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Real Estate Today

Landlord Won't Give Nuisance of a Neighbor the Heave-ho

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
16-September-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: My landlord refuses to evict my co-tenant who rents the house on the back of the property. Because I rent, I'm unsure of my rights. Doesn't the landlord have an obligation to evict a tenant who continues to be a nuisance, and every one in the neighborhood has signed a petition wanting him out?

ANSWER: Kellman: A landlord has an obligation to properly manage the property including securing the peace and safety of the residents. If a tenant creates a genuine nuisance as defined by law, then the landlord should take action. A nuisance is usually something more than one incident unless such the incident is very serious.

The landlord should first confirm that the claimed disturbing conduct is real and substantial and not simply the exaggerated claims of neighbors who may not get along with that tenant. Once confirmed that the tenant is causing a significant disturbance, a written warning should be issued. If that fails, the landlord should then ask that tenant to vacate the unit or face potential liability from the co-tenants or the neighbors for not doing so.

Security deposit

Q: I recently ended a month-to-month lease. I only received $210 back from my $500 security deposit because the landlord said the apartment was smoke damaged and had to be thoroughly cleaned. My roommate and I both smoke, but it was done outside most of the time. The lease didn't state nonsmokers.

The landlord commented that we kept the place so clean and neat that we would get a full refund, but she's also deducted charges for things that were not in the initial walkthrough. I have pictures and video to prove the condition of the town house once we moved out. If I take this case to small claims court what are my chances?

A: Griswold: Your chances aren't very good as landlords can legally deduct for any cleaning that is necessary under California Civil Code Section 1950.5. Unlike damages, cleaning is not subject to an allowance for ordinary wear and tear.

The smell of smoke gets into the carpeting, window coverings, walls, etc. and can be costly to cure. The smell might not have been detected by your landlord when showing the town house but that does not preclude the landlord from rightfully charging for the cleaning of the carpet and walls once you move out.

It may have been unwise for her to make comments regarding your security deposit until you vacated the property. However, in light of the need to thoroughly clean the town house due to smoking, the total deductions of $290 do not seem grossly out of line.

Send the landlord a letter expressing your concerns and your reliance on the landlord's positive statements about the rental unit and implying that you would receive a full refund of your security deposit. You should request clarification of the charges and ask them to make an adjustment.

However, my opinion is that your chances of prevailing in small claims court are slim particularly if the landlord can support the charges with invoices from third party contractors.

Sign here

Q: My 25-year-old daughter cannot rent an apartment because she does not have any credit. If I co-sign for her what am I responsible for, does it show up on my credit report and how long do I have to be on the rental agreement? If she gets an apartment and establishes herself there can she reapply by herself and have me removed from the renters agreement?

A: Kellman: In the typical co-signing arrangement, co-signers sign the lease as a co-tenant, as if they are living there at the rental also. First the bad news: The law makes you equally responsible for the rent and all damages to the rental.

Further, if the rent is not paid, you are liable for it even if you gave the money to your daughter for the rent and she spent it elsewhere. Your credit is not affected unless there is a problem. If there is an eviction lawsuit filed for nonpayment of rent or violating the lease, you share the legal liability as if you were right there in the middle of the action.

You can be named in that case as if you were living there and if the eviction is successful, your credit will be impacted. You could be labeled an undesirable tenant even though you never spent one night at the rental.

Sometimes, landlord attorneys will not name the co-signer in an eviction case simply to speed up the process. Once the eviction is accomplished, they can sneak up on you and sue you separately for damages or unpaid rent.

Now the good news: It is a wonderful to help out your daughter and I am sure you will impress upon her the importance of treating this rental responsibly. Once she establishes a good rental history, you may approach the landlord to delete your name from the lease.

Besides the rental history, she will need to show sufficient income to support the rent. The time to establish herself varies depending on different factors but she may wish to reapply for the lease after six months of renting there.

Broken lease?

Q: I rented my property to a tenant for a fixed two-year lease several years ago. Last Sunday, I received a call from the tenants saying they will be vacating the premises in 30 days. They said they found a house to buy and were giving me a verbal 30-day notice.

I thought when they signed a fixed-term lease the lease would automatically renew for another two years and thus my tenants are locked into the lease for another five months until the renewal expires.

Also, isn't a written notice required? Can I use their security deposit for advertising? Do I have to return the security deposit or deduct it from the rent that I would have gotten for the remainder of the lease? Or can I recoup the entire five-month loss of rental income?

A: Smith: First, remember that your tenant promised you a two- year commitment. The excuse given in your question will not legally justify breaking the lease. The tenant may leave possession if he chooses, but his departure will not extinguish continuing rental responsibilities.

The verbal 30-day notice has no real legal effect, other than to put you on notice that he may be moving out. As his landlord, you have the right to receive continuing rent even though the tenant left. If he does not pay, you may take him to court for lost rent, advertising expenses, cost of marketing the property, and other damages caused by the lease break. The security deposit may be used for all of these items, as well as for damages and cleaning.

The outgoing tenant will remain responsible for rent up until such time as you successfully re-lease the property to a qualified replacement tenant.

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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