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Can landlord transfer tenant's deposit?

July 17, 2005|From Project Sentinel

Question: Months ago, I signed a rental agreement and paid a security deposit for an apartment that was to be ready in four months. During the remodeling, the management company rented a temporary place to me in another complex it manages. The person to whom I paid my deposit for the original apartment does not own this complex.

I've now received word that the original apartment will not be ready for seven months. This is not convenient, and when I asked for a refund on my deposit, the management company told me it had been transferred to my temporary apartment.

When I moved into the temporary apartment, I never signed a rental agreement; I just moved in and started paying the rent. I don't think the management company had the right to transfer my deposit without my permission. What do you think?

Answer: It is questionable as to whether the management company can arbitrarily transfer your deposit without your permission. Even when rental property is sold, Civil Code 1950.5(h)(1) requires that a tenant be notified of the sale as well as the deposit transfer. The form used is the Notice of Sale of Real Property and of Transfer of Security Deposit Balance.

Since you didn't pay the deposit to your current landlord and you haven't occupied the original unit, the management company should refund it.

The situation that will arise for you and the current landlord is what to do when you move, since there is no deposit on record. This landlord could require a new deposit from you if he gives you a 30-Day Change of Terms Notice. Otherwise, any damage and/or necessary cleaning the landlord feels you are responsible for will have to be handled outside of Civil Code 1950.5.


Renter hopes to recover fire losses

Question: The house in which I rent a room had a fire. As a result, some of my belongings were damaged. The fire department reported the blaze as an accident. The property owner will not give me the name of her insurance company so I can make a claim. What do I do?

Answer: Unless it was determined that the owner was negligent in the property's upkeep, the landlord's policy may not cover your damaged belongings.

Request a copy of the incident report. In most cases, it will state a determination of the fire's cause. This report will help you determine whether you have a claim for landlord negligence.

You may want to try to resolve the matter through your local housing mediation program. If the property owner is liable but declines to mediate, you can proceed to Small Claims Court if the value of your damaged belongings is less than $5,000 or if you agree to waive the sum owed over this amount to remain within the Small Claims Court jurisdiction.


'Source of income' rule still viable

Question: I own several apartment complexes. Did the "source of income" rule expire on Jan. 1?

Answer: The source of income rule you ask about is found in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. This act makes it illegal to refuse to sell or rent a dwelling based on an applicant's source of income. This means that as long as an applicant is the direct recipient of an adequate, legal and verifiable source of income (wages, Social Security income, veterans benefits etc.), a landlord must not discriminate against this person based on the income source.

It would be legal for you to establish rules for a reasonable minimum amount of income, however, as long as you apply it equally to all applicants.

When source of income was first established as a protected category in California in 1999, it carried what was known as a "sunset provision" and, therefore, was indeed set to expire at the beginning of 2005. However, the Legislature recently renewed the rule, effectively eliminating the sunset provision. Therefore, it is still an active and viable law.


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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