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Tenants’ Rights 

Thursday, Apr 28 2005
Comments (1)

Don’t let your apartment manager tell you otherwise: Tenants living in rental housing do have rights! Here are a handful of facts gathered from the California Apartment Association, the Coalition for Economic Survival and the City of Los Angeles Housing Department that every apartment dweller should know:

1. An apartment must be fit to live in; in other words, “habitable.” Habitable means: leak-free walls, windows, doors and ceiling; plumbing, gas, heating and electricity in good working condition; clean and sanitary buildings and grounds, free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage and rodents; and floors, ceilings and stairs in good repair.

2. All landlords are required by law to have installed permanently wired smoke detectors. 3. A landlord cannot ask you about: your race, ethnicity or national origin; your religion or religious beliefs; your gender, sexual orientation or marital status; your age or whether you have children under age 18 living with you; or whether you have mental or physical disabilities. 4. Your rent is due on the day stated in the rental agreement. If that day has passed, the landlord is entitled to file a Three-Day Notice To Pay or Quit. 5. There is no such thing as a “non-refundable” security deposit under state law. 6. Under state law, your deposit must be returned to you within 21 days after you move out, unless of course you have trashed the joint. Money can be withheld for a few reasons: unpaid rent, damage caused by you beyond normal wear and tear, and “reasonable” cleaning charges. You are also entitled to a written, itemized statement of the reason for any amount withheld from your deposit by the landlord. 7. Under rent control, a tenant has the right to interest on their security deposit from the time they moved in. The interest allowable in 2005 is 1.21 percent. 8. Selling a property is not a legal reason for eviction under rent control. For those in apartments where rent control does not apply, a landlord does not need a reason to evict a tenant. 9. A landlord is not allowed to shut off your water, gas or electricity for the purpose of evicting or harassing you under state law. 10. If the landlord pays for utilities, he or she may increase the annual percentage for gas and electric service by 1 percent each under rent control. 11. A landlord cannot change the terms of a tenancy to prohibit a pet in order to evict the tenant for keeping a pet, which was kept and allowed prior to the change, unless the landlord can establish that the pet constitutes a nuisance under rent control. 12. State law requires a landlord to give you 24-hour written notice if he or she plans to enter your apartment during normal working hours to make repairs, or if he plans to show it to prospective tenants. If you refuse entry, you run the risk of being evicted. 13. Landlords are required to serve tenants a 30-day written notice before the annual allowable rent increase under rent control laws. Otherwise, a landlord must give 60 days’ notice if a rent increase is more than 10 percent. 14. Under rent control laws, a tenant is allowed $3,200 in monetary assistance ($8,500 if the tenant is disabled, over 62 years old, or an adult with dependents) to move (a.k.a. relocation assistance) by your landlord if: the owner or family member or resident manager moves into your unit; your building is being demolished; the apartment is being permanently removed from the rental housing market; the landlord is complying with a government order; or if the Department of Housing and Urban Development takes possession. 12 Legal Reasons for Eviction (according to the L.A. Rent Stabilization Ordinance)

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1. Tenant didn’t pay rent.

2. Tenant violated the lease agreement.

3. Tenant damage to rental unit or interfering with the safety of other tenants.

4. Use of apartment for illegal purposes.

5. Tenant refuses to extend or renew a lease.

6. Tenant denies landlord reasonable access to unit for the purpose of making repairs or improvements or to show a prospective purchaser or mortgagee.

7. Person in possession of rental unit at the end of the lease term is a subtenant not approved by the landlord.

8. Landlord seeks in good faith to take over possession of rental unit for the use and occupancy of the landlord or his family or resident manager, provided that no alternative vacant unit is available for occupancy.

9. Landlord plans to demolish the building.

10. Landlord seeks in good faith to recover possession in order to remove rental unit permanently from rental housing use.

11. The landlord seeks in good faith to recover possession of the rental unit in order to comply with a government agency’s order to vacate the building housing the rental unit as a result of a violation of the Los Angeles Municipal Code or any other provision of law.

12. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is both the owner and plaintiff and seeks to recover possession in order to vacate the property prior to the sale and has complied with all tenant notification requirements under federal law and administrative regulations.

The 5 Steps That Must Be Taken Before Eviction (according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs)

1. Tenant must receive a three-, 30- or 60-day notice.

2. After tenant receives notice, tenant must receive a copy of the eviction lawsuit or unlawful detainer. Tenant has five days to respond with an answer or another legal response to the clerk of the court in which the lawsuit was filed. It typically costs about $106 to file a written response. (If tenant can’t afford to pay the filing fee, you can request a waiver of the fee.) If tenant doesn’t file a written response to the landlord’s complaint by the end of the fifth day, the court will enter a default judgment in favor of the landlord.

3. A judge will hear and decide the case within 20 days. Before tenant appears in court, tenant should talk to a housing clinic or tenant organization, and have at least four copies of all documents intended for use as evidence. Remember that most landlords are usually represented by an attorney.

4. There must be a court judgment against tenant. It is called a writ of possession. A judgment against a tenant will be reported on the tenant’s credit report for seven years. If tenant wins, landlord may be ordered to pay the tenant's legal fees. Both parties may appeal the judgment.

5. The writ of possession orders the sheriff to remove the tenant from the rental unit, but gives the tenant five days to leave voluntarily. If tenant doesn’t leave, the sheriff can physically remove tenant and lock him or her out of the premises.

Reach the writer at cpelisek@laweekly.com

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