Question 1:  Can I require my tenant to professionally clean the carpets before they leave or can I have it done after they leave and deduct the cost from their deposit?
Answer 1:  The tenant has a duty to return the unit to its state or condition when first rented (normal wear and tear excepted), and if the carpet was provided professionally cleaned, then you can arguably require the tenant to return it in that same state of clean. But a small claims judge may only require that the carpet be cleaned ‘reasonably’ to its prior state, so insisting on ‘professional’ cleaning may be a requirement a small claims court would not enforce if the tenant refused and filed a claim for the deposit.

Question 2: The property is a duplex. A couple has been in the unit for four years. They paid a refundable $500 security deposit on move-in. They want a small dog, which they will adopt. I would like for them to have the pet as they have been great renters. 

I advised that I would require an additional $500 dollar deposit for pet damage, refundable if there is none. I also want them to replace the carpets when they move, as the carpets were new on move-in. The carpets are still in good shape. My concern is pet and urine odor will hang on for a long time, even if the carpets are cleaned. Also, if another renter has a pet allergy, a problem exists. I set a cap of $500 for the carpet replacement. The renters have no issue with this. They will also add a Pet Rider on their Renters Policy.  Is this acceptable in CA and/or Oakland?
Answer 2:  If your lease prohibits pets, and the pet in question is not an ‘emotional support animal’ being requested under a reasonable accommodation situation, then I believe even in rent control cities like Oakland you can amend the agreement to allow the pet with the conditions you describe. Because you are adding a ‘housing service’ you should be permitted to do so in exchange for some additional contribution or consideration from the tenants.

 Question 3: I am currently the master tenant on a month to month lease in San Francisco and provided my 30 days’ notice to my landlord and the two subtenants who are also living in the apartment. As I am the master tenant, the original lease will officially end at the end of the month, and my landlord is going to take the unit off the market in order to do some repairs/upgrades. 

One of the subtenants is refusing to move out at that time, claiming she cannot afford to do so without her original deposit. Since the landlord doesn’t have to return the deposit until 21 days after we vacate, she is threatening to remain in the unit without paying rent after I and the other subtenant move out. 

My overall question is – can she be evicted if she stays? What right does she have to remain in the unit, especially if she doesn’t assume responsibility of the full rent? Pretty much, how do I ensure he vacates when we do?

Answer 3:  Your problem presents some of the more complex issues an owner, master tenant and her subtenants can face, when the unit is subject to rent/eviction control laws. If the unit is not under rent/eviction control, your written termination of the master tenancy would terminate the entire tenancy and the subtenants would be ‘unlawfully detaining’ the unit after the expiration of the notice period you provided if they remained in possession.

In rent control cities such as San Francisco, a subtenant holding over after the master tenant vacates presents a very tricky situation for all concerned, and can often lead to unlawful detainer litigation that will likely cost everybody time and money and emotional aggravation. The various scenarios that can unfold are too numerous to outline here. Getting the subtenants’ cooperation is the best option, but if that is not possible, each of you will likely be consulting with counsel to figure out a solution.

Ultimately, as the master tenant, the owner will likely seek to hold you responsible for the costs of dealing with the holdover subtenant, which can be significant. If you have the ability, it might be to everyone’s benefit to advance the holdout’s deposit to gain that cooperation, and then recoup it when the owner returns the deposit to you.

Question 4: Is there a legal document/form notifying the tenant of my intent to sell my Oakland property? If so, does Apartment Owners Association have such a document/form? Also, what is the law regarding when to notify the tenant of intent to sell (this is not to request the tenant to move). Tenant will not be required to move.

Answer 4: There is no form I know of to notify the tenant of your intent to sell the property. However, if you have an agent, that person typically would notify the tenant, or instruct you how to do so, regarding your need at some point(s) to enter the rental premises to show the unit and for open houses. If you do not have an agent, then you may need some specialized assistance beyond the scope of the Q&A forum.

Once the property is sold, there are requirements to notify the tenant regarding the sale and new owner, but that is also something your agent should be able to assist with.

Question 5: I own 5-unit building. My neighbor who also owns 5-unit building refuses to contribute to a shared clapped fence. I have scheduled the fence to be rebuilt next week. As I understand it, I can sue in small claim court. What should I do to prepare and execute suit.
Answer 5: Your situation involves the common fence law (California Civil Code Section 841, also known as the Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013). It provides a presumption that both sides share the benefit and cost of the common fence. It states in part:

(a) Adjoining landowners shall share equally in the responsibility for maintaining the boundaries and monuments between them.

(b) (1) Adjoining landowners are presumed to share an equal benefit from any fence dividing their properties and, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties in a written agreement, shall be presumed to be equally responsible for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence.

However, it may require that you provided the neighbor with advance notice, as the statute states: “Where a landowner intends to incur costs for a fence, the landowner shall give 30 days prior written notice to each affected adjoining landowner. The notice shall include notification of the presumption of equal responsibility for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence. The notice shall include a description of the nature of the problem facing the shared fence, the proposed solution for addressing the problem, the estimated construction or maintenance costs involved to address the problem, the proposed cost-sharing approach, and the proposed timeline for getting the problem addressed.”

If you did not give such notice before the work was done, he may have a defense.

Question 6:   As a landlord, I have always prohibited tenants from having pets in my apartments in accordance with paragraph 7 of AOA RENTAL AGREEMENT AND/OR LEASE.  In today’s pet friendly environment, is there any new law that requires pets to be allowed by a landlord in a rental apartment, or an HOA in an owner occupied condo or rental condo. 

