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Real Estate Today

Law says Looks aren't Important, only Safety Counts in Apartments

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
2-June-2002 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 (9 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: I have lived in a very well maintained apartment building for nearly 12 years. In all that time, the landlord has not painted my apartment. Also, the carpet is extremely worn and needs to be replaced. What are my rights as a tenant to have this upkeep done? Is the landlord obligated to paint every so many years and to replace worn wall-to-wall carpeting?

ANSWER: Griswold: There is no law requiring landlords to paint the property or replace the carpet based on any set formula or passage of time. Landlords are required under California law to properly maintain the premises in a safe and habitable manner. Your landlord would be required to repaint your rental unit in the event that the failure to repaint has become a health and safety hazard.

For example, if the paint is old it may contain lead and be a lead-based paint hazard if it is beginning to peel or come loose from the painted surfaces. If it is just a cosmetic issue then the landlord is not responsible for repainting and you may want to propose that the landlord repaint and you will pay some or all of the cost.

The carpet is evaluated along the same lines. A worn carpet only becomes a health- and-safety issue when it is a trip and fall hazard or is so worn that the tack strip or other elements poke through and could injure someone. Again, if it is just ugly or out of date then the landlord is not legally obligated to do anything.

Of course, with the legalities aside, I highly recommend that prudent landlords should take good care of their tenants and properly maintain the premises. Repainting the unit and replacing the carpet after nearly 12 years is a very small price to pay for having a great long-term tenant.

I suggest that you send him a positive letter requesting these items. You could even include a copy of my response.

Deposit shock

Q: My husband and I rent an apartment in La Jolla on a month-to- month rental agreement. When my husband first rented the apartment in 1997, he paid a $625 security deposit that was equal to his rent at the time. Our rent has increased by $175 to $800 over the last few years. What is the appropriate amount for our security deposit? Earlier this year our landlord required all tenants to pay an additional amount that she claims brings the deposit up to current rates.

We had to pay an additional $400, which is less than the increased deposit sought from some tenants. Can our landlord legally increase our deposit to an amount that is greater than our monthly rental rate?

A: Griswold: Yes. Under California law, landlords can require a security deposit of up to two times the monthly rental rate for unfurnished apartments and three times the rental rate for furnished units.

There is no requirement that the security deposit have any correlation to the rental rate as long as the total security deposit does not exceed the maximum allowed by law. They can request an increase at any time as long as they give you the proper notice, which would be 30 days written notice for a month-to-month rental agreement. If you were on a lease, the landlord would just need to give written notice at the time of lease renewal.

There is no requirement that all tenants have the same security deposit except that the landlord should use proper business judgment in setting the amount and must not be arbitrary or discriminatory when setting the required security deposits for each tenant.


Repair scare

Q: If a tenant causes a fire accidentally in a rental house, can the landlord hold him responsible for repairs to the building, or would the landlord's insurance have to pay for damage?

A: Griswold: The tenant can definitely be held financially responsible if he was responsible or negligent. Many times the landlord's insurance company will step in to quickly make the necessary repairs and get the rental house back online. Then they will subrogate their claim against the individual or party that was the actual cause of the fire.

Thus, if the tenant or tenant's family or guests cause the fire, then the insurance company will seek full restitution and recovery of all costs from the tenant or the tenant's insurance company.

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

2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996 Robert S. Griswold.  All Rights Reserved.
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