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RENTAL ROUNDTABLE

Landlord Has the Right to Show the Unit

March 25, 2001|ROBERT GRISWOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I am on a month-to-month lease and plan to move in two months. In the past, the management has informed tenants who have given notice that they have to sign documents allowing their units to be shown before they vacate.

Do I have to sign this? Based on experience, the presence of valuables and two cats, I absolutely do not want anyone in my unit until I vacate.

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Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

The landlord (per California Civil Code section 1954) has the right to enter your unit during normal business hours with a minimum of 24 hours notice to you for the purpose of showing the unit to prospective renters. Of course, although this is probably not satisfactory to you, the owner would be fully responsible for any loss of valuables or if your cats got loose.

Attorney Ted Smith replies:

Griswold correctly points out that California law-despite your concerns-allows the landlord to enter the premises upon proper notice. Your management company asks that you sign a notice authorizing their entry. Even if you do not sign this form, the landlord still has the right to enter. All that is required is a minimum of 24 hours' notice and entry during normal business hours. You may, but are not legally required to, be present at the time of the entry.

If you refuse to cooperate, you could be responsible for any expenses that result from management's inability to show the apartment to prospective residents.

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Attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:

Even if you have to sign such a notice, it may not be legally binding on you. The law frowns on a landlord trying to have a tenant sign away his or her rights to privacy. In fact, any signed notice or agreement that takes away these rights is void.

As related by Griswold and Smith, there certainly is a law that allows a landlord to enter a rented dwelling for certain permissible reasons upon reasonable notice of at least 24 hours (except in emergencies).

Your fears about your property and your cats may be well founded, but they do not allow you to disregard this law.

You may place reasonable conditions on the entries, which could give you a sense of increased security. For example, you may request that the entries be made when you or someone you designate is present. You may insist that there not be a lock box installed at the property.

Though the law is unclear on this issue, most brokers will accommodate such a request. A risk in refusing to allow the landlord the opportunity to show the unit is that it may result in a delay in re-renting the place. The landlord may hold you responsible for the lost rent during that delay.

In the rental market today, with tenant hopefuls on waiting lists, the potential delay in re-renting your unit may prove so short as not even to be an issue. Despite this, common sense and cooperation are still the keys in avoiding conflicts in balancing your right to privacy and the landlord's right to enter his property.

If Tenant Overpays, Is Landlord in Trouble?

Q: I have property that I am about to rent. The prospective tenant, because of poor credit, offered in writing to pay me the last two months of rent in addition to the first month and a deposit. He did so completely voluntarily and without my demanding it. Is this legal or will I get into trouble for this?

Kellman replies:

The fact that the tenant overpays the security deposit "voluntarily" does not alter the fact that the deposit is excessive and in violation of law. To avoid any problems, it would be best to refund the tenant the overpayment and adjust your accounting accordingly.

The law also says that move-in money in excess of the first payment of current rent will be deemed to be part of the security deposit even if you call it something else. There is an exception to these rules for leases of more than six months, for which a tenant can pay six months rent in advance.

Smith replies:

You need to be careful here. A prospective resident's bad credit report is a red flag. If it is your policy to deny rental based on poor credit, you may legally refuse to rent to the prospect, despite the up-front money offer.

Legally, you may must designate all money other than the first month's rent as "security deposit."

I'll let you decide whether you want to rent to this tenant. Having represented landlords for 20 years, though, I see a possible eviction in your future.

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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@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and to the point and cannot be answered individually.

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