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Real Estate Today

Call Police to Deal with Drug Activity

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
2-January-2000 Sunday

This column on issues confronting renters and landlords is written by Counselor of Real Estate and Certified Property Manager Robert Griswold, host of Real Estate Today! with Robert Griswold (10 a.m. Saturdays on AM1130 - KSDO radio, or on the Internet at, and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

Q: My son and his wife are renting a duplex in El Cajon; they have two small children. The renters in the other unit are causing a lot of disturbance and I am concerned about the safety of my grandchildren. There is  known drug activity and violence going on in the other complex and the police have been called on several occasions. My son has repeatedly reported these complaints to the owner/landlord of the property. Although the owner has said he will take care of the problem, he has not.

Is there any legal recourse my son can take? Is the owner/landlord responsible to provide rental property that is safe and drug-free?

A: Griswold: There are legal requirements for owners to provide your son and his family with "quiet enjoyment" of their rental unit. There are also state laws that allow city officials (usually the code enforcement department will take the lead role) to declare the rental building a public nuisance and the city can condemn the building and take it away from the owner if the owner fails to abate the nuisance (drug dealing, for example).

El Cajon has a strong code enforcement program. I suggest your son contact the city of El Cajon Building Code Enforcement Office at (619) 441-1726 and file a complaint anonymously. He should also call the police again, but this time contact the Community Policing Team as they will connect your son directly with the officers responsible for the neighborhood where your son lives.

The typical call to the police often results in the first available officer(s) responding to calls whereas the Community Policing Team specifically focuses on all activity in a specific geographic area. The El Cajon Community Policing Team is headed by Lt. Dan Moody who can be reached at (619) 441-5522.

In Oakland, several tenant groups encouraged tenants to file small-claims court actions against the owners of crime-ridden rental properties. The small-claims suit asked for $5,000 in damages for failure to provide quiet enjoyment and was generally successful.

Deposit Dilemma

Q: When I moved from my apartment, I asked the landlord to perform a walkthrough as you suggest. While they didn't give us anything in writing, we were advised that everything was fine and nothing was mentioned about any damage or deductions. Unfortunately, our security deposit refund check was short by over $300. While there was a general accounting, there was no detailed explanation. We have called but get no response. What should we do?

A: Kellman: Doing a walkthrough with the landlord is an excellent opportunity to discuss possible expenses for damages or cleaning and resolve misunderstandings.

For example, there may be a damaged item that was there when you moved i n or maybe an item broke in normal use. This is the time to explain all that needs to be explained.

Unfortunately, you could leave your meeting convinced that all has been handled and you will receive a full deposit refund for being a good tenant until you get surprised with unexpected deductions. How can that happen? 
Remember, a landlord has 21 days to claim deductions from your deposit. They must also give you an itemization of those deductions. Perhaps your landlord intended to keep some of your money with improper deductions regardless of any walkthrough. Your landlord may have led you to believe
that all was well simply to avoid the deposit refund discussion.

The fact that you got no response to your calls and that you did not receive an explanation for keeping $300 makes those deductions very suspicious. If they were legitimate, why avoid discussing them? Also, why not give an explanation for the $300 as required by law?

If you believe the deductions were improper, file your case in the small claims court where your landlord will finally respond, to the judge.

A: Smith: Come on, Steve, get real. We both know that the landlord is allowed a full 21 days after departure to account to the tenant for the security deposit. There is no law requiring California landlords to "commit" to agree upon deductions at the time of a walkthrough. There is nothing suspicious about the landlord's failure to immediately account to the tenant.

The legal reality is that so long as the landlord serves the proper written accounting of the security deposit within the time limit, then he or she shall been entitled to any lawful deductions. It is wrong to assume that the landlord will arbitrarily withhold $300. What's more likely is that the $300 represents damages and cleaning above ordinary wear and tear. If the tenant drags the landlord into small claims court, the judge will be told
about the deductions, which I'm sure were lawful.

Rent Increase Blues

Q: Our landlord recently served a notice to me and four other month-to-month tenants regarding a rent increase. The letter states that effective in 30 days all new and continuing leasing will be written for $1150. All the apartments are the same so everyone is paying the same, $900. The letter also states that if we did not sign a lease, consider this letter your 30-day notice. My neighbor also got an increase and he suggested we get everyone together in the building and write the landlord a signed letter stating that if he wants market price he needs to repair some
things. Then last night, the landlord came by with the lease for us to sign.

I told him I wanted to review it with an attorney before signing it. He was very upset and said he would be back again today. If we agreed on a lease and now he is backing out of it, what are my rights? Should I sit on the lease till the first of the month and then sign it?

A: Griswold: Unfortunately, you do not have any long-term rights when on a month-to-month agreement other than the owner must give you at least a 30-day notice of change in terms or termination in writing. The landlord also can withdraw the proposed lease or change any of the terms as the lease is not binding until both parties have signed.

As far as the idea of the letter, it is risky. The owner is required to correct habitability items, but not cosmetic items. For example, a faded hallway carpet or fuchsia colored wallpaper may be unappealing, but the owner is under no obligation unless the carpet were frayed or ripped and created a health and safety hazard.

Again, as far as sitting on the lease until the first -- again this is risky as the offer could be rescinded at any time and you would then be forced to move on very short notice.

It is a difficult rental market and you may need more time to find another place. Try talking to the owner in a nonthreatening way and ask if some of the more serious items can be repaired or replaced.

IF YOU'RE A TENANT OR LANDLORD, the authors stand ready to answer your questions in this column, although letters cannot be answered individually. Write them at: Rental Roundtable, Homes Section, San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O. Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191. Or you may e-mail them at

Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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Robert Griswold and the Real Estate Today! radio show strongly support the intent and the letter of all federal and state fair housing laws.  As a reminder to all owners and managers of real estate, note that all real estate advertised is subject to the Federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to advertise "any preference, limitation, discrimination because of race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex, physical disability, or familial status, or  intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination." Additional state and/or local fair housing laws may also apply.  Be sure to inform all persons that all dwellings offered or advertised are on an equal opportunity basis.


Revised and Updated - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, CCIM, PCAM, GRI, ARM
Griswold Corporate Center
Griswold Real Estate Management, Inc.
5703 Oberlin Drive, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92121-1743
Phone: (858) 597-6100
Fax: (858) 597-6161


2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996 Robert S. Griswold.  All Rights Reserved.