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Generally, Landlord is Responsible for Getting Rid of Roaches

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13-Oct-1996 Sunday
(Page H-4 )

Robert Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
This column on issues confronting renters and landlords is written by Certified Property Manager Robert Griswold, host of KSDO Radio's "Real Estate Today!" (Saturdays, 2-3 p.m., AM 1130) and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law firm representing landlords.

Q: We have had constant problems with cockroaches. We have complained to the landlord to get our place sprayed, but he keeps telling us that the problem is our fault. We keep a clean house but the roaches keep coming. Who is really responsible?

A: Kellman: According to California law, the landlord is responsible to take care of cockroach problems at the rental unit. Many times a landlord tries to blame the tenant for the insect problems by claiming the tenant is a bad housekeeper and does not keep the rental clean. While it is true that the law will blame the tenant if poor housekeeping causes an insect problem, many landlords try to stretch this part of this law too far. Most tenants who have a cockroach problem make several efforts on their own to get rid of the bugs before even calling their landlord. This includes extra cleaning, spraying and even using foggers. If the bugs keep coming, even after these efforts, it appears clear that the problem is probably not caused by the tenant. It may instead be caused by neighboring units or colonies of the bugs living in the walls or floors. In such a case, the infestation should be handled by the landlord at the landlord's expense.

Smith: Mr. Kellman correctly points out that many times, the landlord blames the tenant for insect and cockroach problems, because experience has shown that to be the cause of the problem. Despite this, most apartment buildings take regular pest control measures. Managers are more than
willing to take care of any pest-related problem in the premises, even though it may be the tenant's fault. This service is at no extra cost to the tenant, but the tenant's cooperation is needed to make the premises ready for spraying. Good landlords are interested in completely taking care of the problem. If the source of the problem is adjacent units, those will be sprayed, as well. But residents who continue to be the source of the problem may be asked to reimburse the landlord for the costs associated with the spraying, and could be subject to legal proceedings for causing roaches, both in their own and adjacent units.

Q: I am renting a two-bedroom apartment. I use one bedroom as a guest room. Whenever I have an overnight guest, the landlord tries to charge me a guest fee. Also, the landlord said I cannot have more than one guest at a time. Is that legal?

A: Smith: Most landlords do not object to tenants having overnight guests visit the premises. It is not a violation of the rental agreement or lease so long as tenants comply with all rules and regulations. What typically happens, though, is that one night leads to two, then three, and suddenly, the "guest" becomes a resident, even though they have not asked to live there. It is at this point where the landlord has the right to object to the continued occupancy and take proper legal steps.

Kellman: Tenants have a constitutional right to have guests visit at their home. This is true even though the landlord may not like a particular visitor. Guest fees are claimed necessary by some landlords to cover costs of added wear and tear to the rental. These fees are more correctly viewed as an attempt by the landlord to limit the rights of the tenant. The actual added wear and tear to the unit by an occasional guest is minimal. Charging an overnight guest fee is simply an attempt to limit or prevent a tenant from having overnight guests. Therefore, such a fee or guest limitation rule, would be viewed with much suspicion by a judge and probably would be held invalid.

Q: We have had a dog for about five years. When we moved in, the manager said we could keep the dog as long as it was quiet even though the rental agreement says "no pets." Now there is a new manager and he gave us a notice that we have to get rid of our dog in three days or be evicted. Can he do that after all this time?

A: Kellman: Clearly, the rental agreement prohibits pets. However, there are circumstances under which the written part of a signed rental contract (such as a no-pets clause) will be legally canceled. One such way is by a law called "waiver." Under the waiver law, if a landlord knowingly allows a dog to be in the rental for a significant time, the no-pets rule will be waived, or canceled, as if it was not in the contract.

In that case, a dog will be allowed. The situation becomes more difficult when the tenant tries to have another pet, or perhaps a different pet after the rule was waived. Care should be taken by the tenant since a waiver of the no-pets rule for the dog may not apply to any other pet but that particular dog.

Smith: Landlords have the right to restrict pets in rentals. There are exceptions, but the problem here is that the apartment management waited too long to enforce the no-pet provision. To eliminate the possible "waiver," the new manger needs to serve a notice in change of terms of tenancy, which reinstates and confirms the no-pet rule, and gives the tenant 30 days to remove the dog from the premises. If the tenant fails to comply within the 30-day period, then a three-day notice to remove the dog may be given. In this case, giving the 30-day notice prior to the three-day notice avoids the waiver problem.

Q: We applied for an apartment and we were told that the deposit for us would be double what was charged for other units in the building. The landlord said it was because our credit was not very good. Is that discrimination?

A: Smith: The landlord has every right to select tenants best qualified to rent the premises from an economic standpoint. Income, rental, and credit history all bear on the ability to pay rent and comply with the agreement, and it is legal to consider these factors in the rental selection process. The factors should be consistently and uniformly applied without regard to classes of people. In this case, the applicants' negative credit could disqualify them. Here, the landlord is still willing to consider them provided they pay an additional security deposit. The law would allow this so long as the landlord is consistent in his consideration of applicants.

Kellman: Discrimination may take many forms. When we use the word "discrimination" to describe someone's conduct, it makes the conduct sound illegal. Illegal discrimination usually involves being treated differently based on who people are as determined by such things as race, national origin, religion, etc. There are also forms of discrimination that are perfectly legal. These occur when groups are treated differently not based on who they are but what they do. For example, charging an applicant an increased deposit based on bad credit certainly does discriminate based on financial and rental history. However, this discrimination is legal because it is based on what the tenant does through his or her financial and rental history and not based on who they are (race, etc.).

A problem occurs when the landlord uses legal discrimination (finances) for justification to cover who the tenant is (race etc.) but blames a denial of housing on "bad credit." Any such conduct by a landlord, like charging a higher deposit, must be applied equally to any applicant with the same credit. If it is not, legal discrimination can become illegal.

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 191, San Diego, CA 92112. Or you may e-mail them at rgriswold@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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