Question 1:     Did the Richmond rent control law you mentioned in last month’s article pass? If so, what should we be aware of?
Answer 1: On August 5, 2015, the Richmond City Council approved the “Rent Control and Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance” (Ordinance 20-15 N.S.) A copy of the Ordinance can be found online at
http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/6688. 

As drafted, it is substantially similar to the rent control ordinances in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland (each of which is similar but not identical to the other). In other words, there is a rent increase limitation component, and ‘just cause for eviction’ component. The ‘details’ of the two components are less clear than the similar local laws, because the regulations that normally accompany enacting legislation such as the Ordinance are yet to be written. The law was scheduled to go into effect September 4, 2015. However, there is a petition (supported by AOA) circulating in Richmond seeking a voter referendum that would place the issue before the voters. If the petition gathers the signatures of at least 10% of Richmond registered voters, the ordinance would be suspended until the next general election in November 2016.

If the Ordinance remains on the books, the main items for Richmond landlords to be aware of are:

  • the application of the Ordinance to all covered units, which are basically all residential units in Richmond built before 1995, though single family homes and condominiums can be exempted from rent control upon petition to the Rent Board;
  • the date of July 21, 2015 as the date of establishment of base rents for all covered units, meaning the rent paid by the tenant as of July 21, 2015 is the maximum that can be charged, subject to adjustments upward (or downward) as permitted by the Ordinance. The annual Base Rent increase amount will be posted by the rent board no later than June 30 of each year, to be imposed as a rent increase effective September 1 of that year. The Ordinance does not mention ‘banked increases’ (as all the other local ordinances provide). It is possible banked increases will be provided for in the ensuing regulations;
  • that any notice of termination of tenancy other than for nonpayment of rent must also be served on the Rent Board (which does not yet exist, though there is supposed to be an ‘interim board to act in its place. This presents one of the early issues to be resolved);
  • that all evictions must be based on a ‘just cause’ ground described in the Ordinance;
  • that all notices of termination for breach of lease, other than nonpayment of rent, must provide the tenant with 7 (seven) days to cure the breach, rather than the state statute amount of (three) days;
  • that there are, of course, penalties for violating the above provisions, including treble damages and attorney’s fees. 

All Richmond landlords are strongly urged to carefully read the Ordinance, which is not necessarily complicated, and in many aspects will require additional guidance (for example, if the landlord had provided the tenant a below market rent for some reason, is that landlord bound to that amount going forward?). The Ordinance provides for the creation of a rent board, hiring of a housing director and informing renters and landlords about the law, but those items may or may not happen soon. The city may wait at least until the referendum deadline to pass to take further action in implementing the Ordinance. 

UPDATE:  Based on late-breaking developments, the Ordinance appears to have been suspended due one day prior to its September 5th effective date to the success of the petition drive discussed above. 

Question 2: I have a tenant that has an abusive partner. The police have been called to escort him off property at least three times. The tenant has promised that this will not happen again. What can I do if the partner comes back onto the property?
Answer 2: While there is a statue that allows an abused tenant to escape the rental agreement obligation for future rent, or seek a protective order requiring the abusive co-occupant to be barred from the premises, a co-tenant who creates a disturbance by having the police called risks having all occupants evicted for nuisance. The tenant with the abusive partner needs to know that her own tenancy is in jeopardy if she allows further disturbances to occur, and she does not take the legal steps available to her to stop the disturbances.
 

 Question 3:    We are a Property Management Firm. On 9/10/14 we sent an exit letter to our tenant and one of the items deducted from the security deposit was “Blind replacement: $398”. Also the following paragraph:  “In your behalf, the owner is not insisting on replacing the damaged blinds with the same expensive variety that were installed when you moved in. He is allowing the duet blinds to be replaced with wooden blinds, at the $300 lesser amount.”
We have paperwork showing we procured 3 estimates and the $398 is the least of the estimates.
Recently, the tenant called to say, “I just drove by the old rental again and you never put any blinds up. I want a refund of the $398 that you deducted from my security deposit because you never put up the blinds that you charged me for!”
Does the owner have to refund the past tenant’s $398? Must he put up the blinds that he estimated for? She is threatening to take us to Small Claims and we need to know where we stand.
Answer 3:  The owner does not have to actually replace or install items damaged by the former tenant in order to lawfully deduct the cost of the damaged items from the security deposit. If the owner charges for labor to do cleaning or repairs, the value or actual cost must be provided to the tenant, and cannot be charged if the work was not done. But for damaged items, there is no statutory requirement that the time charged for actually be purchased. Below is the applicable section of the security deposit statute, Civil Code Section 1950.5, for your review:
 

