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Landlord Needs Only to Maintain Habitable Conditions, Not Alterations

August 24, 2000|Kathy M. Kristof

Question: As a lessee, I would like to learn more about my tenant rights, especially with respect to repairs and alterations of the premises which aren't respected by our landlord. Can you tell me which organizations we should contact or which Web sites can assist us in our search?

--G.M., Los Angeles

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Answer: The simple answer to your question is that your landlord must keep the premises habitable. That means you must have heat and running water and a roof that doesn't leak. But the landlord does not need to respect your decorating choices. If you decide that the apartment looks fabulous in chartreuse, he or she may demand that you repaint before moving out, or risk paying the cost of repainting out of your security deposit when you leave.

That said, Nolo Press in Berkeley has published several worthwhile books on the subject, including "Tenant's Rights" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." You can find these at most bookstores or check Nolo's Web site at http://www.nolo.com.

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Q: I am 81 years old and have been paying into Social Security since its inception. I am still working and still paying into the system. My benefits have not increased other than through cost-of-living adjustments. Am I entitled to greater benefits because I've continued to work?

--A.R., Avon, Conn.

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A: Without knowing more about your earnings history, that's impossible to answer. Here's why: Social Security determines your monthly benefit amount by creating an average wage from 35 years of work. If you accumulated less than 35 wage-earning years, you have some zeros entered into your benefit calculation. If you have more than 35 years of earnings, the agency takes the 35 highest earning years.

When you continue to work and pay into the system after retirement, your new years of wages can supplant older and less lucrative earnings years (including zeros) in the calculation, which would give you a boost. However, if you are working part time or in a low-wage position, it may be that your new earnings years are not factored in because they would amount to less than an old year. In that case, the additional earnings would not affect your monthly Social Security benefit.

Still think you're due more than you're getting? Go to your nearest Social Security office and bring your last several W-2 forms. An agency representative can help update your records and, if warranted, get your benefit payments adjusted.

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Q: I am raising an orphan grandson and I would like to secure his education with a scholarship. I have tried to get information about the California 529 plan, but have not gotten anywhere. Where can I write to ask for information?

--M.F., Santa Clarita

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A: I'm not sure if you're asking about true scholarships--where someone other than you funds your grandson's education--or if you really want information about 529 savings plans, which simply allow you to prepay all or part of the child's education and receive favorable tax treatment. So I'm going to give you some ideas for both.

First, California's tax-favored tuition savings plan is called the Golden State ScholarShare College Savings Trust. Information can be found on the Web at http://www.scholarshare.com. You can also contact the program by mail at P.O. Box 1018, San Ramon, CA 94583, or toll free at (877) 728-4338.

If you think your grandson may need financial aid and government scholarships, there is no good substitute for an Internet-based search. The best place to start is http://www.finaid.com, which has links to both government and private sources of scholarships, grants and financial aid.

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Q: My home is worth $135,000 and I do not have a mortgage on it. In fact, I paid off a 25-year loan in 22 years by making extra monthly payments. I do not intend to move. My children are grown and all college costs have been paid. I expect to retire within the next 10 years.

My wife and I are contemplating purchasing a new car and making some needed home improvements that we expect to cost $40,000 to $45,000. Financial experts say home equity loans are an excellent source of cash for major expenses such as these. I know the interest is deductible, but I worry about putting my house on the line. Would it be feasible to obtain an auto loan and a home improvement loan and not put my home up? Or should I get the home equity loan so I could deduct the interest? No matter what type of loan I pursue, I do not want it to be for more than 60 months.

--J.G., Philadelphia

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