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Real Estate Today

Can a Tenant Be Evicted for Stealing an Identity?

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
27-May-2001 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 recently became a victim of identity theft and filed a police report. My own investigation has led me to one of the people in my building who I believe stole my outgoing mail with my credit information in it and used my credit to purchase a laptop computer!

How would I go about pushing for an eviction of these people? How should I go about insisting on the entire premises being re-keyed?

ANSWER: Griswold: You should keep your landlord apprised of any police investigation, but be careful about making accusations that could lead to someone accusing you of slander. Remember even if you are correct but the police do not come to the same conclusion, the accused may then go on the offensive against you.

Your landlord must also proceed very carefully. If there is a conviction or even if the evidence is very strong, the landlord may take steps to have the tenant leave the premises. Rather than evict the tenant and potentially have to go through a court battle, perhaps the landlord can just serve a 30-day notice to vacate or not renew a lease as this can be done without stating a reason.

A prudent landlord would avoid making potentially false accusations. While a negligent landlord could face repercussions, the decision to re-key the entire premises is up to the landlord and can be very expensive. From your perspective, I would not worry about the entire premises being re-keyed, I would simply ask that your rental unit and mailbox be re-keyed. If the landlord refuses, I would suggest that you offer to pay the cost yourself. The peace of mind is well worth the nominal cost.

Raindrops keep falling

Q: For the last 10 years I have been renting a town house in a beach community. Over the years there have been several roof leaks. The owners have tried to patch the roof with little success. I have had several items ruined by these leaks and feel that I should be compensated. Also, the building is being sold soon. Will this affect my potential claim?

A: Kellman: Your landlord is responsible to repair the roof once he/she becomes aware it is leaking. Your roof may have needed more than a patch job to correct the leaks. Patching a roof may be the cheap approach but it may not be the correct one. Some roofs simply need to be replaced.

If those leaks could have been prevented by a more appropriate repair job, then you may be entitled to compensation. Remember, the landlord's liability does not depend on their type of insurance policy or coverage. So if your landlord says the policy does not cover this type of loss, that just means the landlord, if found liable, will have to personally pay you for your damages.

You may use the Small Claims Court for this type of case as long as your claim does not exceed that court's current maximum limit. Selling the building does not affect your rights, which will be against the landlord owner at the time of the loss, not the new owner (unless you have more leaks after the sale). Remember, if you wait too long to file that case, you will lose your rights to do so forever.

Prejudice or gouging?

Q: I live in a luxury high-rise apartment community downtown and I recently received notice from the property management company that my unit was significantly below market and when my lease expires next January, monthly rent will increase from $2,000 to $3,000, or a 50 percent increase. If I was willing to sign a 12-month lease, I had the option of locking in the rental rate at $2,800 per month, only a paltry 40 percent increase.

I was surprised to learn some of the existing month-to-month renters in my building (who have lived in the building for several years) did not receive a rent increase.

I really don't want to subsidize other renters in my building to bring up the average rents. As a Hispanic male, am I receiving a discriminatory increase? How should I handle this?

A: Griswold: It's not a surprise to get an increase. However, you should not be singled out. You might want to inquire with the owner or manager if your new rental rate is the rate that everyone with a comparable unit is now or will soon be paying. Possibly the month- to-month tenants have received an increase in the last few months and another one is planned after the first of the year.

Also, maybe the owner is giving out a few at a time and you just happen to be in the first batch. These are just some ideas to consider and they would likely be found to be legal if within reason.

Another possible answer is: Keep in mind that while all people should be treated equally, not all rental units are created equal! Even the same square footage and floor plan can vary by as much as 10 percent to 40 percent due to view, noise, floor, vaulted ceilings, lofts, etc. -- particularly in a downtown high-rise building.

So try to determine if your rent is in line when considering all of these factors. If not, then you may want to challenge the increase as discriminatory, but remember that you have the burden of proof. This is why you need to be very careful to do your homework before making an accusation that may be unfounded.

Then you would really have the potential for tension with the higher rent and knowing that the owner doesn't appreciate being falsely accused. If the owner is potentially guilty, then you should contact a tenant's rights attorney to represent you and send a letter on your behalf.

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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