           (g) (1) No later than 21 calendar days after the tenant has vacated the premises, but not earlier than the time that either the landlord or the tenant provides a notice to terminate the tenancy under Section 1946 or 1946.1, Section 1161 of the Code of Civil Procedure, or not earlier than 60 calendar days prior to the expiration of a fixed-term lease, the landlord shall furnish the tenant, by personal delivery or by first-class mail, postage prepaid, a copy of an itemized statement indicating the basis for, and the amount of, any security received and the disposition of the security, and shall return any remaining portion of the security to the tenant. After either the landlord or the tenant provides notice to terminate the tenancy, the landlord and tenant may mutually agree to have the landlord deposit any remaining portion of the security deposit electronically to a bank account or other financial institution designated by the tenant. After either the landlord or the tenant provides notice to terminate the tenancy, the landlord and the tenant may also agree to have the landlord provide a copy of the itemized statement along with the copies required by paragraph (2) to an email account provided by the tenant.

(2)      Along with the itemized statement, the landlord shall also include copies of documents showing charges incurred and deducted by the landlord to repair or clean the premises, as follows:

(A)     If the landlord or landlord’s employee did the work, the itemized statement shall reasonably describe the work performed. The itemized statement shall include the time spent and the reasonable hourly rate charged.

(B)     If the landlord or landlord’s employee did not do the work, the landlord shall provide the tenant a copy of the bill, invoice, or receipt supplied by the person or entity performing the work. The itemized statement shall provide the tenant with the name, address, and telephone number of the person or entity, if the bill, invoice, or receipt does not include that information.

(C)     If a deduction is made for materials or supplies, the landlord shall provide a copy of the bill, invoice, or receipt. If a particular material or supply item is purchased by the landlord on an ongoing basis, the landlord may document the cost of the item by providing a copy of a bill, invoice, receipt, vendor price list, or other vendor document that reasonably documents the cost of the item used in the repair or cleaning of the unit.

(3)      If a repair to be done by the landlord or the landlord’s employee cannot reasonably be completed within 21 calendar days after the tenant has vacated the premises, or if the documents from a person or entity providing services, materials, or supplies are not in the landlord’s possession within 21 calendar days after the tenant has vacated the premises, the landlord may deduct the amount of a good faith estimate of the charges that will be incurred and provide that estimate with the itemized statement. If the reason for the estimate is because the documents from a person or entity providing services, materials, or supplies are not in the landlord’s possession, the itemized statement shall include the name, address, and telephone number of the person or entity. Within 14 calendar days of completing the repair or receiving the documentation, the landlord shall complete the requirements in paragraphs (1) and (2) in the manner specified. 

Question 4:    Are there any legal issues using a digital signing like DocuSign to get renters to sign the lease agreement paperwork signed? Any guidelines I should follow when using same?
Answer 4:As long as the parties agree to using digital signatures on documents, there is no legal prohibition on doing so. There are two laws that might apply to the issue – one state (Uniform Electronic Transactions Act) and one federal (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN). For your purposes, as long as you have an agreement with the tenant/applicant to use electronic signatures, you should have no problem.
 

