaid rent exceeds the amount of the balance of your security deposit ($390, which includes your last month's rent plus your $75 "cleaning fee"), you are owed no refund.
The owner can deduct money from your security deposit to pay for three things. They are unpaid rent, damages and cleaning. He cannot automatically designate $75 of your deposit money for cleaning, as he has done. It is a part of your security deposit, regardless of the language in the lease or rental agreement.
He can deduct the $75 for cleaning from your deposit if that's what it costs after you move out to get the apartment as clean as it was when you moved into it. If it costs more than $75, he can charge you that amount.
If your rent was paid up to date when you moved out, and the owners re-rented the apartment within 29 days after you vacated, they could owe you a prorated share of the rent. The amount, if any, depends on when it was re-rented and on whether there were damages or cleaning costs that may have exceeded the rent refund.
When you move out of a residential rental without giving notice, you always risk owing 30 days' rent. It is not automatic, though.
For instance, if the owner re-rents your former unit after one half of a month (15 days), he owes you one half of a month's rent, less any of the previously mentioned deductions.
If you can, always give the proper 30-day notice in writing of your intention to vacate.
Tax Assessor Can Help Identify Owner
Q: I live in Los Angeles and I have a problem. Despite the law that says landlords must refund security deposits in three weeks, I have not gotten mine back for three months. How do I go about finding the name of this owner?
A: If you lived in an apartment that was operated by a manager or management company, which is what I suspect, you do not need to find the owner to sue him in Small Claims Court for the return of your security deposit. You can serve legal papers on the manager or management company as representatives of the owner.
If that won't work for you, the best way to find a property owner is to review the property ownership records by address at one of the Los Angeles County tax assessor's 11 regional offices.
Phone the assessor's main office at (213) 974-3211 for information about the one nearest you. If you go to the assessor's office to look for a property owner's name, there is no charge to you for this service. Printouts cost $5.50 per page.
Kevin 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.