This article was posted on Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012

Question One: I have a tenant who broke a bathroom faucet that cost $300. I replaced it with a temporary faucet costing $49.00. I would like to replace it with a similar faucet, like the one that was broken. I am asking the tenant to reimburse me for the new faucet, with no luck. What are my options?
 Answer One: You have several options in this situation. You could deduct the cost of the faucet from the security deposit, once the tenant vacates. If your tenant signed the AOA Lease agreement, you could serve your tenant with a 3-day Notice to Cure Violation or Move Out, giving your tenant three days to pay for the replacement cost. If the tenant fails to pay this sum within the three day period, you would be able to commence an eviction action. Lastly, you could institute a Small Claims court action and sue the tenant for this sum.

Question Two: A current tenant has issued a notice to quit, breaking her lease. She has five months left on her 12-month contract. Apparently, she has a restraining order against her ex-husband, which he continually violates. She sent me copies of the restraining order. Her attorney is advising her to move out of the area. Is my tenant liable for the remaining term of their lease?
Answer Two: Under California law, your tenant is free to break her lease without penalty. If a tenant is the subject of violence or threats of violence and has secured a restraining order or police report, a lease can be broken. This must be given to the landlord and the tenant can vacate upon the service of a 30-day notice to quit.
Question Three: I recently lost an eviction action and I am so angry at our legal system. I rented my apartment for $1,500 per month and charged a one month security and the first month’s rent. The tenant presented me a personal check in the sum of $3,000. He signed the agreement and I gave him the keys. His checked was returned for insufficient funds and he refused to vacate or pay me anything. I served the tenant with a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit for the $3,000.  The court stated that I could not ask for the security deposit in the notice and ruled in favor of my tenant. This thief will now be in my unit for another two months and has not paid a dime! Something is really wrong with the system.
Answer Three: Unfortunately, the judge made the right decision in this instance. A 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit can only include rent. Since you included the security deposit, your notice was defective.  The correct procedure would have been to serve a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit for the rent and a 3-Day Notice to Perform or Quit for the security deposit. Both notices should have been served concurrently. As a general rule, never accept a personal check to initiate a tenancy.
Question Four: I have a rent controlled building where some of the tenants are paying very low rent. Is it legal for me to encourage the tenants to vacate if I pay them money? If they accept the proposal, will I be able to legally raise the rent to market level?
Answer Four: There is nothing wrong with paying tenants to vacate, in order to increase the rent to market value. This should be done pursuant to a formal Voluntary Vacate Agreement. It is a sad commentary, however, that as an owner you are not free to charge market value in a so-called “free economy”.

Question Five: I have a laundry room in my rent controlled building that I operate. It really does not make any money and I would like to close it down. Are there any prohibitions in doing so?
Answer Five: Under rent control, if you take away an amenity, you must have a corresponding deduction in rent. In this instance, a laundry room would be considered an amenity and you would be required to decrease the rent. Rent Stabilization has some guidelines as to the value of certain items. You would be required to lower the rent to each tenant. If the tenant does not feel that it is fair compensation, a hearing would then be held by the Los Angeles Housing Department who would render a decision.

 Question Six: I have a no-pet policy in my building in Inglewood. A tenant has approached me and asked if he could get a small dog. I am okay with this, as long as he pays me a substantial pet deposit. Would that be legal and will I be forced to allow all tenants to have a dog if they ask?
Answer Six: You are allowed to make exceptions for some tenants, without obligating yourself to allow all your tenants to have pets. You are not allowed to collect a pet deposit. All deposits are considered to be a security deposit. Do not label it differently. Under California law, the maximum security deposit that can be collected cannot exceed two month’s rent for an unfurnished apartment and three month’s rent for a furnished apartment. 

Question Seven:  I want to serve a 3-day notice to my tenant. The form requires an address where the tenant can pay the rent. My normal policy is to pick the rent up at the property, as I do not want the tenant to know where I live. Can I put on the form to call me and I will pick up the rent?
Answer Seven: Under California law, a landlord must supply their physical address for the purpose of allowing tenants to serve notices or legal actions. The 3-day notice form does require an address where the tenant can make payment. Your method would not be in compliance with the law. It is permissible to put a post office box number for payment to be made. You can also have the tenant direct deposit the rent into your bank account. The bank must be within five miles of the subject property and you must state your account number, address of the bank and hours when the bank is open.
Question Eight: I would like to streamline receiving my rental payments, by requiring tenants to pay their rent online? What procedures should I take to accomplish this?
Answer Eight: Pursuant to a new law, Civil Code Section 1947.3, a landlord cannot force tenants to exclusively pay their rent online. The relevant part of this law provides: “A landlord or landlord’s agent shall allow a tenant to pay rent and deposit of security by at least one form of payment that is neither cash nor electronic funds transfer.” Based on this law, you cannot require exclusive online rental payments. The law was enacted to protect elderly tenants who might not be computer literate.  It is interesting to note, however, that California requires some taxpayers to pay their income tax solely by online payments or face penalty. I guess it does not matter if these taxpayers are elderly!

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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 Now, you can also read Dennis Block on Twitter, or text him at (818) 570-1557.  Download the Dennis Block FREE app for your Smartphone – “Landlord Legal Helper”.

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