By: Stephen C. Duringer, Esq. The Duringer Law Group, PLC
QUESTION What new laws should owners and managers of rental property be aware of for 2016?
ANSWER The folks in Sacramento were quite busy last year, introducing over 2,770 assembly and senate bills for consideration, including over 160 that were intended to impact the ownership and management of residential income property.
Assembly Bill 418 expands a victim’s right to terminate a lease in the event of domestic violence under certain circumstances. Effective January 1, a victim of domestic violence may terminate a fixed term lease upon fourteen days’ notice. If there are other residents who will remain in the Premises, the landlord may retain the security deposit and is not obligated to return any prepaid rent. This bill shortened the time period for termination from thirty days to fourteen days and clarified the contractual rights affirming the joint and several liability of co-residents.
Senate Bill 188 provides certain enforcement remedies for utility providers when a resident fails to pay his or her water bill when the utility bill is in the name of the resident. Landlords are not required to pay a resident’s delinquent bill when the utility service is in the name of the resident.
Assembly Bills 1 and 1164 prohibit local governments from imposing fines or liens on property owners who have allowed their landscape to ‘brown out’ due to the enacted and/or threatened water restrictions and water use restrictions. Further, local governments are prohibited from imposing fines or liens on owners who installed synthetic or artificial turf on residential property. These bills addressed the very real catch 22 dilemma that many owners faced, responsibly reducing their use of water while maintaining their curb appeal without incurring the wrath of local governments.
Senate Bill 655 provides that the presence of visible mold in a dwelling may be considered a substandard housing condition. This is a very poorly drafted piece of legislation that despite our industry’s best efforts managed to pass. True to form, this bill will no doubt spawn countless lawsuits against property owners and managers, and will certainly be used to defend and/or delay many unlawful detainer actions. The lack of clarity and the absence of relevant science based standards, are sure to be abused by an opportunistic resident or advocate. Make sure your management practices include periodic inspections of all of your units. In the event a resident notifies you of the presence of mold, or any defect for that matter, ensure that you follow up and inspect as quickly as possible, identify the problem, cure it, and document your actions.
Senate Bill 328 requires that landlords provide twenty four hours’ notice prior to applying pesticide inside a resident’s dwelling. There is certain required information that must be provided, make sure you use the proper form provided by your apartment association or your pest control vendor. There is a provision that a resident may waive the twenty four hour notice and allow immediate application. The bill also includes required notification of all adjoining residents if they might be affected by the application of pesticide or weed killer.
Assembly Bill 1448 clarifies existing law regarding a tenant’s right to use a clothesline. A tenant may use a clothesline or a drying rack in the resident’s private area if: i) it will not interfere with the maintenance of the property, ii) it will not create a health or safety hazard, block doorways, or interfere with walkways or utility service equipment, iii) the resident seeks the landlord’s consent before affixing it to a building, iv) use does not violate reasonable time or location restrictions imposed by the landlord, v) the resident has received approval of the clothesline or drying rack from the landlord.
QUESTION I am a very conscientious landlord. I want to ensure that my rentals are well maintained and that any maintenance issues are addressed immediately. Every year, I send a notice to my residents informing them that I will inspect each unit. I have been doing this for years without any problems. This month I received a letter from one of my tenants telling me that I had no right to enter his apartment to look around, that he would not let me in. What do I do? Can I force my way in to do the inspection?
ANSWER Your policy of doing annual inspections is admirable, and is practiced by responsible landlords throughout California. Most tenants welcome a responsible landlord’s actions in ensuring that all is well, and voluntarily cooperate in providing access upon the landlord’s reasonable request. It is clearly in the best interest of all to ensure that any maintenance issues are promptly addressed, and that a spirit of communication and co-operation exists between a landlord and his residents. Trouble is, your resident is right. There is no specific provision in California law requiring a resident to allow the landlord access to merely “inspect” the premises. California law states that a landlord can enter a rental unit only for certain reasons. Those reasons are in an emergency, when the tenant has moved out or abandoned the premises, to make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations, or other improvements, to show the unit to prospective purchasers, tenants, or lenders, to provide entry to contractors or worker who are to perform work on the unit, or to conduct a pre move out inspection at the end of the tenancy, pursuant to court order, or to inspect the smoke detector or inspect the installation of a waterbed. Conspicuously absent from this body of law is the unfettered right of a landlord to just inspect for the pure sake of just making sure everything is all right. You cannot force your tenant to allow access for the purpose of inspection.
This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms, has successfully handled over 225,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California, and has collected over $130,000,000.00 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714.279.1100, toll free at 800.829.6994 or 877.387.4643. Visit www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.