Question: My father died recently, and the management company deducted money from his security deposit. They say the money is for legal services to determine who should be allowed into the unit to remove personal belongings. Should they have done so?
Answer: Based solely on your description, it would seem these fees are unreasonable. A property owner or management company should have a policy establishing the steps it takes when a tenant dies, rather than rely on assessing this financial burden against the security deposit. These fees are a cost of doing business, which is the responsibility of the property owner.
Civil Code 1950.5 limits security deposit deductions to: 1) past due rent, 2) repair of damage to the premises, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, 3) cleaning of the premises to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the beginning of the tenancy and 4) to return, replace or restore personal property for furnished units. The legal fees you have described do not fit within these uses.
For Iraq-bound GI, a way to pay rent
Question: One of my tenants is a soldier who is being transferred to Iraq. His family will be staying on since the children are in school. The tenant wants to set up a plan for paying the rent automatically out of his government payroll check. I want to help this family. What do you think of this type of payment?
Answer: This method is known as an allotment or a direct assignment of monies to family members, mortgages, creditors or landlords. A service member is allowed up to six allotments or direct assignments using the "My Pay" program. You can research this program at www.mypay.gov. Once an account is set up, the rent is sent to you before any of the funds are available to the service member.
Although it is convenient for service members who are out of the country, you need to ensure that it will meet your needs as a property owner. If you have any questions that your tenant cannot answer, contact the My Pay Customer Service office at (800) 390-2348.
Try mediation for housing disputes
Question: The city in which I own rental property has a housing mediation program. I support this concept in theory, but wonder whether the process really works. Since your agency offers the service, please explain the value of mediation.
Answer: We believe the mediation process provides a positive option for all parties to resolve disputes. The programs have a very high success rate, generally 75% to 90%.
Mediation works because it allows disputing parties to openly discuss their issues and resolve them in a safe, confidential environment facilitated by neutral mediators.
The mediator's role is to open communication and develop trust between the parties, who can then explore their options and eventually reach a mutually acceptable resolution to their dispute.
Participating in mediation is voluntary and usually free. The mediation session takes place in a neutral location, in a private setting. Mediators have completed specialized training.
The process works because the parties control the outcome. A traditional legal action is expensive and time consuming. The case is heard in open court, convenience is not a consideration and the judge, acting as an arbitrator, decides the outcome.
Free mediation services are available to L.A. County residents through the city attorney's office, www.lacity.org/mediate.
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 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.