Rental Roundtable
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Real Estate Today

Landlord's Threats May be Over the Line

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
27-February-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 landlord comes in unannounced and without prior notice (witnessed or "caught" by me and my neighbor) and comes to my door unannounced to discuss rental issues even though I have asked him on several occasions to call prior to coming over.

When I asked to have 24-hour notice he responds with verbal threats. Please let me know if he has crossed any legal lines. I am tired of his abusive threats, and I would like to get my deposit back now that my lease is coming up.

A: Griswold -- It sounds like the owner has crossed several legal lines. As you may know, your rights are spelled out in California Civil Code Section 1954. The owner should not be entering your unit as you describe.

Further, depending on the timing and frequency of the visits, the owner may also be violating your rights to quiet enjoyment of the property although they may be able to fabricate some legitimate reason to knock on your door.

Since the owner seems to have a negative reaction to you pointing out your legal rights, you may want to seriously consider moving when your lease expires.

Smith -- I will take the landlord's side on this, and have to disagree with
Robert. I don't believe that your landlord has unreasonably crossed any
lines. He has not entered the premises and has committed no crime.

Your landlord has every legal right to stand at your doorway and request
that you comply with the rental agreement. His visits to the property do
not require advance notice, since he is not "entering."

There is no evidence that his mere presence is an "abusive threat." While I am sure that Steve will disagree with me, I believe you have no lawsuit
until your landlord wrongfully enters the premises without the proper
24-hour notice required by law.

If you are unhappy with your landlord, then you have every right to vacate
the premises upon expiration of your lease. You may not get your deposit
back before you vacate the premises. Your landlord has a full 21-day period after departure within which to return it to you.

Kellman -- Your landlord appears to have indeed crossed some important
legal lines with his conduct despite Ted's opinion to the contrary. Both
federal and state law provide for a right of privacy.

Also, California has a specific law governing the right of a landlord to
enter the rented premises. A landlord may enter the dwelling with
reasonable notice, of at least 24 hours (except for emergencies), and for
specific permissible reasons only.

That law prohibits a landlord's abuse of their right of entry. Once you
told your landlord not to just show up at your home for an intended entry,
he should have respected that request.

His continued surprise appearances at the door after your request
constituted an abuse of his rights and thus a violation of your rights. His
repeated appearances could be deemed a breach of contract, trespass or
harassment (especially with his "verbal threats").

You could file a case in the small claims court for your damages suffered
by such conduct. As to the deposit, Ted is right about having to wait up to
21 days for your deposit refund. To best protect your rights to the deposit
refund, leave the rental unit like you found it, less normal wear and tear,
and in a clean condition.

It's a family affair

Q: My fiancee and I will be getting married in July and moving into the
condo she is presently renting. I have two teen-age boys and the condo is a three-bedroom, three-bath unit.

The landlord's response was cordial but confusing. They responded by saying they had not planned on renting to that many people though nowhere in the lease is it specified.

They also wrote that there would be a rent increase because the number of
people would be increasing and it would cause more wear and tear on the

I could see an increase in a security deposit for possible increased wear
and tear but a rent increase sounds discriminatory. Could you respond to
the legality of raising rent due to the number living in a single-family

A: Griswold -- The real issue is whether the landlord is being
discriminatory and seeking to deter renters with children or larger
families. In California, the typical occupancy standard guideline (but not
the law) would allow up to seven occupants in a standard-size three bedroom unit (based on the "two per bedroom + one guideline" as stated by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing).

However, the landlord can deviate from that guideline if they can
demonstrate a legitimate business reason. Likewise, they may also be able
to reasonably adjust the rent along the same grounds.

In your case, the landlord may very well have a legitimate business reason
for raising the rent based on the additional three occupants.

If the landlord must pay for water/sewer or any other similar charges, then
their costs will go up and they can reasonably pass those costs on to the

As long as the rent increase is reasonable then they have the right to
increase the rent.

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


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