This article was posted on Sunday, May 13, 2012

Question 1: I believe the tenant in one of my units has died, since someone claiming to be his nephew contacted me to discuss ˜taking over the lease’. I told him I would have to have all the details in writing, and would then respond. What happens to the tenancy when the tenant dies? And do the usual rules apply about disposing of the tenant’s property?
Answer 1: If the tenant was on a month to month rental agreement, the death of the tenant ends the tenancy. The tenancy will remain in force for the rest of the period the tenant paid through, at which point it is automatically terminated (in other words, no ˜notice of termination of tenancy’ is necessary). If the lease is for a longer term (for example, in the 5th month of a one year lease), the lease “ absent language in the contract otherwise “ normally will remain in effect, and it becomes part of the deceased’s estate, meaning the estate of the deceased person becomes responsible for payment of rent, and can also assert any rights under the lease, such as subletting etc.

As for disposition of the deceased tenants’ personal possessions, I researched but did not find anything extra about the issue of disposing of possessions in such circumstances, so it would be my considered opinion that the normal rules of disposition apply, which is that once the tenant has vacated the unit (which would in this case be the expiration of the last day for which rent was paid after notice of the tenant’s death), the owner has to send the Notice of Right to Reclaim Abandoned Property to the deceased at his or her last known address, and hope that someone is getting the mail for the deceased. Of course, if the owner knows anyone who might know the deceased, that person should also be sent notice as a courtesy, since the owner’s primary goal is to not be left with the possessions. As to the ˜nephew’ and his interest in ˜taking over the lease,’ it will likely be solely up to you whether to consider that offer (subject to the potential right afforded the estate of the deceased under a written lease with time remaining). As to allowing someone to remove the former tenant’s belongings, there has to be some manner of confirming that the person representing they are entitled to recover the possession is legally entitled to do so. A confirmed family member, who signs for the property, should be acceptable, though strictly speaking only the appointed administrator or executor of the deceased tenant’s estate would be allowed to take control of the deceased’s possessions, absent some other court order.
The statute that applies, California Civil Code Section 1983, states in part:
a) Where personal property remains on the premises after a tenancy has terminated and the premises have been vacated by the tenant, the landlord shall give written notice to the tenant and to any other person the landlord reasonably believes to be the owner of the property. If the property consists of records, the tenant shall be presumed to be the owner of the records for the purposes of this chapter.
(b) The notice shall describe the property in a manner reasonably adequate to permit the owner of the property to identify it. The notice may describe all or a portion of the property, but the limitation of liability provided by Section 1989 does not protect the landlord from any liability arising from the disposition of property not described in the notice except that a trunk, valise, box, or other container which is locked, fastened, or tied in a manner which deters immediate access to its contents may be described as such without describing its contents. The notice shall advise the person to be notified that reasonable costs of storage may be charged before the property is returned, where the property may be claimed, and the
date before which the claim must be made. The date specified in the notice shall be a date not less than 15 days after the notice is personally delivered or, if mailed, not less than 18 days after the notice is deposited in the mail.
c) The notice shall be personally delivered to the person to be notified or sent by first-class mail, postage prepaid, to the person to be notified at his or her last known address and, if there is reason to believe that the notice sent to that address will not be received by that person, also to any other address known to the landlord where the person may reasonably be expected to receive the notice. If the notice is sent by mail to the former tenant, one copy shall be sent to the premises vacated by the tenant.

Question 2: I have a tenant who I would describe as a hoarder, and I am worried she will cause a fire, or allow vermin etc. to infest her unit. What steps can I take to prevent those things?
Answer 2: There is no California case law that discusses the concept of a tenant hoarder, but local health and safety codes provide a general description and remedy. For example, the San Francisco Health Code Section 581 defines a ˜Public Nuisance as (among other things):

(1)  Any accumulation of filth, garbage, decayed or spoiled food, unsanitary debris or waste material or decaying animal or vegetable matter unless such materials are set out for collection in compliance with Section 283 of this Code;
(3)  Any accumulation of waste paper, litter or combustible trash unless such materials are set out for collection in compliance with Section 283 of this Code;
(4)  Any buildings, structures, or portion thereof found to be unsanitary; And (my personal favorite)
(16)  Anything else that the Director deems to be a threat to public health and safety.
Whenever a written or oral complaint is made to the Health Department that a nuisance as defined by Section 581 exists in a building or structure or on a property, the Director shall inspect the building, structure or property to verify the existence of a nuisance thereon. If the Director finds the condition to be a nuisance, the Department of Public Health will issue a Notice of Violation to the tenant, or owner, or both, requiring the responsible party (the person who caused or maintained the nuisance), to cure or abate the nuisance, or face penalties, including an order to vacate the building. If the landlord receives such a Notice, the landlord can then bring an eviction action against the tenant after service of a three day notice to cure the nuisance, if the tenant fails to correct the problem.

Question 3: There has been a fair amount of police activity on the streets around my rental building, including for robbery of some people walking on the sidewalk in front of my building. Is that information I need to provide to future tenants?
Answer 3: Probably yes. As the property owner, you have a legal duty to disclose any fact that might materially affect the value or desirability of the property you are renting or selling. In your case, as in most if not all cases, it is better to over-disclose than under-disclose. While you might lose a tenant by disclosing negative information, you won’t get sued by her later for having withheld information she deemed very important, particularly if she suffers a similar crime event.

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Question 4: I served a notice of termination on a tenant, but realized after it was mailed that I had the wrong address on the notice, but the right tenant. Do I need to re-do that notice?
Answer 4: I would, since a defective notice is almost certainly going to end up in a defective eviction case should you have to file the unlawful detainer action to enforce the notice if the tenant doesn’t move out. Then, you will have wasted not only significant time, but the court cost of having filed the case.

Question 5: Are there any restrictions on having video surveillance cameras in common areas of my six unit apartment building?
Answer 5: I found a surprising lack of specific legal guidance on this topic. Prior published reports referred to one California court held that the videotaping of an individual on a public street does not constitute an unreasonable intrusion into that person’s solitude. The court further noted that video cameras with sensory enhanced devices (zoom lenses for example) do not give rise to tort action if the use of video taping occurs in a public forum, such as a city street. Since the cameras do not physically intrude into a person’s sphere of privacy, any invasion of privacy is minimal.
Below are guidelines prepared by the Swiss government for use of private video surveillance, which guidelines have been provided to members of a rental housing industry organization as guidelines that might be applied in California, absent any clear rules from case law or legislation. Ultimately, if you are interested in installing video to keep an eye on the area common spaces, contact a professional installer to discuss the restrictions they impose, as such professionals should have the most current information on any such restrictions and legal risk.

¢     Post a notice on the premises that such surveillance is in place, in full view in the area subject to video surveillance. Include contact information regarding any questions about the videotaping.
¢   Initiate video surveillance activities after having instituted other reasonably applicable security procedures such as additional door locks, reinforced doors, alarm systems, and security patrols (if applicable, given specific characteristics of a property).
¢     The responsible party for the videotaping must secure the collected images so that only authorized individuals have access to the data.
¢    The video camera should be installed in such a manner that only images necessary for the express purpose of the videotaping will appear in the camera range.
¢     Utilization of videotaping results must clearly be restricted to protection of persons and property only.
¢    Identity of the persons filmed must be maintained in confidence unless law enforcement officials secure release of identification by court order, pursuant to statutory authority, or provisions of a local ordinance.

Richard Beckman, of Beckman Blair, LLP has been practicing landlord-tenant law for over 19 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 415-495-8500; email [email protected] or by visiting the website

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