Answer 6:  The rules on true ‘service’ animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) have been established for a while now, and while they are not identical, they are very similar for most owners’ questions. The service animal tenant has more specific rights provided by statute than ESA owners. In the case of service animals, the property owner has no discretion to approve or reject the tenant’s right to bring the service animal into the unit (unless the animal presents a clear danger), whereas an ESA can be rejected if the tenant fails to establish the necessary connection between a disability and the animal’s medical need. The laws do apply to HOAs and condo associations.

Question 7:    We find that we need to tent our Milpitas fourplex for termites. Are we is required to compensate the tenants for the three days that they will be out of the units? Thank you!

Answer 7: The landlord has a duty to provide habitable premises and if the premises for reasons beyond the tenant’s control become uninhabitable the tenant is entitled to compensation for the period of the problem. The amount of compensation is always the tricky part. At minimum, the tenants are entitled to a waiver of the rent due, though the tenant can claim they are out of pocket more than the rent by moving, higher costs for similar housing etc. It is usually best to start from those two perspectives and try to reach an amicable resolution of the amount. And if unable to do so, you and the tenant may agree to submit the matter to small claims court to decide.

Question 8:  I would like to know what information is considered private when inquired from a previous landlord. Some companies or landlords will only answer two or three questions. The reason I ask is I ended up with a pot smoker where all our apartments and buildings are no smoking and smoke free and the previous landlord would not answer as to why is he vacating the apartment, if he adhered to the rental apartments rules and regulations, etc. Is there a reason they would not clarify or answer those inquiries even though the tenant had signed the credit application for release of information or are here privacy laws that I am not aware off of?

Answer 8:  Many landlords are reluctant to answer any questions about their prior tenants, for fear of having any statements ‘come back to haunt them’. Some will simply confirm the dates of tenancy. Some will add whether the tenant paid rent timely during the tenancy. But questions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ tenant are often ignored. If the tenant was stellar, most former landlords would, I suspect, share that evaluation, though they can also worry that a good referral may subject them to claims by the new landlord that the tenant in fact turned out to be a problem tenant! Conversely, providing a negative assessment of the former tenant may be grounds for the former tenant to challenge the accuracy of those statements, which the former tenant will claim harmed his or her ability to rent new housing. So, again, most landlords just refuse to provide character assessments of their former tenants to potential new landlords. The prospective landlord may rely on credit reports and employment history for assurance the prospective tenant is a sound choice.

Question 9:   I just completed an eviction and just found out there was a dog and cat living there. The rental agreement has a “no pets” clause. May I keep the $2,200.00 security deposit?

Answer 9:  When I first read your question, I thought you meant the cat and dog were left behind, but on re-reading, it appears that you discovered the former tenants had pets that you had not approved. As to the deposit, it can only be used for 1) unpaid rent, 2) damages beyond normal wear and tear and 3) cleaning the unit to the state it was provided the tenant when the tenant moved in. There is no provision for applying the deposit to the landlord’s discovery that the tenants were in breach of the lease, whatever the breach may be, if it does not involve those three bases to apply the deposit.

If the pets caused damage beyond normal wear and tear, then of course the deposit can be applied, assuming you complied with the security deposit statute (Civil Code 19505.5) regarding pre-move out inspections (unless the tenant was being evicted via a three day notice case), and the post-move out accounting requirement. If those references are not clear, I strongly suggest you review that statute, as every landlord should know it well. It is easily found by a basic internet search.

Question 10:   Tenant has lived in apartment for five years with no bedbug issues. She said is having problems with bed bugs, so I called Terminix out and they found bedbugs. Tenant asked the next door tenant and downstairs’ tenant, and they claim they have none. Who is responsible for cost? What are my steps to take? What if the problem continues?
Answer 10: As I have written in the Q&A column previously, the issue of bedbugs is typically a fact-based issue. If the tenants brought the bugs, they are responsible. If not, it is the landlord’s obligation to treat the bug infestation. If it is a close call on who is responsible, an offer to split the treatment cost is the best option I know. If the parties can’t agree, they may need a third party to decide (small claims court, usually).

Below is part of Civil Code Section 1954.602 for general info on the bed bug issue:

(a) A landlord shall not show, rent, or lease to a prospective tenant any vacant dwelling unit that the landlord knows has a current bed bug infestation.

(b) This section does not impose a duty on a landlord to inspect a dwelling unit or the common areas of the premises for bed bugs if the landlord has no notice of a suspected or actual bed bug infestation. If a bed bug infestation is evident on visual inspection, the landlord shall be considered to have notice pursuant to this section.

The statutes also required providing tenants with the disclosure required by, which is set forth below: On and after July 1, 2017, prior to creating a new tenancy for a dwelling unit, a landlord shall provide a written notice to the prospective tenant as provided in this section. This notice shall be provided to all other tenants by January 1, 2018. The notice shall be in at least 10-point type and shall include, but is not limited to, the following: (a) General information about bed bug identification, behavior and biology, the importance of cooperation for prevention and treatment, and the importance of and for prompt written reporting of suspected infestations to the landlord. The form is available for FREE to AOA members and may be downloaded by visiting www.aoausa.com.

Richard Beckman, of Beckman Feller & Chang P.C., has been practicing landlord-tenant law for over 26 years, primarily in rent-controlled jurisdictions such as San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. He represents clients in a broad range of real estate-related disputes, including partition of co-ownership interests, purchase contract disputes, insurance coverage analysis and land use. Mr. Beckman also specializes in all aspects of landlord-tenant issues, representing landlords and tenants in residential and commercial matters. He can be reached at 415-871-0070; email rbeckman@bfc-legal.com or by visiting the website www.bfc-legal.com.