Question 5:     My tenant gave me her 30 day written notice that she would move out July 5th. Then asked if she could extend her stay till the middle of July, to which I said yes. She started her move but before that date came she notified me by a text that if I hadn’t rented the apartment she reconsidered and would like to stay, I was confused but relieved I didn’t have to go through the renting process and she was a great tenant who had paid her rent on time for a long time. After that she texted me again saying that she could not pay the rent till the 15th of July (10 days overdue) because her almost move out cost her and she was short this month but would pay by the 15th and should be caught up by August. Since then I have not heard from her. I called many times and texted her many times without response. She does not seem to have been to the unit but her car is still in the lot. The other tenants say they have not seen her. Her apartment seems to be almost empty from what I can see through some of the blinds. I’m concerned that she might have skipped out, but we have her deposit so are concerned that she could be in some sort of trouble. I would like to enter the unit but am confused about our liability etc.?
Answer 5: Unless you have clear confirmation from the tenant and any known cotenant or subtenant that they have vacated the unit and agree you may re-take possession, you enter at your own risk unless you enter pursuant to Civil Code 1954 – the statute governing the landlord’s right of entry to the unit. In this case, Section 1954 allows for entry due to emergency, and from your description of the situation, you may want to enter to insure the tenant is not inside and incapacitated, or has left pets behind, or water running etc.

As for formally recovering possession, and where the tenant stopped communication, you may need to use the unlawful detainer procedure, or – more cheaply – the Notice of Belief of Abandonment process. This form process allows the landlord to serve a notice on the tenant when rent is at least 14 days overdue, and if you believe the tenant has in fact moved, you can retake possession without going through the eviction process. But you should have a specific legal consultation on that option, as there are consequences if you get it wrong. 

Question 6: I have had to treat a unit for bedbugs on my property. I would like to understand my rights as a landlord based on this specific situation.
I have a tenant that has resided in the unit for nearly 2 1/2 years. We had her sign the AOA bedbug addendum before moving in. She recently discovered from her doctor that she has bedbug bites. We suspect that she had a cat she was hiding, and thought her bites were fleabites, as she admits to trying to self treat the condition. We have had two exterminators examine her unit and both have verified that they believe this was an extreme infestation and that it had been going on for 6-12 months.
We tried chemical treatments, but had to move on to the very expensive heat treatment as she did not comply with preparing her unit as requested. They have been very difficult. Once we had the quote and instructions for the heating treatment they refused to dispose of several pieces of furniture. She would not agree to have the service unless those pieces stayed in the unit…thus voiding the guarantee. We felt the need to cave in to this request to get the treatment done out of concern of our other tenants. The treatment was done yesterday and we had a pest dog approve that it is now clear. We would like to give this bill to the tenant as it is quite clear that since no other unit has bedbugs and she has lived there for 2 1/2 years and the infestation is 6-12 months old, it has to be her fault. Do I have a legal right to do this?
Also, my staff and vendors have been very professional and polite but based on their abusive communication no longer wish to have contact with these tenants. Can I move towards eviction with a 60 day notice?

Answer 6:
That is a difficult situation, as you recognize. You have taken what appear to be appropriate and reasonable steps in responding to the problem. If the tenant is responsible for the bedbugs, she can be held responsible for the impact of the infestation, and so responsible for your costs. However, that would be a matter of small claims litigation, most likely, to have a third party determine if the tenant was at fault based on the evidence submitted. As for terminating the tenancy, her conduct as described would constitute grounds to terminate her tenancy, even where ‘just cause’ is required. On the other hand, since you would be taking punitive action after the tenant complained about the condition of the unit, she can easily raise the defense of retaliation, which would )as with the small claims case) be determined after a judge or jury heard the evidence (should the matter require a trial to be resolved). Terminating even a non-rent controlled tenancy after a tenant complaint requires having a non-retaliatory reason per Civil Code Section 1942.5.

I cannot find anything in your description of events that I would find inappropriate in terms of your handling of the matter. It becomes a determination of how far to extend yourself in the pursuit of maintaining or terminating this tenancy, or seeking compensation for your costs. Because of the expense and uncertainty of outcome, it would seem to be a suitable case for mediating with the tenant to reach a mutually acceptable resolution, as a ‘wrong move’ by one side or the other could easily result in costly and unsatisfying litigation. 

Richard Beckman, of Beckman Blair, LLP has been practicing landlord-tenant law for over 24 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 rich@beckmanblairllp.com or by visiting the website www.beckmanblairllp.com