May Legal Questions Part 3

11. Question:
I am the resident manager of an apartment complex where we only offer one year leases. After
six months, one of our residents gave me a thirty-day notice because he lost his job. I informed
him that a thirty-day notice is not effective during a long term lease, so he wrote me a letter
saying he was leaving because of the loud noise coming from the swimming pool late at night.
He said his attorney said he could legally do this. Is this true?

Answer:

It appears that the real reason for leaving is his inability to continue to pay rent, but even if there
was disruptive behavior in the swimming pool, he could not legally quit the premises unless he
could prove that you were negligent in maintaining peace and quiet in the apartment community.
If you took reasonable steps to maintain the quiet enjoyment of the property, the resident is
required to pay you for the remainder of the lease term.

12. Question:
Are the laws any different between “motels” and “apartments”? Where could I get a booklet or
more information on this matter?

Answer:

The laws are significantly different between motels and rental housing. For instance if a motel
customer fails to pay, the police can be immediately called to remove the customer. In a
residential rental dwelling such as an apartment, however, the owner must go through the
tenant eviction process to regain possession. You may be able to obtain information from the
California Lodging Association and the California Apartment Association.

13. Question:
Can I legally “fax” a three-day notice to pay rent or quit to my tenant at his work?

Answer:

California law specifically identifies the legal methods of service of process for a legal notice.
The methods are personal service, post and mail and substituted service. Faxing a copy is not
a valid service and is not recommended. If the tenant actually receives the notice, however,
there is case law to support the claim that if there is actual service, the method of service is
irrelevant.

14. Question:
I am an owner of several small apartment buildings. What legal responsibility and liability does
an owner have for changing locks when changing tenants?

Answer:

An owner or manager of rental property is held to the same standard of care that would be
required by a reasonable and prudent owner or manager in like circumstances. In other words,
if one of your residents claims they were robbed or injured by someone who had a key to their
apartment, they could claim you were responsible. They could prevail in court if the trier of fact
believed that a reasonably prudent owner/manager would have changed the locks when the
former resident vacated the rental unit.

15. Question:
I have been asked by another property manager if a former tenant of mine caused any problems
and if I would rent to him again. I suspected that he was a drug dealer or at least a drug user
but I cannot prove it. What can I tell her?

Answer:

If you are unsure, you should remain silent. From a legal point of view, it is always safest to say
nothing. However, if you choose to do so, you should only reveal information, if any, that you
know to be true and can be documented. When making a recommendation, you are always
running the risk that the person you are referring to believes you are defaming their good name.
Making timely notes of what you said and who you spoke to, will be valuable if you are
questioned about the conversation in the future. Discuss only facts that pertain to compliance
with your lease or rental agreement.

16. Question:
I suspect there are at least five people living in a one-bedroom apartment in one of our units.
The lease only allows three persons and they have not paid rent. I want to serve a three-day
notice to pay rent or quit, but I do not know all of their names. What should I do?

Answer:

If you serve a three-day notice, address it to the occupants for which you have the names and
also to “all others in possession.” If they pay the rent, however, you may have agreed to the
additional people living there. If you do not intend to allow their occupancy, you could also
serve a three-day notice to perform conditions and/or covenants or quit requiring that the
additional people vacate within three days. If either or both of the notices are not complied with,
you can commence with an eviction in court.

17. Question:
A tenant of three years recently vacated with only a verbal two-week notice. Can she be
charged for unpaid rent? She did not have a lease agreement and never signed anything
stating that she would give a thirty-day notice.

Answer:

If the rent is paid monthly and there is no term stated in the lease, written or verbal, the law
presumes you are under a month-to-month agreement which requires a thirty-day notice to
terminate. If no notice was given, the former tenant owes rent up to thirty days or until the time
you relet the premises (you have to try), whichever occurs first.

Ted Kimball is a partner with Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP. The law firm specializes in landlord/tenant,
collections, fair housing and business and real estate, with offices throughout California. Property
owner’s and manager’s with questions regarding the contents of this article, please call 800.338.6039.

© 2012 Kimball, Tirey and St. John LLP

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