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Time Frame for Repairs Depends on Severity of Problem


Question: My wife and I live in a two-bedroom apartment in San Bernardino. Many friends and family members tell me to give the apartment manager lots of time to take care of maintenance problems. I have done that, but I don't think it's right. For example, after three months we finally got a new toilet.

My question to you is how much time is actually allowed for the landlord to get repairs done? Some people say three days. Others say one week.

Answer: The law provides that a landlord must make a repair of a problem that causes the premises to be uninhabitable in a reasonable time frame. The definition of reasonable is presumed to be 30 days. Depending on the severity of the problem, the time could be much shorter.

In general, unless a problem is dangerous or damaging, it's a good idea to allow the landlord as much time as he needs to get it done.

If a "repair" is cosmetic in nature, the landlord may not be required to do anything at all. Cosmetic problems do not make a unit uninhabitable.

If the problem is dangerous or damaging, the landlord should get it repaired as soon as he possibly can for the benefit of both of you.

For instance, if your toilet were broken to the point that it did not work at all (I doubt that's the case), it should be repaired or replaced immediately. Three months would be out of the question.

If, on the other hand, you had something like a slight water leak from the holding tank to the bowl, or you were changing for conservation reasons from a water-guzzling toilet to an ultra-low-flow model, one month, even three months, may be considered reasonable.

Basically, the severity and consequences of not fixing the problem determine what's reasonable. The more severe the problem, the more quickly it should be fixed. If a problem made the unit uninhabitable and was not fixed in a reasonable time, you could deduct up to one month's rent, up to twice a year, to make the repairs yourself.

Law Allows Several Tenants Per Unit

Q: My sister is moving from Georgia to Buena Park, and she needs some information about occupancy limits there. Can three people live in a two-bedroom apartment?

A: Three people can live in a two-bedroom apartment. Occupancy standards in California generally are based on the square footage of apartments. They usually allow far more people to live in a unit than most of us would be comfortable with.

Both the state and most local occupancy limits allow more than 10 people to live in even the smallest two-bedroom apartment, meaning that government-imposed standards pose no problem for your sister.

The landlord also can limit occupancy in the apartments. However, most agree that a reasonable minimum standard, from a fair housing view, is two per bedroom plus one, or five people, in a two-bedroom apartment.

Two Parking Fees, but Only One Space

Q: We live in Los Angeles and just signed a new lease for a two-bedroom apartment. Before we signed the lease, the landlord told us we would have two parking spaces. When he found out after signing the lease that we have only one car, he told us that we have only one parking spot.

However, in the lease there are two parking fees included in our rent. Should we ask for a rent reduction because we have only one space? Also, if we want to add another tenant, can we ask the landlord to make a new agreement? Can he charge us extra rent for an extra person?

A: If you clearly are being charged a separate fee for each of two parking spaces but have the use of only one, it makes sense to either get the use of the second space or get a rent reduction equal to the amount of the fee you are paying for the extra space.

If you are planning to add another tenant to your apartment, you probably should keep or secure the use of the second parking spot.

If the landlord allows an additional tenant in the apartment, he probably will make a new lease with you, including the new tenant on it. Because he doesn't have to allow a new sub-tenant in your unit (unless it's written into the lease), you will have to sign the new lease.

The landlord can charge additional rent for an additional tenant, unless your lease contains a provision allowing a future, as yet undisclosed, sub-tenant to move in at the same rent.

If your unit is covered by the Los Angeles city Rent Control Ordinance, the landlord is limited to collecting 10% additional rent for each additional tenant. Otherwise, as they say in real estate, "everything's negotiable."

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, 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.

Renters' Frequently Asked Questions

A few years ago, the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles published a book, "The Best of Apartment Life: How to Survive Apartment Living and Ownership," a 154-page compilation of columns printed in The Times over the previous few years.

It provides answers to many of the most frequently asked questions about apartment living, managing and ownership. The 23 chapters include "Nightmare on Elm Street: Tenant Screening," "Water, Water Everywhere: Rules for Pools" and "When the Party's Over: All About Moving Out."

The book is selling for $6.50, including tax, postage and packaging. It previously sold for $12.75. Checks, made payable to the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, should be sent to AAGLA, care of Kevin Postema, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005. Allow two weeks for delivery.

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