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RENTAL SAVVY

Lock in rental rate with a one-year lease

March 11, 2007|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Question: My rent increases every few months and I now pay about 25% more than last year. Can my landlord raise the rent whenever he wants?

Answer: Landlords in areas that aren't rent controlled can raise rents at will. A lease would preserve your rent for the life of the contract. A one-year lease may be your best bet.

A letter requesting a lease needs to be persuasive. Assuming you're a reliable tenant, you may have a chance of nailing down a fixed rental amount. Be leery of leases that offer an initial move-in "discount" but then increase during the contract period. Surcharges may be sneaked in too, so watch that all fees and costs are defined.

Although many local ordinances are silent on the subject, several California cities have plenty to say about rent control. Many tenants are surprised to learn they fall under rent control rules. The state Department of Consumer Affairs lists 15 cities that have rent control ordinances at www.dca.ca.gov/legal/landlordbook. Those municipalities are Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Campbell, East Palo Alto, Fremont, Hayward, Los Angeles, Los Gatos, Oakland, Palm Springs, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and West Hollywood.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 14, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Rent control: The Rental Savvy column in the March 11 Real Estate section stated that the L.A. rent control ordinance "applies only to one-family dwellings, 'except where two or more dwelling units are located on the same lot.' " The ordinance does not include one-family dwellings -- unless two are more units are on the same lot.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 18, 2007 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Rent control: The March 11 Rental Savvy column stated that the L.A. rent control ordinance "applies only to one-family dwellings, 'except where two or more dwelling units are located on the same lot.' " The ordinance does not include one-family dwellings -- unless two are more units are on the same lot.

Rent control is diverse and specialized. For example, in L.A., the ordinance applies only to one-family dwellings "except where two or more dwelling units are located on the same lot. This exception shall not apply to duplexes or condominiums."

Post-1978 properties are not affected by the ordinance at this time. Not sure when the place was built? Public records, which are part of county tax rolls, contain this information.

One of the hallmarks of rent control is just what the name implies. Mainly enacted to safeguard affordable housing, regulations strive to limit the dollar amount of annual increases, usually as a percentage of the current amount. Increases are allowed once a year, usually on a fiscal basis of when you moved in or when rents were last raised. Such ordinances also detail, among other things, eviction rules and habitability. Check with your community for details.

In Los Angeles County, check out www.assessor.lacounty.gov for the addresses and telephone numbers of the Assessor's Office's public service counters.

Not under rent control? Several factors, usually covered by state and local laws, shape a landlord's ability to raise rents. How often varies by state, from Colorado, which has no notice requirement, to Georgia, where it's 60 days. Most states have a Department of Consumer Affairs or an attorney general's office that may provide guidance.

If you think you've been treated unfairly or are unsure of your rights, you may want to contact an attorney for more details.

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Reader comments may be sent to hmayspitz@aol.com.

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