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Real Estate Today

What's a Student to Do?

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
05-August-2001 Sunday

This installment of Rental Roundtable focuses on issues confronting student renters and landlords.  It 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 www.retodayradio.com), and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

QUESTION: My landlord told me I can't have college friends stay with me overnight at my unit. Is that right?

ANSWER: Kellman: No, it is not. Tenants are afforded the right of privacy and freedom of association under state and federal law. This means tenants are allowed to have guests visit them and landlords can not prohibit these guests, even if they spend the night. As long as the visitors do not stay so long as to be considered residents, the visitors remain classified as guests and are allowed to be there. Some landlords try to discourage visitors by charging a fee for each time a visitor spends the night. I believe such a fee is improper and void.

Of course, tenants must not abuse this right with excessive visitors or create a nuisance or other disturbances. Also, in most mobile home parks, there are specific rules on how long a guest may stay at a unit. A tenant who has a guest stay too many days risks eviction for an unauthorized extra resident. If an extended visit is expected, let the landlord know you will be having a guest and not a new resident.

 

Question: Over a year ago, I co-signed my son's one-year lease for an apartment and paid the security deposit for him. At the end of the lease, my son signed a new lease for seven months. I did not sign the new lease or any other document. Now my son tells me that he has left the apartment and the landlord has deducted for cleaning and miscellaneous damages that exceed the security deposit. The landlord sent him a letter demanding payment of several hundred dollars. Can I be held responsible for the additional charge even though I didn't sign the most recent lease?

Griswold: If you signed the original lease document, which was terminated, then you would only be responsible for the initial lease term. The new lease would strictly be the obligation of your son. If you also signed a guaranty or co-signor agreement, review it carefully as most have a blanket statement that the guaranty applies until specifically canceled or the underlying tenancy is formally terminated.

In this event or if the landlord can prove the damages occurred during the initial tenancy, the landlord may seek payment from you. Of course, ultimately your son should be held responsible for any damage to the apartment. He should take affirmative steps to get the matter resolved rather than allow the landlord to notify the credit reporting agencies, particularly if he disputes the charges.

 

Question: If an apartment is listed at a university housing office, does that mean the school has checked out the unit, the owner and the neighborhood?

Griswold: The housing referral offices at most universities are great sources of information for both tenants and landlords and usually have listings for both university housing and private rentals. Of course, the university-owned or affiliated housing is maintained and operated by the university or an affiliated entity and will often have the advantage of being "approved."

However, I am not aware of any Southern California university that has the resources to investigate the listed privately owned rental units. With the severe shortage of affordable rental housing, many universities have endeavored to acquire their own rental units.

Due to the tight market and dynamic nature of finding the right rental unit, I would suggest that you keep your cell phone handy and call immediately if you think you will be interested in a particular apartment. The best units go quickly as school starts!

 

Question: I live in a residential neighborhood near SDSU. The home next door was rented to what must be six students. Can the owner of the property do that? There have been some problems with parking and noise.

Smith: Fair-housing laws prohibit your neighboring landlord from discriminating against any protected class, including singles and/or students. So long as the lease does not violate zoning laws, his selection of the six students as his tenants is approved. Although you must accept the students as your neighbors, you don't have to put up with the noise and parking problems. The landlord's lease should restrict and prohibit this type of behavior.

You have the right to ask him to enforce the lease to avoid disturbances in the neighborhood. Put the landlord on notice of the problems and make sure that you request he take whatever legal steps are necessary to enforce the parking and quiet enjoyment provisions of the lease agreement with the students.

Kellman: The owner can rent the home to six students unless, like Ted says, that violates a local zoning ordinance. The larger question is what to do about the parking and noise problems. It may be safe to assume that there is a higher volume of student traffic in and about the SDSU area. Since you are not sure of the amount of students living there, you may not be sure that any of them are to blame for any problems. Unless you can personally verify that the parking and noise problems are from the neighbors, it would be unfair to blame them. Before you complain, be sure of the facts and do not simply rely on a guess or prediction that any such problems must be those particular students.

 

Question: I am in a long-term lease at a house. The terms list myself and my two roommates as one legal entity. Everything was fine until last week when one of my roommates announced she was moving and gave a 30- day notice to vacate.

She believes that she can individually break the lease and have no further responsibility. Although we have sought some basic legal advice and informed her of her legal responsibilities, she continues with this notion. What should we do?

Griswold: Your roommate would be well advised to follow the legal advice you received as each and every tenant on the lease is jointly and severally responsible for the entire term. Thus, the lease is fully binding and enforceable against each of you individually as well as collectively. There is no such concept as one roommate has "paid their share" and the landlord can only go after the delinquent roommate.

Such problems must be worked out between the roommates. In a worst-case scenario, any one of you could be held fully responsible for all of the rent, any damages, etc., regardless of which individual roommate failed to live up to their end of the deal.

Typically, it is the most stable, responsible and financially solvent roommate that becomes the target of the owner seeking money. Then, that roommate can always pursue legal action against the other roommates, but . . . good luck!

The only way your roommate can be released from obligation is with the owner's express written permission.

The owner would then also want a written release from the vacating roommate indicating that they were forgoing any legal rights to the security deposit.

Another option would be to seek a mutually acceptable substitute roommate that you and the roommate who will be staying, the departing roommate, and the owner all agree to accept.

Your situation illustrates exactly why I stress the importance of selecting your roommates very carefully!

 

Question: I was looking for an apartment in the College Area. The landlord told me he only rented to students. I don't think that's fair.

Kellman: Landlords must follow fair housing laws, which means they can not discriminate based on such things as race, religion, ancestry, etc. Under the law, the landlord can not discriminate based on age or familial status including families with children.

Any applicant who has sufficient income and an acceptable credit history should be able to rent that unit, whether they are a student or not.

There is a specific exemption in the fair housing laws for "post secondary educational institutions" (public or private) wherein they can offer housing to students, provided students are afforded equal access to those units.


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 rgriswold.sdut@retodayradio.com

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.

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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

Email: rgriswold.ret@retodayradio.com

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