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Renovated unit is still under rent control

September 07, 2003|Kevin Postema | Special to The Times

Question: Previously you wrote that the new-construction exemption from rent control does not apply to a property for which the "certificate of occupancy was first issued after Oct. 1, 1978." We own a Los Angeles duplex that needed extensive repairs after the 1991 earthquake. We and the tenants had to move out for nine months while the work was done. We received the certificate of occupancy in 1995. Does this qualify for an exemption from the rent control law?

Answer: Actually the column said that the new-construction exemption from Los Angeles rent control does apply to properties for which a "certificate of occupancy was first issued after Oct. 1, 1978."

You don't say when the first certificate of occupancy was issued, only that one was issued in 1995. Since the duplex was damaged in the 1991 quake and you lived there at the time, the 1995 certificate obviously wasn't the first one issued to the property.

If a certificate was first issued after Oct. 1, 1978, the property is exempt from rent control.

Would-be tenant is left high and dry

Question: I am from Northern California, and I was going to move to Los Angeles in August. More than a month before I was approved for a two-bedroom apartment in a unit where the tenant had given notice of his intention to move. I immediately sent in the rent and security deposit payments to the management company. I already had sent a change of address to everyone, scheduled job interviews and bought plane tickets.

A week before I was scheduled to move into the new apartment, I got a telephone call from the management company saying that the renter who had given his notice to move out of the apartment had changed his mind. They said they could do nothing about it and would refund my money to me. What are my rights here? I am stuck with a whole lot of issues.

Answer: It is unfortunate that you are all packed up with no place to go. Sorry to say, I have more bad news for you. Under Los Angeles City rent control law, landlords can only evict tenants for one of several just causes. These include such things as nonpayment of rent, violating the rental agreement or having extra, unauthorized subtenants living in the unit. They do not include the tenant changing his mind about moving out of an apartment after giving notice that he is going to do so.

In non-rent-controlled areas, the landlord could evict the tenant for giving a 30-day notice and subsequently changing his mind, but that's not the case under the Los Angeles City rent control law.

You always have the right to sue somebody in a court of law when you think you have been wronged, but whom do you sue in this case? Do you sue the city for passing the law, the tenant for changing his mind or the landlord on general principle? I'm not sure. If your damages are under $5,000, or if that's all you are seeking in damages, a lawsuit could be filed in Small Claims Court against one or all of those listed above.

Law limits rent increase to 3%

Question: My family owned the '50s-era home in Los Angeles in which I grew up. I still own it. The home is a single-family dwelling with a "mother-in-law" unit, which was built in 1977. I am planning to bump the rent in the mother-in-law unit because it is under the market rent, but I want to make sure that I am not limited to a 3% increase under the rent-control law. Am I limited to raising the rent by 3% or can I raise it to market level?

Answer: You are limited to a 3% rent increase unless the property is exempted from the rent control law, which doesn't seem to be the case.

It also doesn't matter how long it has been since the tenants had a rent increase. Three percent is the limit. When the tenant moves out and you get a new tenant, you can then raise the rent to the prevailing market level under city and state law. Until then, it's 3% per year.

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles. E-mail questions to

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