Landlord/Tenant

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By PETER ROSENTHAL, President
V.I.P. Trust Deed Company

I recently received the following question by telephone:

QUESTION: We have lived in a rental apartment for some years and have ALWAYS paid our rent on time. The property was sold a few months ago and we are having all sorts of personality problems with the new owner. The problem started with their request for a large increase in our security deposit. Can you recommend an attorney to represent us in this matter?

ANSWER: Frankly, this situation did not necessitate an attorney, as there was very little to “fight” in your case. It turns out your apartment is in the City of Glendale, which does not have any form of rent control. Most cities in the state are not under any form of rent control, and as such you are either subject to the terms of an actual lease or you are on a month to month agreement, even if the agreement is verbal.

If you were on a lease, the new landlord would have taken title “subject to” that lease and the landlord could not have altered the lease until its termination. That would include an increase in security deposit, no pets policy, late fees, etc. In your case, you are on a month to month agreement and the new landlord (with 30 days notice) can adjust your rent, adjust your security deposit, or just plain give you a 30 day notice to move. Though this may sound horrible, your landlord is probably working on a “my way or the highway” mentality.

In the absence of rent control, tenants are often incredulous that the landlord does not have to “show cause” or have a good reason to raise rent or ask the tenant to leave. A month to month tenancy, either written or verbal, merely requires the landlord to give you 30 days notice of any change in tenancy or 30 days notice to leave. There is one exception to this “my way or the highway” mentality. The landlord cannot immediately give you a 30 day notice in RETALIATION for your reporting deficiencies to the local health or building departments.

Having said this, I strongly advise against any tenant attorney intervention in landlord/tenant matters UNLESS absolutely necessary. If this truly is a communication problem, an attorney will just make the landlord defensive and angry. Even if you are right on a particular problem, the attorney cannot help you with your LONG TERM relationship; an attorney will merely sour the long term relationship. If you truly have a problem with your landlord that you cannot rectify in a soft-spoken way or by polite written request, perhaps you can ask a third party familiar with real estate to intervene on your behalf. Often a third party can work wonders with a “failure to communicate” problem.

Although the landlord may have most or all of the “negotiating cards,” I assure you that landlords have loads of other problems having to do with state and federal regulations, bad tenants, evictions, huge utility increases, insurance problems, etc. As a matter of fact, I have started to dispose of my income property because, frankly, it’s no fun any more.

The bottom line: You really have only three choices: (1) Make peace with your landlord so that you can continue your existing tenancy uninterrupted; (2) move to a place with a landlord you love; or (3) save up some money, buy rental property and see what the other side is like.

Peter Rosenthal
VIP Trust Deed Company