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RENTAL ROUNDTABLE

Seeking a Place to Stand in Carpet Dispute

April 15, 2001|ROBERT GRISWOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: When I moved in, I sent a letter stating that the carpet in my unit was not clean because it was full of cat hair. I also said I would leave the rental unit in the same condition that I found it and would not accept any other cleaning charges when I moved out. Given this situation and the fact that I have lived in the unit for more than eight years, plus the carpet is more than 11 years old, can they charge me for carpet cleaning? Other than normal wear, the carpet is not damaged.

Attorney Stephen R. Kellman replies:

The general rule is that the landlord may deduct cleaning costs from the deposit upon moving out of the rental. This includes the costs for cleaning the carpet. The law seems to assume that the rental, including the carpet, was clean to begin with. Of course this is not always the case.

The letter you sent affords you some protection, except it is somewhat difficult to leave the exact amount of dirt in the carpet when you move.

The best course would have been to have had the carpet professionally cleaned when you moved in and asked that you be reimbursed for the cost. Then the carpet would have been clean as it should have been. If they had not agreed to reimburse you, you could have given a copy of the receipt to the landlord and demanded a credit against any carpet cleaning charge after you move. The law will not support a landlord making you pay for the cleaning of the prior tenant's dirt plus your own.

Attorney Ted Smith replies:

This tenant has lived in the rental for eight years. That means a lot of wear and tear from this tenant alone-much more than the tenant will be able to attribute to the former tenant's cat. While some cat-related cleanup will be considered, all other cleaning and damages will be charged to this tenant.

Request a Copy of Credit-Screening Report

Q: I recently was declined on a rental application for an apartment based on the approval process of a small local credit screening company. On the rental application I provided two previous landlords (both were two-year leases with no problems), my employer (for more than three years), my salary (which they never verified according to our personnel department) and similar information. My current landlord was not contacted.

I was quite shocked that this company also refused to provide any response except hrough the mail. Now I am out the application fee, and the apartment I had intended to rent was leased to someone else. Do I have any recourse? I do not think the credit screening firm really looked at any background, and I believe that I was denied inappropriately.

Kellman replies:

Under California law, you are entitled to a copy of the credit report for which you paid the application-screening fee. You can then see what information was obtained in that credit report that may have been the basis for the denial. You must, however, request a copy of this report or they do not have to give it to you.

The decision to rent you the unit must be based on economic and credit factors. Other factors such as rental history may be considered but may be ignored. While that seems to make no real sense, a landlord is not required to check prior landlords for references. Their logic for this is that they believe that past landlords may not say anything negative for fear of legal complications of defamation claims.

To do a legal screening, factors such as income, credit history, bank account status and assets are the permissible areas of information to use to make a decision to rent a unit to an applicant.

You may not be denied based on the usual discrimination factors (race, religion, ancestry, national origin, familial status, gender). Also, you may not be denied based on factors like type of job you have, number of people in your family, language preference, sexual orientation, etc.

You are protected from illegal conduct by federal fair housing and state antidiscrimination laws. You may contact the Department of Fair Employment and Housing for more information.

Smith replies:

You have no case if the screening has followed uniform policy and fair housing guidelines.

You are legally entitled to be notified in writing stating the reason you were declined. For discussion, let's assume it was based on a negative entry in your credit report. You have the right to a free copy of your credit report under the Fair Credit Reporting Acts.

*

This column is written by property manager Robert Griswold, host of "Real Estate Today!" (KSDO-AM [1130], 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays), and attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

If you have a question, send it to Rental Roundtable, Real Estate section, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012. Or you may e-mail them at rgriswold.latimes@retoday radio.com.

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