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RENT WATCH

Disabled tenant has a legal right to receive friend's assistance

October 28, 2007|By Project Sentinel

Question: My apartment is on the second floor, and I have a disability that makes it hard to take my household trash to the garbage area. A friend comes over once a week to carry the trash down the stairs.

The manager left me a note saying I must ask my friend to stop doing this because the property owner is concerned about my friend falling or getting hurt. Does my friend have to stop helping me?

Answer: Federal and state fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on disability. Discrimination against people with disabilities is specifically defined to include "a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."

Based on the needs of your disability, the manager should let you get whatever aid is necessary for you to have full and equal enjoyment of the premises.

If a medical professional could verify that you need your friend's help to take out your trash, then this would be a reasonable accommodation that the manager would have to allow.

The landlord's general fear of injury is not a reasonable basis for refusing an accommodation.

In fact, the landlord has a duty to keep the premises safe and free from dangerous conditions for tenants as well as their guests. The landlord cannot avoid this duty by unreasonably restricting your means for help.

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Rent hike raises red flag for tenant

Question: I am the only Latina single mother living in my apartment complex. Last week I received a large rent increase. My neighbors told me their rent increases were much smaller. I feel this is discrimination. What can I do?

Answer: Discrimination laws protect tenants from differential treatment on the basis of protected status such as race, national origin and family status.

You could ask your landlord for an explanation of the increase; however, he or she is not obligated to discuss the matter with you.

You could also call your local fair housing agency if you feel that you have been subject to discrimination.

They can investigate your case to see whether others in your complex have received similar increases and whether management has an explanation for different rent-increase amounts.

Management may have a legitimate business justification for the differences, but if there is a pattern showing that your increase was motivated in whole or in part by your race, national origin or family status, the agency can help you file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or help you file a case in civil court.

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Responsibility for lost checks

Question: I am an owner of a 10-unit rental property. My resident manager lost two monthly rent checks. One was a personal check that was easily canceled by the tenant's bank (I paid the fee), but the other was a money order. The issuing bank says the tenant must place a trace on it and it could take up to 60 days before there is a resolution.

I can't wait that long for the rent. Can I give the tenant a three-day notice to pay the rent and then leave it to him to collect the money order refund?

Answer: It would not be appropriate for you to serve the tenant with a 3-Day Pay Rent or Quit Notice for rent that your employee acknowledges was lost. Since the manager was negligent, you are responsible because the manager was acting as your agent. The tenants have fulfilled their obligation to tender the rent to you and are under no obligation to suffer financially for the payments your manager lost.

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Project Sentinel is a rental housing mediation service. Write to 1055 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Suite 3, Sunnyvale, CA 94087. For housing discrimination questions, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Southern California Housing Rights Center at (800) 477-5977.

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