Question 1: My Richmond tenant has asked to have a dog, though the lease specifies ‘no pets’. While we are not thrilled with the idea, she is a good tenant and keeps her place spotless. I’m looking for examples of ways to deal with this situation – can I charge pet rent or a pet deposit and if so, how much?
Answer 1: Because the unit is subject to the relatively new Richmond rent ordinance, rent increases that do not comply with the limited amounts allowed are uncertain in their enforceability. In other words, a rent increase that does not comply will be deemed invalid and any amounts collected can be recovered by the tenant on a rent board petition (when one is set up). However, since you are allowing something the lease prohibits, you can probably ‘trade’ permission to have a pet for increased rent, since you are adding a new ‘housing service.’ You could also, likely, require an increased deposit, up to the state law maximum of two months’ rent (three months’ if the unit was provided furnished).

Question 2: We told tenants moving into one of our Sacramento units (no rent control) that we did not allow pets. The tenants did not disclose they had pets. They signed the lease which stated no pets allowed. We went to do their initial walk-thru and they had a cat. We told tenant no pets allowed, but since they had already moved in they could keep the cat, but there would be a monthly pet fee. Tenant said okay. A week later, we received a phone message from the tenant stating that her cat was an emotional support cat therefore, we could not charge her pet rent. Does her non-disclosure and her signing the lease acknowledging the no-pet policy give us any rights at all?
Answer 2: That is a tricky situation, but one that hopefully can be handled by both parties without resort to the courts. The failure to disclose the cat despite the tenant’s acknowledgement of the specific ‘no pets’ clause is probably grounds to rescind the lease, but that’s a pretty drastic remedy, and under the facts, not a certain one. The claim that the cat is a ‘support animal’ of course, clouds that issue. However, unlike the right to bring a ‘service animal,’ which is a much more specific tenant right since those animals are trained to provide a specific type of assistance to a disabled tenant, the support pet triggers what is called a ‘reasonable accommodation’ issue. This is a more subjective review of whether the tenant is disabled, and if so, whether there is medical evidence supporting the claim that the pet provides emotional support that is medically recommended.

If those two prerequisites are met, then the next analysis is whether the tenant’s request (for a pet when the lease says no pet) is a reasonable accommodation. For example, if she had evidence that she was disabled and an elephant gave her emotional support, she would meet the first two tests, but her request to keep an elephant in the house would probably not be reasonable. A cat of course (as long as it is not a lion…) would likely qualify under any analysis.

However, as to whether you can charge more rent or deposit, HUD guidelines make it clear that no extra deposit may be charged, which implies to me that extra rent may also not be charged. You can review the HUD memo at://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf.

Question 3: As a landlord, are there any reasons why I should disallow a tenant to have a home birth? Whatever the answer, is this true or generally true for all counties in California?
Answer 3: That is a new one for me. Unless you are providing services or equipment, I believe the tenant’s decision to have a home birth does not implicate the landlord in any way (assuming the unit meets all current habitability requirements). The more interesting question would be could you try to prevent the tenant from her plans? Since that is not the question, however, I will leave it for next time.

Question 4: Can I install security cameras that monitor the public areas, such as the parking lot, in front of the laundry area and an exterior walkway?
Answer 4: As long as the cameras do not invade any tenant or neighbor’s privacy, surveillance cameras that are plainly marked and identified do not violate any laws that I am  aware of, having received this question various times over the years. I always recommend that the owner consult with a company that actually installs surveillance cameras for the current rules on the use of such devices, including possible local restrictions, since such companies should be aware of those rules as part of their business knowledge. But self-installed devices should be fine as long as they meet the above guidelines.

