Criteria, Repairs, Pool, Checks

“A landlord and tenant can agree… to allocate responsibility for minor repairs between them.”

Q. I have 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 is 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 the present economy; or in the event you have three vacancies, your phone has not rung in days, and you have 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. What types of repairs can I require the tenant to take responsibility for?

A. A landlord and tenant can agree, in writing by the rental agreement, to allocate responsibility for minor repairs between them. Often landlords and tenants may agree that certain items or amenities will be the tenant’s responsibility to maintain. These may include refrigerators, washing machines, pools or spas, air conditioning, and minor plumbing issues.

Q. I just put my single-family house on the rental market and have agreed to rent it to a nice family of four; mom, dad and two kids, two and five years old. The parents seem responsible enough and I’m sure they will make great tenants, but I am concerned because the house has a pool. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from liability should one of the children fall in and drown?

A. The short answer is yes. There are several measures you can, and should, take to protect yourself. First and foremost, ensure that the pool and the gate/enclosure conforms to all state and local codes and ordinances. The gate should be self-latching and should be checked to ensure that it closes properly.

Review your insurance policy with your insurance broker to ensure that your coverage is adequate; consider an umbrella policy as well. Your insurance broker can counsel you on coverage limits; consider $3,000,000 as a minimum. Finally, you should include as part of your rental documents an addendum to the lease in which the tenant acknowledges the dangers of the pool, agrees to ensure that all gates are kept closed, and agrees to periodically verify that the self-latching gate functions properly. Consider requiring that your tenants procure renters liability insurance as well. These requirements should be a part of your rental policies for a property with a pool, regardless of whether or not your tenants have children.

Q. I just opened up the mail and what do you suppose was in it? A notice from my bank informing me that one of my tenant’s rent checks was returned unpaid because he placed a stop payment on it. Imagine that; it is now midmonth, no warning, no phone call, the tenant did not even have the courtesy of letting me know he was going to stop payment on his check. It kind of makes sense though as he asked a couple of weeks ago if I would let him out of his lease early. I guess his girlfriend has a nicer place and he wanted to move in with her. I called his phone number, got a recording saying that it had been disconnected. His cell phone works, got his voice mail, and left a message. I’m guessing that when I swing by later today, it will be empty. What do I do now? I don’t want to make any mistakes. Can I just change the locks if he’s out?

A. You have a couple of issues that you need to resolve. First, the issue of return of possession of the premises; and then, of course, getting you paid. If the tenant appears to have vacated when you visit the unit later today, then you must follow certain procedural rules before you simply change the locks. Ideally, you will be able to contact the tenant on his cell or at work. If you make contact, ask that the tenant confirm that he is out by faxing or emailing you written confirmation. If you are able to confirm that he has moved out, you will not have to follow the abandoned real property notice requirements and will be able to retake possession immediately.

If, when you visit the unit and find that it is vacant, and if the rent is due and unpaid for 14 days and the tenant has not voluntarily surrendered possession, then you must serve a written Notice of Belief of Abandonment of Real Property. The notice can be posted on the premises and mailed by regular mail to the tenant’s last known address, your property. You must wait 18 days before you retake possession. If the tenant does not reply, in writing, by informing you of his address for service of an unlawful detainer within 18 days, then you may retake possession and change the locks.

Once you regain possession, prepare the security deposit disposition form. If he skipped mid-lease, he would owe the balance of the term, or until you mitigate your damages by reletting the unit, whichever occurs first. Hang on to the tenant’s check that was returned by the bank. Stop payment orders are only effective for six months, unless renewed by the maker, which rarely happens. That means in six months and a day you can redeposit the check and if there are sufficient funds, the check will clear.

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.