Q: Normally I love the smell of garlic, but enough is enough! I’ve been receiving escalating complaints from my residents concerning a housing tenant on Section 8, who seems to use a bit too much garlic and curry when cooking meals. The smell permeates the building and has been bothering the other residents. Other than the garlic and curry complaints, she is a great tenant. I don’t want to lose her, but I certainly can’t lose the other tenants! What to do?A: Since you don’t want to lose her as a tenant, then you should send her a letter explaining the complaints and reminding her that she cannot interfere with the other residents’ use of their apartments. The objectionable smells wafting from her apartment are entering the others and bothering the residents. Keep it friendly but firm. Offer suggestions, i.e., open windows, air purifier, take a cooking class, etc.
When that doesn’t work, then a three-day notice to perform covenant or quit requiring her to cease her objectionable conduct could be served. Depending upon the severity of the matter, you could either proceed to evict based upon the notice to perform, or you may terminate the tenancy with a 90-day Notice to Terminate the Section 8 housing contract. Keep in mind that the threshold of “good cause” is low after the first year of a housing tenancy, and the risk of losing good tenants due to her objectionable behavior is very real and actionable.
Q: I can’t seem to keep my apartments maintained. Lately, it seems like they are falling apart. I do the best I can; I fix most stuff myself, and contract out some of the work, but it seems like some of my tenants are sabotaging the apartments. I’ve replaced the smoke detectors in one of my rentals three times in the last year. I know something’s up, what do I do?A: It’s more important now than ever before that you establish and follow an operations and maintenance plan when managing and maintaining your rentals. Not only is it just good business sense to maintain your rentals properly, but also the law mandates your prompt response to complaints of serious habitability defects. It is critical to identify tenants who engage in damaging and destructive conduct. Although the code specifically precludes a tenant from benefiting due to his inflicting damage to the apartment, often it is difficult to prove the tenant caused the habitability defect. A good practice to enact is to create a maintenance log of repairs to each unit. Many owners will require a tenant “sign off” when the repair is completed; other owners photograph the repaired item upon completion as proof of completion. These practices will support your claim that the “self-destructing” smoke alarm is being damaged by the tenant.
Several pieces of legislation have been enacted to crack down on the small minority of landlords who fail to properly maintain their buildings. Depending upon the severity of the defect, and providing that it is not tenant caused, a landlord may be cited by one of several governing agencies and given a period of time, ten to 35 days to make the repairs.
If the repair is not completed as required, there are provisions that would allow the governing agency to make the repair and add the fees and costs of correction as a lien against the property.
Additionally, legislation eliminates the tax benefits to the owner during the period of non-compliance, and in extreme circumstanceels, precludes an offending owner from demanding or accepting rent. Now more than ever before, it is critical that you document your repairs and identify the residents who are engaged in sabotage or other destructive conduct.
Q: I’ve always heard that I should post my rental criteria in a conspicuous place so that applicants can plainly see whether or not they are qualified before they submit their application. I typically require that the applicants’ combined income exceed three times the rent; however, I might make exceptions. Also, in years past, a foreclosure on an applicant’s credit report was an automatic disqualifier, but after attending your tenant screening class, I have reconsidered. With so many exceptions to my rental criteria, my sign would be huge! How do I handle this?A: Yes, it’s a good practice to post your rental criteria in a conspicuous place. The details and specifics of your rental criteria, however, do not need to be included, as these details and specifics are not necessarily static; that is, they may change or evolve over time depending on your situation.
For example, your three times income requirement may work fine if you have a single vacancy and a dozen applicants. However, it may be a bit too restrictive in certain economies, or in the event you have three vacancies, your phone hasn’t rung in days, and you’ve only received a single application in the past two weeks.
Every owner should establish the following as their general rental criteria. A qualified applicant should: (i) have a verifiable and positive credit history; (ii) have a verifiable and positive past tenancy history; (iii) have sufficient and verifiable income to meet his or her present and future financial obligations; and (iv) should not pose a risk of harm to the rental property or to others.
These general rental criteria can and should be applied equally and fairly to all applicants, and in compliance with all fair housing rules. Once applied, the best applicant should be accepted, not necessarily the first to apply.
Q: I own a small apartment building in a “rough” area. Seems like a day doesn’t go by without some sort of violent crime in the neighborhood. I have a vacancy now, and I don’t know if I have to tell them about all the stuff going on. If I did no one would rent, what do I do?A: In many areas throughout Southern California, crime is a fact of life. When asked by the prospective resident about crime in the area, refer them to the local sheriff or police department for statistics. Be careful not to portray your building as a “security” building or advertise it in any way that may create a false sense of security or safety. If your property presents an increased risk of harm, or has had a recent rash of criminal conduct, you may have a duty to disclose this fact to the prospective resident, even if not asked.
This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm has successfully handled over 285,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California and has collected over $200,000,000 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714-279-1100 or 800-829-6994. Please visit www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.