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APARTMENT LIFE

Does Culver City 68-Year-Old Qualify for a Relocation Fee?

February 04, 2001|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: My 68-year-old mother has lived in a single-family home in Culver City for the last five years. She pays $600 a month rent. The house was sold last month. The new owner said he will upgrade the house, raise the rent and let her stay, or sell the house and ask her to move.

If he does decide to sell the house and asks her to leave, is she entitled to any compensation? I once read in your column that seniors older than 62 are entitled to $5,000 in relocation fees. Also, she was asked to vacate her house for two days this week for fumigation. Can she deduct two days of rent from her monthly payment for that?

Answer: There is no rent-control or relocation law in Culver City, like the one in Los Angeles to which you are referring, so your mother does not qualify for relocation fees. Relocation fee provisions usually are part of rent-control law.

Under the Los Angeles law, which affects only those renters occupying rent-controlled rentals in the city of L.A. (just over half of all L.A. tenants), seniors older than 62, the handicapped and renters with minor children (so-called qualified tenants) are entitled to $5,000 relocation fees when evicted in no-fault situations, where the tenant has done nothing wrong.

Others get $2,000 in relocation fees. The Los Angeles rent law provides that tenants renting single-family homes are among those exempt from the law.

You also ask if your mother can deduct two days' rent for vacating the house so it can be fumigated. She is due two days of rent credit as a result of vacating, but she should not arbitrarily deduct it from the rent, especially not with a new owner.

She does not want to alienate him right off the bat, particularly if she remains a tenant at the house. She should first talk to the new owner about deducting the rent, even though her claim is justified.

West L.A. Tenants Must Be Paid Relocation Fees

Q: I recently inherited a six-unit apartment building in West Los Angeles. The rental agreements are all oral and there are no security deposits.

I want to remodel the building extensively, which will require it to be vacated. Am I required to pay each tenant relocation fees? Can I give the tenants 30-day notices to vacate? If not, can I give them written leases with security deposits and inform them that the leases will not be renewed at the end of their terms?

A: You are required to pay the relocation fees to the tenants as outlined in the previous answer, but the fees are paid per tenancy, not per tenant. You would pay either $2,000 or $5,000 per unit, depending on whether the tenants qualify for the higher fees.

You cannot just give the tenants 30-day notices to vacate. You must first file a major rehabilitation application with the Rent Stabilization Division of the Los Angeles Housing Department. It will send you guidelines that you must follow.

Finally, you cannot charge rent-controlled tenants security deposits where none existed previously. You can charge security deposits to new tenants moving into the property.

And while you can give the tenants one-year leases and tell them that they will not be renewed, that does not mean they have to move out of the building after the year is up. It means that they become month-to-month tenants at the end of the lease terms.

If you want to terminate the tenancies and remodel the building at that point, you must still follow the city's rehabilitation guidelines, and pay the tenants relocation fees.

Neighbor's Property Damaged By a Leak

Q: I live in a rent-controlled apartment in Los Angeles. My downstairs neighbor is requesting that I pay for, or contribute to, the replacement of an expensive piece of electronic equipment that apparently was damaged by an accidental water leak through my floor into his apartment. The leak came from the drain pipe of a portable washing machine that I own.

According to my neighbor, the floor in this apartment was damaged and was never properly repaired. That is precisely where the leak occurred. Does that make the owner liable for the damage?

I know that my downstairs neighbor doesn't have renters' insurance and neither do I. Will the owner's insurance cover the damage? Am I liable for any of the damage? If I am liable, am I required to replace it with the item of his choice, which he seems to be requesting? I always thought that it was the current value of the item, not what it cost when it was new. Is that true?

A: Unless you were somehow negligent, you are not liable for the damage. For instance, if the washing machine had leaked into the neighbor's apartment previously, and you knew about it and did nothing to prevent it from happening again, you probably would be considered negligent. The issue is: Did you do or fail to do anything that made the leak foreseeable?

I'm not sure how your neighbor knows that the floor in your apartment was not fixed properly, but it does not seem relevant. Did this bad repair make it foreseeable that a leak would occur? Unlikely. Either way, you are not guaranteed a watertight apartment. The owner is not liable for the damage, and his insurance probably does not cover it.

Although some insurance coverage is for replacement value of damaged property, that does not apply to you. If you were found to be liable for damages, you would be liable for the current depreciated value of the item, not its replacement.

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Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.

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