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Three or four months' rent to move in: Is that too much to ask?

It's legal for a landlord to seek this much. And don't assume that any of it is for the last month.

July 02, 2006|Kevin Postema | Special to The Times

Question: I have a job, but I have bad credit. So the owner of an apartment I would like to rent wants me to pay first and last month's rent along with a security deposit equal to one month's rent. Is that legal?

Answer: Rental property owners statewide can legally require an amount equal to two months' rent for deposit in addition to the first month's rent -- a total of three months' rent for move-in. Owners can charge deposits in the amount of three months' rent plus the first month's rent for furnished apartments.

The owner does not have to call any of the deposit money "last month's rent." He can call all of it a security deposit and require you to pay the last month's rent for your last month of tenancy.

Many renters believe that one month's worth of their deposit will be used for that purpose. This is not usually true. Most leases or rental agreements that specify a portion of the deposit is for last month's rent note that it's actually a deposit toward that amount -- the amount of the last month's rent will be the prevailing rent at the time you move out.


Specifics of L.A.'s rent-control law

Question: Tenants have leased my town house since July 2003. During that time, I have never increased the rent. Assuming the town house is under Los Angeles' rent control and the 3% rent increase applies, can this be applied retroactively so that I can raise the rent by 9%?

Answer: If you are under Los Angeles city's rent control law, you may not give your tenants retroactive rent increases. Under rent control, you can raise your tenant's rent by 4% a year with a 30-day notice (the rent increase percentage went up from 3% to 4% as of Saturday).

Also, your town house may not be under rent control. If it is a condominium, evictions are controlled but the rent is not. If the Certificate of Occupancy on your town house was issued after Oct. 1, 1978, it is considered new construction and is exempt.

If it's the latter, you can raise the rent as much as you like. If you stick with the 9%, you must give a 30-day notice of rent increase. Under state law, rent increases of more than 10% require a 60-day notice.


She moved, but deposit stayed put

Question: My daughter leased an apartment for one year in Costa Mesa and paid a $1,000 security deposit. She lived in the apartment with a friend who was on the lease as a resident but did not sign the lease. After a year, the lease converted to a month-to-month tenancy and my daughter decided to move out. Her friend got a new roommate.

The management company refused to refund my daughter's deposit, saying she should take it up with the current tenants. I maintain that because my daughter was the only one on the lease, she should get her deposit back and the management company should get a new deposit from the existing tenants. As such, we have filed a Small Claims Court action. Are we likely to prevail?

Answer: No. Your position is not tenable.

The fact that your daughter's roommate did not sign the lease is not relevant. Because security deposits go with tenancies, and not with tenants, you have no chance of prevailing in this legal action.

Your daughter should have gotten the deposit money back from her former roommate before she moved out and then requested that the management company draw a new lease with the new roommates, transferring the deposit to them.


Kevin Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group. E-mail questions about apartment living to

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