Rental Roundtable
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Real Estate Today

Notify Landlord of Nasty Neighbors

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
27-August-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.

QUESTION I live in a well-kept neighborhood with many longtime family
residences. About five years ago, a younger couple divorced and the man kept the house.

He has since rented the home approximately once a year to different families, all of who have never quite fit the "respectable" type. They come and go until 6 a.m. all through the week and so on.

Recently, the home was rented to the worst family yet. They are loud, they
have been caught stealing from other neighbors, and they sell drugs from their home.

I know they sell drugs because unfortunately my daughter has gotten her drugs from these people. This is known by many of my neighbors and we all hate this.

They also have garbage gathering in the yard, which is never taken care of.  It looks horrible. Can the neighbors and I do anything to force the landlord into keeping his tenants under control?

ANSWER Smith: It sounds like the landlord is failing to properly prescreen his tenants. However, he's not automatically responsible for the acts of his wayward tenants. If there was nothing in the rental history to put the landlord on notice of a potential problem, and there is no violation of the rental agreement, no lawsuit exists against the landlord.

You may want to put the landlord on notice of the problems you are experiencing with his tenants. If his investigation confirms your suspicions, then it's a good idea for him to rid himself of the problem tenant by proper eviction notice.

Kellman: The landlord is certainly not responsible for the unforeseen or unknown wrongful acts of his tenants. However, once on notice, the landlord must take appropriate action.

If the neighbors are sure that illegal activities are going on, a letter to the landlord should explain the situation and ask the landlord to investigate.

If, in fact, the tenants are dealing drugs, the landlord may be required to commence eviction proceedings to abate what might be considered a legal nuisance or face liability for not doing so.

In your case, you seem pretty sure that drugs are involved based on the regrettable situation with your daughter.

Caution is advised before accusations are made -- if you're wrong, and you cause "innocent" tenants to be evicted, you may face a claim for damages from those tenants.

Lock it up

QUESTION I am a renter in a 300-unit condo complex. We have real estate agent lock boxes on the railings leading into the five buildings, including several that have been there more than six months.

There are no names or identification on the lock boxes. We would like to cut them off, but fear the listing may still be active. Apparently the HOA board also fears there is a liability for damaging them. Do you have any thoughts on how to deal with this situation?

ANSWER Griswold: Your HOA board of directors could pass a rule that the owners of the individual units with the lock boxes are responsible for their proper use as a part of the marketing for rent or sale of their condo unit only.

The lock box usage should be documented with a simple form available from the HOA Board or their management and may be for a limited period of time.

The failure to obtain an extension or promptly remove the lock boxes within two weeks of the rental or the close of escrow or the expiration of the stated time period would result in a fine.

This is a common practice for HOAs as lock boxes can become a real eyesore and even a negative image of a property that has high turnover. Of course, the HOA cannot easily hold the real estate agents accountable as they have no direct relationship with the HOA.

Rules regulating the individual unit owners are the only way to enforce policies that benefit all owners. This is the same way HOAs typically deal with problems or rule violations caused by renters.

The board has latitude in establishing the specific rules and setting the fine, but typically a rule that the lock boxes must be removed within two weeks of the close of escrow or the unit owner will face a fine of $5 per day would be reasonable.

Remember that the HOA board or their manager will be notified about the
change of ownership upon close of escrow so they will know when the time has elapsed. And often the HOA will have a policy that the individual owner must notify the HOA when the condo unit has been rented.

As far as the current unclaimed lock boxes, I would suggest that the board send out a notice to all owners allowing anyone to register or remove the lock boxes within 60 days. If they receive no response, then they should just have them removed.

While lock boxes can run $10 to $30 apiece, I believe that the potential for liability by removing them after giving notice to the owners is very limited.

Long-distance problems

QUESTION I am an out-of-state landlord with a property in California. My tenants are several months behind on the rent and the lease has expired.
They want to stay, but I'm concerned that if I sign a new lease, I will have trouble getting them out of the rental unit.

How can I get them out? If I have to fly to California can I charge them for my expenses and time off work? Do I need a California lawyer?
ANSWER Smith: It sounds like your residents have taken advantage of your absentee status. I want you to get them caught up with their rent before you even think about renewing their lease. If they don't pay and don't move, you could be looking at an eviction.

Your eviction lawsuit will order them removed from the property and result in a court rental judgment in your favor. However, most courts will not award you your airline expenses for having to come to California and take time off work.

Jurisdictions vary, but the eviction process will generally take between
one month and six weeks.

Kellman: First, simply ask the tenants to catch up on the rent. If they do, you should allow them to stay since the rent is fully paid and paying tenants are what you want. You should not be worried about evicting paying tenants unless there are other problems besides just paying the rent.

On the other hand, if they do not pay the rent after your request to do so, you certainly have good reasons to consider an eviction. Part of your fear about the situation is that you are managing the property from so far away, which can make you sometimes feel helpless.

The better way is to simply hire a local professional to manage the property. The cost may be well worth the peace of mind. With a professional manager, issues including maintenance and keeping the rent current will be handled locally.

If legal action (e.g. an eviction) is necessary, the manager can appear in court with a local attorney to protect your interests.

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.