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Negotiate charges before signing the lease

May 21, 2006|Kevin Postema | Special to The Times

Question: I rent half of a duplex in Los Angeles. When I moved in, the landlord told me to put all the utilities in my name.

I have been paying the city utility tax, the sanitation equipment charge, the state energy surcharge and the Department of Water and Power's energy services charge. Shouldn't the landlord pay all these charges except the DWP one?

Answer: You should have negotiated these charges before signing the lease. Although your landlord may still be willing to negotiate, it is doubtful, particularly if your unit is covered by the city's rent control law.

Your rent may be lower because you are paying these fees. If your unit falls under rent control, the landlord would not be able to raise the rent to make up the difference if he agreed to pay the fees. Next time, negotiate before signing anything.

A broken lease, but no penalty due

Question: My son signed a one-year apartment lease in Yorba Linda in July but ran into financial difficulties in January and had to break it early. He was told it would be better if he waited to move until the unit had been re-rented. So he did, paying his rent every month. The landlord secured a new renter in April. My son was then told that if he vacated on April 23, he would be charged an $800 penalty for breaking the lease. Can the landlord do that?

Answer: The landlord probably can't. Your son was indeed better off to wait until a new renter was found. If it took until July to re-let the unit, he would have been responsible for rent until then.

Since your son paid the rent through April, and a new tenant was taking over the unit in May, the owner suffered no damage.

In California, it is illegal to impose a penalty for the breach of a rental contract, according to Trevor A. Grimm, general counsel to the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles. "Compensation agreed upon in advance for damages due to a future breach must be couched in terms of liquidated damages, if at all, and must be an amount agreed upon in advance for future damages that are extremely difficult to predict," he said. That is not the case.

That 4% rent hike covers inflation

Question: Where can I get information about my right under Los Angeles rent control to serve annual inflation rent increases along with the 4% one?

Answer: The increase, which goes to 4% as of July 1, is the annual inflation rent hike. There is no additional annual increase allowed under the law.

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