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BOOK REVIEW

Smart servings of real-world advice for tenants and landlords

California Tenants' Rights Janet Portman and David Brown Nolo; $29.99; 413 pp.

Every Tenant's Legal Guide Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart Nolo; $29.99; 447 pp.

June 24, 2007|Helene Lesel | Special to The Times

THEY'RE aimed at tenants, but "California Tenants' Rights" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide" are right on target for landlords as well. More than just legal tomes, the books address an array of tenant issues in clear, easy-to-understand language.

Both dish up generous servings of real-life examples, forms and charts to illustrate and explain rental situations. "Every Tenant's Legal Guide" is written for a national audience; "California Tenants' Rights" addresses specific rights that renters in this state ought to know about.

Chapters are a blend of legal and practical advice, including sample letters and a vast supply of resources. Letters are well written and concise: "On January 10, I called your office and spoke to you about a major problem: I have no hot water." The letter goes on to cite the applicable law and alerts the landlord that the remedy called for may be to repair the problem and deduct some money from the rent.

Both books explain new laws -- local and federal. For example, the Federal Trade Commission has enacted several new rules for handling credit information in the United States. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act applies to all businesses, from the largest mega-corporations to your local mom-and-pop landlord. Keeping tenants' credit and personal information in a safe and secure location is required; only known and trusted people should be allowed access. Once information is no longer needed, the regulation requires that records be properly and promptly destroyed to avoid fraudulent use.

"California Tenants' Rights" covers the array of laws and regulations unique to tenants dwelling in the state. Laws governing tenancy in California are among the most complex and comprehensive in the U.S. In addition, 15 California cities have some form of rent control, which further defines tenant rights. With 18 chapters of information, readers are educated and entertained on many topics, starting with "Looking for a Place and Renting It."

"The Obnoxious Landlord and Your Right to Privacy" is the gateway to a flood of other issues, including major and minor repairs, maintenance and desired alterations. Injuries, crime and the need for renters' insurance are explained in great detail in separate chapters.

The particulars on breaking a lease, subletting and other leasing problems will help renters move up and out without leaving too much behind. Security-deposit issues warrant a separate chapter, which explains a tenant's right both before and after the tenancy.

Updated as of January, the book also includes more than two dozen tear-out forms that reflect updated laws and regulations. Why the changes?

"Readers who file official court documents must use the most current forms since some court clerks will refuse to accept old forms, even when the changes are not substantial," co-author Janet Portman explains.

On a national level, "Every Tenant's Legal Guide" covers federal laws in the same format as the California version and includes a huge appendix covering 11 topics. Laws on withholding rent, landlord access, the notice required to change or terminate leases, and abandoned property are charted in easy-to-read-and-understand formats.

Portman, an attorney and expert on landlord-tenant law, has been writing legal guides since 1972. Co-author Marcia Stewart's knowledge is evident in the reading of the fifth edition of "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." Along with landlord-tenant attorney David Brown, Portman also co-authored the 17th edition of "California Tenants' Rights." These are must-have volumes for any landlord's or tenant's reference library.

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