Question One: I recently initiated an unlawful detainer against a tenant who had failed to pay his rent. The tenant engaged the services of free public counsel and they have requested a jury. In my lease agreement, it specifically prohibits having a jury trial in an unlawful detainer action. I pointed this out to my attorney, but she told me that this provision is void and that the tenant can demand a jury trial. I do not understand why this provision, in a valid rental agreement, cannot be enforced.
Answer One: Under California law, a jury trial cannot be waived in a residential action. So even though this should be a simple bench trial in front of a judge, you will be forced to accept a jury in order to proceed to trial. It should be noted that public counsel requests a jury trial in every case. In reality, however, these matters rarely proceed to a jury trial. Approximately 97% are settled without the necessity of a trial. It should also be noted that some other law groups do proceed to jury trial in a high percentage of cases. It is wise to know your competitor.
Question Two: I have a tenant who vacated a unit without giving me any written notice. I am aware that the tenant is responsible for the rent for the next 30 days. Fortunately, I leased the unit in only five days. Is this tenant still responsible for the full month?
Answer Two: You are correct that the tenant would be responsible for the next month rent. In this situation, the law would not allow for a double recovery. Since you leased the premises in five days, your former tenant would only be responsible for this period.
Question Three: I have a tenant whose guest was injured on my property. It appeared that he slipped on some food left on the kitchen floor. Am I responsible, since this person was injured on my property?
Answer Three: The fact that a person is injured on your property, does not necessarily make the owner responsible. An owner would be responsible only if a negligent condition existed on the property and the owner failed to remedy in a reasonable period of time. In this situation, you are not responsible for food items left on the floor by your tenant.
Question Four: Is it true that I have to pay interest on my security deposit for the City of Los Angeles? If that is true, what is the amount I have to pay?
Answer Four: For rent control units in the City of Los Angeles, interest needs to be paid on a yearly basis for any security deposit being held. The amount of interest this year is 0.15%. It should be noted that landlords can charge their tenants $3.61 per month for reimbursement fees relating to the Systematic Code Enforcement Program. A notice regarding this fee must be sent to the tenant each year. If you normally do not charge the tenant for this fee, you could send a notice to your tenant advising the tenant of this charge but stating that the fee will be applied towards any interest owed on the security deposit. In this way, nothing needs to be paid to the tenant regarding interest.
Question Five: I have an applicant who is in the military. I know that if he is called away on active leave, he will be able to cancel his lease without penalty. Would it be considered discriminatory to disapprove this applicant, based on his military service.
Answer Five: Governor Brown has signed an amendment to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to include military or veteran status as a protected class. The law defines “military or veteran status” as “a member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces Reserve, the United States National Guard, and the California National Guard.” This law took effect on January 1, 2014.
Question Six: I am leasing my house in the San Fernando Valley. I have an applicant that wants a two lease instead of a one year lease. Can I raise their rent after the first year, or do I have to wait the full two years?
Answer Six: You can raise the rent after the first year, only if there is a provision contained in your lease. The lease should clearly state that commencing the second year, the rent will be increased to a specific amount.
Question Seven: My rental agreement provides that either party can terminate the lease upon service of a 30-day notice. I was recently informed that if a tenant has occupied a property for one year, a 60-day notice is required by the landlord to terminate the tenancy. The tenant, however, would still only be required to serve a 30-day notice. I think it would make sense to require both parties to serve a 60-day notice. What do you think?
Answer Seven: Your understanding of the law is correct. If the tenant has occupied the property for one year, a 60-day notice is required. That law is not reciprocal for the landlord. You certainly can change your lease so that both parties would be required to issue a 60-day notice to vacate. Whether this change should be made is a matter of economics.
Question Eight: I have a tenant who claims that she is under stress and needs a comfort dog. The building has a no pet policy. Am I under an obligation to allow her to have a dog?
Answer Eight: You can demand that the tenant produce a doctor’s note, which demonstrates her medical need to have a dog. If a valid note is produced, you must allow the animal. Owners should examine the note carefully to see that it is genuine. I recently prosecuted an eviction action where the tenant produced a certificate indicating that this pet was a medical necessity. It did not come from a doctor or a health professional. Upon investigation, we learned that it was from an out of state company that would issue a certificate for $79, no questions asked. The certificate would state the name of the dog. I had my client obtain his own certificate, even though he does not own a dog. I had him put the dog’s name on the certificate as bologna. During the trial, the tenant offered his certificate as proof that the dog was a medical necessity. I had my client introduce his certificate. He then described the process on how it was obtained. Needless to say, that the judge did not eat the bologna and my client won his case.
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 or Orange: 714.634.8232 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. Download the Dennis Block FREE app for your Smartphone – “Landlord Legal Helper”.