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Real Estate Today

How Does Renter Get his Credit Record Cleared Up?

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Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
7-July-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 was served an unlawful detainer two years ago from my current landlord. It went to court and was resolved by settlement agreement but it's on my credit report and I'm now looking for a new place to live.

I've written to the reporting agency to have the record removed from my record but it will take about 30 days to correct the information.

In the meantime, what's the best way to explain to potential landlords what happened? I have the court papers that I can include in my application and I can verbally explain the situation as well. Is this sufficient enough action to take until it's taken off my record? I have excellent credit, as well as a glowing reference from my previous landlord.

ANSWER: Kellman: Unfortunately, even though your case was dismissed with a settlement, you still face a landlord prejudice. This is a belief shared by many landlords that any eviction action filed was due to the tenant's fault and that, if a tenant has an eviction filing on their record, that tenant was guilty of something.

This belief is reinforced by the relative high rate of "convictions" of tenants in eviction court. Most of those tenants lost in court because they did not defend their rights properly. They believe that all landlords are good people and none of them would file an eviction when they had no case against a tenant.

Many evictions are filed when the landlord has no case at all. Some filings are the result of simple errors or misunderstandings while others are landlords trying to get away with a wrongful eviction.

For those tenants who properly defend their cases, many are settled to the mutual satisfaction of the landlord and tenant and result in a dismissal. These cases even include ones where the tenant could have won in court but settled instead.

The idea of blacklisting tenants who have a case on their record is not fair or reasonable. The landlord should look into the facts of that eviction situation before making a decision about an application to rent.

The Unlawful Detainer Registry should either remove the dismissal from your record or at least place an explanation about the settlement. Until they act (if they act), you will need to show any new landlord the settlement agreement to explain that the matter was resolved to everyone's satisfaction and hope this landlord does not share the above prejudices.

Newbie-dooby-doo

I live in a small "in-law" cottage behind a larger main house. The property sold, and three days after the new owner moved into the house, my rent was due. He demanded a 60 percent rent increase and gave no notice, written or verbal.

He's supposed to give me a written notice, and I informed him of this. The situation rapidly became uncomfortable, so I just paid him, as we had not yet signed a new lease and I was afraid he would raise the rent even more. I am not even sure if he was the legal owner yet.

At what point does he have the right to demand an increase, and isn't it true that I must be given written notice? If he wasn't the legal owner of the property, did he even have a right to increase the rent?

Also, I can't get an accounting of my last month's rent and deposit paid to the old landlord. I sent them a registered letter asking for an accounting of these funds but have heard nothing back, and it's been nearly a month.

Griswold: You have an interesting situation in which the purchaser of the property already has moved onsite pending the close of escrow. While this individual may indeed soon be your new landlord, he does not have any authority or legal standing to modify the terms of your current lease or rental agreement until he becomes the legal owner of the property.

In all likelihood the ownership has not yet changed, since the escrow is still pending. However, you can verify the ownership status by contacting the tax assessor or county recorder to determine who the current owner is at this time.

Once the property does change ownership, know that if you are on a lease they cannot change the terms until the lease expires. If you are on a month-to-month rental agreement, then the new landlord can give you a written Notice of Change in Terms of Tenancy indicating that the rental rate has increased.

Since the property has not changed ownership the security deposit remains with the current landlord. The proper procedure once the property is sold is for the selling landlord to either return your security deposit to you or (more typical) send you a letter indicating the amount of your security deposit and the name, address and phone number of the new landlord that now has your security deposit.

If they fail to follow the legal requirements for transferring your security deposit to the new landlord, then the selling or former landlord is still responsible for your security deposit.

Based on your brief experience with this new landlord, I think it is time to look for a new rental.

No water, just pets

Is it legal for a landlord to require a tenant to carry renters' insurance even if the tenant does not have a water bed or any liquid- filled furniture? If not, how about if they have pets?

Griswold: Yes, you can require renter's insurance as a condition to rent as long as you apply that policy to all renters. I believe that it is an excellent policy to require renter's insurance from all tenants regardless of whether the tenant has a water bed or pets or any other specific issue that raises a concern.

Unfortunately, recent insurance industry surveys indicate that less than 30 percent of all renters have a renter's insurance policy.

Renters with a renter's insurance policy who suffer a loss are less likely to sue their landlords. Of course, if the landlord is ultimately found to be negligent, then the renter's insurance carrier will subrogate or seek reimbursement from the landlord.

The bottom line, though, is that the renter will be able to quickly settle their claim and then the insurance companies can work out the details, thus minimizing the hassle, tension and even finger- pointing that can occur when there is a loss and the renter's only recourse is to pursue a claim against the landlord directly.

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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