Common Area, SB 91

“Run, and thoroughly review, an eviction and credit check through your apartment association.”

Q: I’ve been doing my own prospective resident screening for quite a while now. I think I’m pretty thorough, but I’m just not sure anymore. I’ve been noticing more and more inconsistencies in the applications I review, and I even came across one who straight out lied about who she was! I’m concerned about all of the stories I’ve heard about identity theft. I just can’t afford to make a mistake. What can I do to weed out these undesirables and minimize my chances of being fooled?

A: Identity theft has been a growing problem for several years. Landlords have increasingly been victimized by prospects posing as someone else, using false or fraudulent information. Oftentimes, these thieves take advantage of a desperate landlord, eager to fill a vacancy, or a newbie landlord, who hasn’t gone through the school of hard knocks yet. Completed and signed applications by all adults are a must. Verify the information provided. Personally inspect some form of U.S. government issued photo identification. Make a photocopy of the ID and keep it secured with your file. Verify that the Social Security or the Tax ID Number provided by the prospect is actually his number, and is valid.

Run, and thoroughly review, an eviction and credit check through your apartment association. If practical, go outside to the prospect’s vehicle, and verify that the license number on the car he just drove matches the license number he just wrote down on the rental application. Many “hands on” owners will actually visit the prospect’s current residence unannounced, prior to approval to ensure the prospect actually lives there, and doesn’t just sleep on the couch. You’d be amazed at what you will learn by a simple visit. Inform all prospective applicants that you have a policy of taking a picture of all residents for the tenancy file. Follow through with this policy and actually take a picture of all proposed occupants and keep the picture in your tenancy records.

When verifying employment, and residency, ask for a description of the person, and compare the description with the person who filled out the application. Ask for original utility bills, electric, telephone, cell phone, cable, anything with his name on it. All of these are tools that may be used in proper screening to avoid renting to an identity thief. Use these tools consistently, and apply them equally to all applicants, and your risk will be dramatically reduced.

Q: I like to give my residents an incentive to pay their rent on time. My rental agreement provides a discount to my tenants of $25 if they pay their rent timely. Specifically, if they pay on the first their rent is $900, but if they pay on the second or later it is $925. My question is, which amount do I put on the three-day notice to pay rent or quit if they don’t pay at all?

A: Most courts would require that the three-day notice only demands the $900. Most courts would consider the additional $25 a penalty or a disguised late charge. The courts would reach this conclusion based on the terms of your agreement; that is if the due date, per the agreement, is the first, then the proper amount of rent to demand is that amount that was required to be paid on the first, specifically the $900. However, an incentive that encourages early payment, specifically payment before the first, would survive because the amount due on the first would be $925, but if paid prior to the first, only $900.

Q: My new tenants just moved in a month and a half ago. The lease requires that the tenant pay for all utilities, and must put the utilities in their own name prior to moving in. Well, I just received the electric bill, and it’s still in my name. I’m thinking about not paying it, just letting it get shut off. Maybe when the lights go out, they’ll take care of it. Can I do that?

A: No, you can’t let the utilities be shut off. Your tenant’s actions are a breach of the rental agreement, and must be addressed in compliance with California law. You should immediately prepare and serve a Notice to Perform or Quit- Breach of Covenant notice. The notice should identify the specific breaches, the failure to place the electric utility in their own name, and their failure to pay the utility charges incurred since taking possession. The notice should be specific as to how they must cure the breach, namely, they must put the utilities in their name, and reimburse you for the amount of utility charges that have been billed and incurred post tenancy.

Note that some jurisdictions may require that you include a statement identifying a witness who observed the breach, as well as the date and time of the breach. In such jurisdiction, you or your manager would suffice as the witness, and the breach would be considered “ongoing” as it continues to occur. In the event of non-compliance, you may be able to pursue a termination of the tenancy. Rarely though is that necessary, as the vast majority of residents will immediately comply.

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.