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Property owner must pay for fire damage

October 26, 2003|From Project Sentinel

Question: There recently was a fire in our complex. It started when the resident manager overloaded the electrical circuits in his own unit. My furniture and clothing had smoke and water damage.

When I asked the manager for compensation, I was told the damage to my personal property was not management's responsibility and that I should make a claim under my renter's insurance policy. Is this right?

Answer: No. The property owner is responsible for all damage resulting from the negligence of the resident manager, who is an agent of the owner. Although you could choose to make a claim under your own renter's insurance, you also have the right to pursue a claim against the owner's insurance carrier for the damages.

Whether you carry renter's insurance or not, the property owner cannot evade his legal duty to compensate you.

Manager seeks fee for information

Question: I have been a renter for about three years and plan on moving out of state in five years. I made an offer to buy a "future retirement" home in another state. When the mortgage broker called to verify my tenancy, the resident manager said there would be a fee for this information. When I learned this, I explained that I was not planning on moving. I'll pay the amount requested but was interested in what you thought about the fee.

Answer: Unfortunately, no laws directly address this situation. There are many situations in which professional courtesies are exchanged between industries. This would seem like one of those, given that you are a current tenant and the information is readily available to the resident manager.

The fee would seem more reasonable if the information was for a former tenant and required researching old records or files, which could prove time-consuming.

Discuss the matter with the manager again or contact the management company for assistance. If this type of request occurs regularly, the property owner might consider incorporating notice of this fee into current and future rental agreements to make tenants aware of the possible charge.

To update current agreements, each tenant would need to receive a written 30-day change of terms notice detailing the fee.

Applicants need Spanish forms

Question: The area I live in, as well as the apartment building I manage, has a rapidly growing population of Spanish speakers. I don't speak Spanish and don't have any forms in Spanish. What should I do for prospective tenants who speak only Spanish?

Answer: If you and a prospective tenant conduct business in Spanish, then you must provide him or her with a Spanish version of the lease or rental agreement before requiring the tenant to sign.

But you have no obligation to supply a Spanish application or rental agreement if a prospective tenant supplies his or her own translator who is not a minor and who can speak and read Spanish and English fluently.

According to California Civil Code Section 1632, if the translator provided by the tenant does not meet these criteria, or if the translator is you, someone in your employ or someone you supply, such as a friend, you will have to present a Spanish version of the rental agreement. In this case, all blanks must be completed in Spanish.

If you have any doubts about the skills of a translator provided by a tenant, the prudent approach would be to use Spanish forms. Once the tenancy is established, notices relating to the tenancy that substantially change the rights or obligations between you and the tenant also must be in Spanish. An example would be a notice of termination of the tenancy.

Standard forms and notices translated into Spanish are available from local property owner associations.

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 Southern California Housing Rights Center at (800) 477-5977.

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