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Rent Watch

Get Rental Increase in Writing

January 06, 2002|From Project Sentinel

Question: The property owner and I are very good friends, and we have always handled our rental arrangements verbally. He now wants to raise my rent and says because we are friends, he doesn't have to give me a written notice. Is this true?

Answer: It is risky to conduct rental matters casually; the best approach is for all rental conditions to be in writing. This approach will protect both of you from possible misunderstandings or disagreements that could jeopardize your friendship as well as your tenancy.

Some rental notices are more important than others. Notices that have a time or cost consequence, or that are legally mandated, need to be in writing.

In your case, the property owner should serve you with a valid Notice of Change of Terms of Tenancy that details the rent increase. Per California Civil Code 827 (effective from Jan. 1, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2005), if a rent increase is more than 10% within a 12-month period, a month-to-month tenant is entitled to a written 60-day notice of the rent increase. For rent increases of 10% or less outside of a 12-month period, a written 30-day notice is permitted. This code does not apply to leases.

Contact your local housing program for more information.

Tenants Do Not Have to Reveal Arrest Records

Q: The new rental application I'm using has a clause that asks prospective tenants to declare whether or not they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. The last few applicants have told me this question is illegal. Is this true?

A: You have a right to collect or ask for information relevant to making your rental decision, but a prospective tenant still retains certain rights to privacy.

Arrest records are not always public records. Also, they are not considered reliable as an indicator of behavior because of the presumption of innocence and because of concerns about the unfair impact on certain groups such as minorities. These concerns arise because an arrest is just an allegation, not a judicial decision. Thus, asking about arrest records might be an invasion of privacy and might also be considered to be discriminatory.

However, you are entitled to ask about any record of felony convictions. These are public records and are sufficiently reliable indicators of a person's trustworthiness to permit your request for disclosure as a legitimate business inquiry. Keep in mind that your prospective tenant will not be required to reveal juvenile court convictions because they are confidential, and he or she will not have to disclose felony convictions that subsequently have been cleared or reduced because of good conduct.

You may want to avoid this questionable area and rely upon credit reports, personal references, employment history, bank records and former landlord comments to make a sound business decision. Contact your local mediation program for more information.

Ignoring Tenants' Calls Is Not a Good Solution

Q: I am a manager of a very large apartment complex and have a pet peeve. When leaving telephone messages for me, some tenants who have caller ID equipment don't reveal this in their message. Since I don't have caller ID but do have a blocked number, this means that when I return their call, I have to redial their number a second time using the unblock code. With the large number of tenants I support, this can add up to a great waste of my time. I want to serve notice on all my tenants that if they have caller ID and they don't leave this information in their messages for me, I will not return their call. Can I do this?

A: You can, but not returning a tenant's telephone call would not be prudent or professional. The tenant may have a personal safety or other legitimate privacy concern such as employment-related matters that causes her or him to block the telephone number.

If you don't return the call, regardless of the number of times you have to redial, you may be enlarging a serious repair problem or housing matter. It would be better to devise methods of ensuring prompt communication while respecting a tenant's privacy concern.

Because you feel strongly about this matter, you could revise your answering machine message to request that the caller to leave this information. You could also say that having this information will benefit them by allowing you to respond more quickly to their needs. Even though this is frustrating, not responding or returning a tenant's call is not in anyone's best interest.

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This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 1055 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Suite 3, Sunnyvale, CA 94087, but cannot be answered individually.

For housing discrimination questions, complaints or help, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Fair Housing Council, Fair Housing Institute or Fair Housing Foundation office in your area:

Long Beach: (562) 901-0808.

Pasadena: (626) 791-0211.

San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185.

South-Central Los Angeles: (213) 295-3302.

Orange County: (714) 569-0828.

San Bernardino County: (909) 884-8056.

San Diego County: (619) 699-5888.

Ventura County: (805) 385-7288.

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