Many times tenants, who are not responsible for their water usage, will waste water. Either they will allow the water to just run or fail to report leaks. It is wise for landlords to do periodic inspections to check for any abnormalities. In most multi-unit buildings, there usually is one water meter and the landlord is responsible for that cost of that utility. If you suspect your water usage is not reasonable, you might consider installing sub meters. This will allow you to have the tenants pay for their own water. The cost to install these systems will generally pay for itself in a very short period of time. It will require that you serve on your tenant a Change of Terms of Tenancy that the tenant will be responsible for their own water usage.
As part of the leasing process, it is wise to check to see if the applicant has been involved in any lawsuits. This usually can be checked on the website of the County Superior Court. I recently had a client who discovered that his tenant had sued each of his previous landlords for the last 10 years. Clearly this is not an applicant that any landlord should consider. Depending on the Superior Court, the cost can range from zero to a very nominal amount.
Obtaining Applications from Existing Tenants
Many times owners purchase buildings where no applications are on file from the existing tenants. It is a very important practice to have applications for your tenants in case of emergencies. This will also aid in the collection of any judgments you might obtain. If you do not have applications on your existing tenants, send them one to complete with a deadline of seven days. If they fail to complete it, give them one written reminder. If the application is not tendered thereafter, you may serve on your tenant a Notice to Quit, assuming they are on a month-to-month tenancy. This would not be applicable in jurisdictions which mandate “just cause” evictions.
Email and Text Messages
While email and text messaging can be a wonderful way to communicate, it is not a proper format for legal notices that are required to be served upon your tenant. Rent Increases, Access Notices and Notice to Quit must all be in a written form and the notice properly served on your tenant. It is possible to add a provision in your lease that these types of communications are proper. If signed by both parties, you would be free to email or text your tenants.
Comfort or Service Pets
If presented with a letter from a medical professional that your applicant or existing tenant requires a service or comfort animal, a landlord is required to grant a reasonable accommodation and allow the animal to occupy the premises. This is true notwithstanding the “no pet” policy of the building. Be advised that in this situation, the landlord cannot get an additional security deposit or attempt to charge a higher rent. This would be considered a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and potentially subject you to a lawsuit.
Early Termination of Lease
When a tenant breaks or terminates their tenancy prior to the expiration of a lease, a landlord must take reasonable steps to keep their losses to a minimum or “duty to mitigate damages.” The landlord is not required to rent the unit for less than fair market value. Further, a landlord can deduct legitimate expenses: for example, the costs of advertising the property. If the landlord tries to re-rent the unit, and cannot find an acceptable tenant, that tenant is held responsible for the remainder of the lease term. The landlord must deplete the security deposit and may sue the tenant to recover the balance remaining.
Sometimes repairs in a building require tenants to temporarily relocate. This can occur for major plumbing repairs, roof repairs or if the building needs to be tented for termites. The issue is what compensation needs to be given to the tenant. There is no specific rule that requires the tenant to be compensated for housing or food. In this situation, the landlord should not charge the tenant for the days that the unit could not be accessed. It is wise to have a provision in your lease agreement that specifies what the obligation of the landlord is, when this event occurs.
Death of a Tenant and Disclosures to New Tenant
In California, if a death occurs in a unit, the landlord must disclose the death to any new prospective tenants for the next three years. This disclosure should be in writing. A landlord has no obligation to disclose that an occupant of the unit died from AIDS. After three years, the landlord is not required to volunteer the information but, if asked a direct question, you can’t give incorrect information. A landlord can respond by giving correct information or by stating that the landlord declines to provide any information.
Dennis Block, of Dennis P. Block & Associates can be reached for information on landlord/tenant law or evictions at any of the following offices: Los Angeles: 323.938.2868, Encino: 818.986.3147, Inglewood: 310.673.2996, Long Beach: 310.434.5000, Ventura: 805.653.7264, Pasadena: 626.798.1014, Orange: 714.634.8232, San Diego: 619.481.5423 or by visiting www.evict123.com. Now, you can also read Dennis Block on Twitter, www.twitter.com/dennisblock or text him at (818) 570-1557. “Landlord Tenant Radio Weekly Podcasts can be heard at any time at www.EVICT123.com or download the app “EVICT123”.