Tenant Info, Forms, Utilities

“You will find that the vast majority of your residents will cooperate fully and provide the requested information. ”

Q: I just closed escrow on a small building and I’m trying to figure out who’s who. I received the rental agreements, but the tenant information seems incomplete. The applications, the few that I’ve found so far, are old and outdated. I can’t seem to find any telephone numbers for the residents, and I’m not real sure that the names on the agreements are the same people who actually live in the units. I’ve read your articles before and I know the importance of reviewing the files and doing thorough due diligence before closing escrow, but this deal just happened too fast. Now that I’ve closed escrow, what can I do to clean up the records?

A: First things first, figure out what you know and what you don’t. Establish individual tenancy files, one per unit. Based on the limited information you have, write down the names and ages of the occupants, the terms of the rental agreement, written or oral, lease or month-to-month, rental rate, deposit on file, date paid through. Compile whatever contact information you have, home phone number, work and cell number. Design a “tenant emergency information sheet” that includes spaces for the following: names of all occupants, home and cell phone numbers for each occupant, work phone numbers, email addresses and detailed vehicle information.

Visit the building around dinner time as most residents will be home, and go door to door and meet briefly with the occupants of each apartment. Spend a few minutes confirming the information in your files and gathering any missing information. While you are there ask the residents to complete the “tenant emergency information sheet” to be used in case of an emergency. You will find that the vast majority of your residents will cooperate fully and provide the requested information. Residents are generally eager to please, and since the relationship is still new, there should be no animosity or distrust.

This is also a good opportunity to find out the condition of each unit-simply ask the residents if there are any issues that need addressing; better to find out now and have an opportunity to address the needed issues, than to allow conditions to worsen, and your relationship with the residents as well. This is also an opportune time to prepare new month-to­month rental agreements for signatures. You don’t know the players yet, so you certainly don’t want to do fixed term leases. The few residents who are less than cooperative will be quickly identified as your “problem residents” and can be handled individually. Names and contact information of the uncooperative ones can generally be gathered from the other residents, or from public records. If the property is non-rent control, and a month-to-month tenancy, the rental rate and term can be set with either a 30- or a 60-day notice of change of terms, depending on the extent of the change.

Q: It seems like my rental forms are getting longer and more complex. I’ve read in your previous articles of several disclosure forms that should be given to my residents. Can you summarize these forms for me so that I can be sure I’m doing it right?

A: Sure, remember this is California, the most litigious state in the country, so the following list is not static, it will change, and no doubt expand over time. If the rental unit was built prior to 1978, the landlord must disclose the presence of known lead­based paint and lead-based paint hazards in the dwelling before the prospective tenant signs the rental agreement. You must also give the prospect a copy of the federal government’s pamphlet, “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home”. The pamphlet is available through your apartment association.

Landlords must also provide a copy of the notice received from their pest control provider detailing the pesticides to be used in an initial or periodic maintenance program. Residential property built prior to 1981 may contain asbestos. Although not specifically required, unless you have ten or more employees, it is strongly recommended that land­lords advise their tenants of the presence of asbestos and further inform them of the proper care of asbestos material. All landlords with ten or more employees must disclose the existence of carcinogenic materials to prospective tenants. The owner of a dwelling who knows that an illegal controlled substance, such as methamphetamine, LSD or its components, has been spilled or dumped on or beneath the dwelling must give a prospective tenant written notice prior to him signing a rental agreement.

The owner of a dwelling who has applied for a permit to demolish the dwelling must give written notice of this to the prospect, and it must state the earliest possible date that the tenancy will end. Additionally, if your rental unit is located within one mile of a closed military base in which ammunition or explosives were used, you must give written notice prior to signing the rental agreement. Additionally, your rental agreement must contain certain specific language informing your new resident of the availability of the statewide database of registered sex offenders. Note that recent changes in the law will require new information to be provided in the lease effective January 1, 2020. Your local apartment associations will have forms for their members to use.

Q: My new tenants just moved in a month and a half ago. The lease requires that the tenant pays 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 changes 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 would be entitled to file an unlawful detain action to recover possession of the premises. 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.