Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - June 24, 2011

RentWatch

Must renter allow Wi-Fi equipment on balcony?

by Martin Eichner

Q I rent an apartment in a large multi-story building. There is a long balcony on my side of the building. Management sent me a letter telling me they want to install telecom and antenna equipment on this balcony so that the local phone company can improve Wi-Fi reception in our area. The only access to the balcony is through two apartments, one of which is mine.

Do I have a right to refuse to allow this installation? If they go ahead with the installation, do I have a right to refuse to allow the telephone technicians to use my apartment for access?

A Use of a portion of your rental property for the benefit of another person or company is generally considered an "easement." For example a road running through your property is a more typical easement. You have no current duty to permit an easement to place the telecom equipment on your balcony that is included in your rental property, unless your rental agreement currently gives that permission to the landlord.

Otherwise, the easement can only be granted if you agree to amend your current agreement, or if the terms are changed as part of a new lease or pursuant to a notice of change of terms, if you are a month-to-month tenant. California law permits a landlord to send a technician to your rental to repair or maintain your unit, during normal business hours after giving you 24-hours written notice. As long as the landlord complies with these limitations, your permission is not required.

However, here the technician is not entering to repair your rental property, he or she is entering only to service the easement equipment. In that situation, entry is part of the easement and would require your permission or must be included in an amendment or change to your rental agreement, the same as installation of the equipment itself. In this situation a negotiated agreement might make sense. For example you might permit the easement in exchange for some type of compensation. You can contact your local mediation program if you would like to explore this approach.

Q I have owned a building with three apartments for many years. I have always had good tenants until four months ago when I allowed a young woman to move in without giving me a security deposit or the first month's rent.

I felt sorry for her because she told me that had just left an abusive boyfriend. For the first couple of months she was late with the rent but she eventually caught up. In the last several months she has not paid at all. Every time I ask her for the rent, she promises to pay but then doesn't. Lately she just ducks me altogether. What can I do?

A Once you make the decision to be a residential rental property landlord, you need to accept that you are operating a business and should act accordingly. No matter how many "good" tenants have rented from you in the past, sooner or later you will encounter a troublesome tenant, just like every other landlord. You need to apply a business-model approach to your decision to rent to new tenants. In this case it appears that you allowed your sympathies to overrule your business sense.

A business approach means screening tenants in advance to ensure their financial capacity to pay rent. A business approach also means collecting the first month's rent and the maximum security deposit of two months' additional rent before allowing a move-in. Market conditions may not permit you to impose strict financial obligations, but whenever possible you should require them. A tenant who is unable to meet these initial financial requirements is a strong candidate to leave you in the situation you are currently experiencing.

Now you need to take effective action to remedy this mistake, which will probably mean pursuing the eviction process to remove this tenant. Since you didn't collect a full security deposit, you have no tenant funds for the rent that hasn't been paid. If you delay further because of new promises or excuses, your ultimate losses will mount. You should "bite the bullet" now and start the process.

The eviction process begins with serving a "Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit." There are very specific requirements for the content and service of a proper Three-Day Notice. If the tenant fails to pay the full rent due or fails to vacate, you will need to file a lawsuit in the Superior Court called an "Unlawful Detainer."

We recommend you hire an attorney who specializes in eviction cases, before you even serve the Three-Day Notice. The attorney will charge a fee to complete the eviction, but the case is more likely to be completed correctly and quickly. Inexperienced landlords who try to process unlawful detainer actions without an attorney often make a mistake that results in the case being dismissed. They lose their court filing fees and additional rent, and are forced to start the process over.

Martin Eichner edits RentWatch for Project Sentinel, an organization founded in 1974 that provides landlord tenant dispute resolution and fair housing services in Northern California and administers rental-housing mediation programs in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. Call 650-856-4062 for dispute resolution or 650-321-6291 for fair housing or email mediate4us@housing.org.

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