Question One: I have a tenant who has failed to pay rent since December 1, 2019. I was trying to work with her, but she is now claiming that due to the Coronavirus, she cannot make any payments. I have now heard that the courts are not allowing the filing of any eviction actions. What should I do?
Answer One: In most jurisdictions, landlords are required to defer the payment of rent from six months to one year if the failure to pay rent is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, your tenant’s ability to pay rent for December, January and February was not due to the pandemic. In that situation, I would recommend serving a 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. I would only include rent owed from December, 2019 through February, 2020. In this way, no argument can be made that this was virus related. After the notice expires, a lawsuit can be filed.
Under the Emergency Rules of the Judicial Council, courts are directed not to issue a summons on a complaint for unlawful detainer. That means that a lawsuit can be filed, but the tenant cannot be legally served. Once the lawsuit is filed, it should be sent to the tenant with a letter which informs the tenant the significance of being sued. This letter should invite the tenant to settle with the landlord, as the rent will not be forgiven. Our experience has shown that many tenants have just vacated or it will force them to settle with the landlord. If that does not happen, the landlord will still gain the advantage of having a better priority once the courts are fully operational.
Question Two: Mr. Block, my building has been cited by Building and Safety as requiring soft- story earthquake retrofit. As we know, landlords are now facing challenging times with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this situation, has there been any extension to the time table for earthquake retrofit?
Answer Two: Unfortunately, there has not been an extension to the Los Angeles City retrofit schedule. I would suggest that owners write to the City Council.
Question Three: I received a 23 day notice to vacate from one of my tenants. This tenant is expecting me to prorate the rent and to issue a rent credit for seven days. Am I required to this?
Answer Three: Under California law, a tenant must issue a 30 day notice to terminate a tenancy. On this basis, no credit would be owed to your tenant.
Question Four: I issued a 4% rent increase to my tenant, which became effective on April 1, 2020. My property is subject to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance for the City of Los Angeles. On April 1st my tenant tendered the rent without the increase, stating that my increase notice was invalid. Is that true?
Answer Four: The City Council of Los Angeles has suspended all rent increases for one year commencing April 1, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On that basis, your tenant will not be required to pay this increase until April 1, 2021. It should be noted that while rent increases have been suspended for a one year period, landlords should still serve rent increase notices. By doing so, the rent will be established at this higher level even though the landlord is prohibited from accepting the increase.
Question Five: Since most of my tenants have chosen not to pay the rent, am I still obligated to make repairs? One tenant is complaining that the dishwasher will not work. Could I just suggest that the tenant have the item repaired at his own cost and then to deduct the invoice from the rent?
Answer Five: Your suggestion is logical, but unfortunately is not legal. You are still charged with the responsibility of repairing the dishwasher. Landlords, during this pandemic, are required to make repairs, pay for water, sewer and trash services. In addition, they need to maintain the premises, pay property taxes and of course, make their mortgage payments. Tenants, however, are afforded relief in deferring their rent payments from six months to one year.
Question Six: I have received an Order to Comply from Building and Safety to make a repair inside my unit. I served the tenant, who was the one that made the complaint, a 24 hour access notice. This tenant is now stating that due to the Coronavirus, she will not allow anyone into her unit. I have a deadline on the Order to Comply, where I must finish making the repair. What should I do?
Answer Six: It is understandable that your tenant will not allow strangers into her unit during these extraordinary times. It is incomprehensible, however, that the tenant would make a complaint to Building and Safety and then not allow the work to be performed. I suggest that you contact the inspector who issued the Order to Comply and explain the situation. I am sure that this person will grant you an extension.
Question Seven: I have a rent control building in West Hollywood. Two roommates moved into one of my units. They signed a one-year lease. One of the tenants wants to leave, now that the lease is terminating. The second tenant wants to stay, but cannot qualify to pay the rent on her own. In light of COVID-19, must I allow her to stay on after the lease expires? Thank you very much.
Answer Seven: You cannot ask the remaining tenant to vacate. It should be noted that even though one tenant is leaving, both tenants are still responsible for the rent until such time as both tenants vacate.
Question Eight: I have my house in Long Beach which is currently in escrow to be sold. I have a tenant who is occupying the house on a month-to-month tenancy. When I realized that I would be selling the house, I issued this tenant a 90 day notice to vacate in January, 2020. I wanted to give this tenant additional time as a courtesy. Now that the house is in escrow, my tenant informs me that he cannot vacate. If my tenant does not vacate, it might jeopardize the sale. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer Eight: It would appear that your tenant’s failure to vacate is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, I would file an unlawful detainer action. A threatening letter and a copy of the lawsuit should be sent to your tenant, which indicates that the tenant will be held liable for damages sustained as a result of the failed escrow. If your tenant still refuses to vacate, you will have to wait for the Governor to first declare that the State of Emergency is over and then an additional 90 days must pass before the courts will allow the lawsuit to proceed.
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”.