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April 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, April 01, 2005

Rent Watch Rent Watch (April 01, 2005)

Q: I own several rental complexes and have always settled all security deposits within the required 21-day time period. I will be out of the country for three months next year and won't be able to honor the 21-day rule if a tenant moves during the time I'm away. Would the 21-day rule still apply to me?
A: California Civil Code Section 1950.5 states how a security deposit is to be settled. We believe it is very unlikely that your personal travel plans would be viewed as a valid excuse for you to miss the 21-day requirement, although ultimately that decision would be up to a small claims court judge.

To avoid possible legal action during this time that could result in a judgment of three times the amount of a deposit, you could hire a management firm to handle your rental affairs while you are out of the country. If you decide to do this, send each of your tenants a notice with the management company's name, address, telephone number, contact person, as well as the time period this arrangement will be in effect.

If you are not willing to hire a management firm, you should make other arrangements to meet your obligations under Section 1950.5, such as giving legal authority to a family member for that time period.
Q: My young son has been diagnosed with severe depression. His doctor has recommended that we get a small cat or dog as a companion for him. My rental agreement says pets are not allowed in the complex. I want to do the best for my son, but I'm unable to move. Can I get a pet anyway without being evicted?
A: Yes, provided you have a medical, psychological or social services provider who can verify that a companion animal is needed to assist your son with his depression. The "no pets" rule does not apply when an animal lives with a family for reasons supported by a health care professional.

You will, of course, be required to pick up after the animal as well as be responsible for any damage the animal may cause. Also, a leash for a dog is usually required. No additional fees or deposit can be charged for a service animal.

In order to exercise this right, you must request that the rule be waived as an accommodation for your son's disability. Your landlord can ask for verification that the companion animal is medically or psychologically necessary to allow your son equal access to housing -- in other words, having a companion animal will assist him in some way with the normal activities of life, like sleeping, walking, eating, etc.

The landlord cannot ask personal questions about the nature of your son's disability. He or she is not entitled to know that your son suffers from depression, if you do not wish to divulge that fact. The medical provider's statement is sufficient to require the landlord to make some "reasonable accommodation" for your son's disability by waiving the usual rules or policies.

Q: I'm selling a large apartment complex that I've owned for a long time. The new owners have told me that in three months they plan to move into the only four-bedroom unit in the complex. Am I legally obligated to tell the current tenants that they will be getting a notice to move?
A: There is no legal requirement for you to notify the tenants of any future plans the new owners may have. For all you know, the new owners' plans may change and they won't want this unit.

Civil Code Section 1950.5(h)(1) requires you to notify your tenants of the date the property transferred to the new owners along with either their or their agent's name, address and telephone number. This is required because the buyers take possession of the property subject to the existing rental agreements and leases. The form Notice of Sale of Real Property and of Transfer of Security Deposit Balance also includes an area to detail disposition or transfer of existing security deposits.

If the current occupants of the desired unit are on a lease, the new owners will have to wait until the lease expires to terminate this tenancy or honor the required advance notice time of non-renewal listed in the lease. The lease can be terminated early only if the lease itself contains a specific provision that terminates it upon the sale of the property.

Q: My brother visits my apartment on the weekends. The manager sent me a notice saying that she suspects my brother has a record of drug use and is not allowed on the property. The truth is he did have a drug problem but has been clean and sober for over seven years. Can the manager keep my brother from visiting me?
A: From the perspective of fair-housing laws, it may be discriminatory to prohibit your brother from visiting. If your landlord has actual, recent experience of your brother's negative behavior on the property, the landlord may be able to exclude your brother, especially if he obtains a protection order. However, it would be discriminatory for the manager to keep him from visiting because of an assumption that he is using drugs, based only on his past record.

The laws against disability discrimination in housing protect rehabilitated substance abusers from being treated differently than others. We suggest that you discuss this matter with your landlord to determine whether there is a non-discriminatory reason for excluding your brother.

If you are not satisfied, both you and your brother would have standing to bring a complaint for a fair-housing violation. You can file a complaint by calling your local fair housing agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Enforcement Office, or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Question for Rent Watch? Call Martin Eichner at Project Sentinel (408) 720-9888. Copyright 2005 Project Sentinel.

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