Question 5: We have a tenant who is breaking her lease agreement by vacating six months before the end date. It is understood that she will continue to pay rent until we find a suitable replacement. Are we allowed to process her security deposit upon finding a new tenant, or are we obligated to the 21 day rule after vacating? Can the owner keep the deposit as the tenant is the one breaking the agreement?
Answer 5: Regardless of the wording of the lease provisons, the security deposit will be governed by Civil Code 1950.5, which requires an accounting of the deposit within 21 days of the tenant’s departure, and a return of any amounts not properly applied to any unpaid rent, damages beyond normal wear and tear and cleaning to return the unit to the condition it was in when rented to the tenant. As to rent, unpaid rent means rent that is actually due and not paid for the period up to the 21 day cutoff date. In other words, if the tenant did not pay March rent, and left March 3, the tenant is (absent other factors that may apply) liable for the rent through March, and that amount may be deducted from the deposit. However, if the tenant had six months left on the lease, those amounts are considered ‘damages’ and may not be included in the unpaid rent calculation. I hope that is clear.

Question 6: I have a single family home (townhouse with HOA) in Marina Bay of Richmond, CA. We gave some tenants a three month short term lease with an option up to 6 months maximum. With the passage of measure L, we no longer seem to have ‘just cause’ to make the tenants move out based solely on the lease expiration. Our aim in giving someone a short term lease initially was so we could put our townhouse on the market in Spring for sale. Now, our tenants can effectively hold our property hostage as long as they continue to pay on time and not break any CCR rules. I realize I can still try to sell it, but with tenants inside it makes it difficult to show and get best price or do remodel. But, since I’m not subject to rent control, do I understand correctly that since the terms of this lease end on April 30, I’m within my right to create a new lease and increase the rent as much as I like? I understand there are CA rules about raising more than 10% and needing 60 day notice, etc.
Answer 6: Condos and single family homes are exempt from rent control, but not eviction control, so you are correct in your understanding. You can increase rent after the  short term lease expires, but if you increase it beyond market value, it can be claimed by the tenant that the increase was an end run around the ‘just cause’ provision, so a cautious landlord would not increase it beyond an amount that can be justified by local rental values. You can not force the tenants to enter into a new lease term, but a month-to-month tenancy at the increased rate may – along with the original understanding it was to be a short term lease – motivate the tenants to vacate on their own.

Question 7: A window of the garage door was broken. Is that deductible from the deposit?
Answer 7: If the tenant broke it, yes, the cost is deductible from the deposit. 

Question 8:  I have a question related to a rental property in Oakland, CA (under rent control).  According to our rental agreement, the tenant needs to send a 30 day notice to vacate. We do provide a 30 day notice to vacate form to submit. But we have very troubled tenants, who we want to leave very much and he emailed us notifying he’d be leaving in 30 days. Is email enough in this case? We really want him out and would try to avoid making him sign the 30 days form, because he is very irresponsible and might not do it for another month, etc.
Answer 8:  If the tenant changes his or her mind at the end of the 30 days, that will not be grounds to seek the tenant’s removal by eviction. In other words, the tenant can simply ignore his own 30 day notice, and while you might have a small claims case for misrepresentation, that is little consolation. All you can promise prospective tenants is that the unit ‘might’ open up, though until the tenant actually surrenders possession by handing over the keys, there’s no guarantee. Given that, I am not sure it makes any difference if the tenant’s notice was in email or your formal form notice. The best you probably can do is acknowledge the email, let the tenant know that their notice is accepted and email is sufficient and to give them the notice required by CC 1950.5 regarding the pre-move out inspection right.

ALERTS AND UPDATES:

Regarding Mountain View’s Rent Control law passed in November 2016, a lawsuit was filed against the City (Case #16CV304253) seeking to enjoin enforcement of the law, the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) and the Urgency Just Cause Eviction Ordinance. The City filed an Answer to the complaint, and on April 4, 2017, the Court is scheduled to hear oral argument from the parties regarding the request for a preliminary injunction. Please see AOA email alerts or next edition of the magazine for further updates.

Emeryville’s New Ordinance

The City of Emeryville’s NEW Ordinance No. 16, the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance, began on April 1, 2017. It covers:

  • Just Cause for Termination of Tenancy
  • Relocation Assistance for No Fault Terminations
  • Anti-harassment and Other Prohibited Activities
  • Notice of Tenant Rights

Go to http://www.ci.emeryville.ca.us/documentcenter/view/9152 to read the full copy of the City of Emeryville’s Ordinance No. 16.  More information will follow in the upcoming magazine.