Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - October 28, 2011

RentWatch

OK to relax financial requirements with a co-signer?

by Martin Eichner

Q I am a property manager in an apartment community with a lot of vacant units. We are trying to rent these units while still making sure we have qualified applicants. On several occasions, we have received applications from prospective tenants with poor credit records who claim they can provide a co-signer. Is it a good idea to relax the financial qualifications because there is a co-signer available?

A Your decision to consider whether to accept a co-signer should be based on your business judgment. Obviously during a time period when the rental market is "soft," you might accept some tenants whose financial qualifications are less than perfect. Using a co-signer is one method to strengthen the financial capacity of an applicant.

The important point is to treat the status of the potential co-signer carefully. Any co-signer candidate you consider should be subjected to the same detailed financial screening process you would apply to a prospective tenant. In addition, make sure the co-signer's relationship to the tenant is stable and long-term, not just a recent "fancy" or one that might be volatile.

Also, for your protection, the co-signer should be a full signatory to the rental agreement so that he or she is jointly and completely liable for all the financial obligations applicable to the tenant. You should explain that financial liability to the co-signer before executing the agreement because often co-signers do not fully understand the financial obligation being undertaken.

There is one final point to remember. You should collect the full security deposit permitted under law, which is the equivalent of two months' rent for an unfurnished unit, but you cannot increase the deposit beyond this legal limit just because you have a co-signer.

Q I moved into a new apartment just a few days ago. Today, I was just about to call the phone company to order land-line service when I thought that I should check out where the phone would be installed.

When I looked around, I did not see any outlet for a phone. There was a "box" on the wall in the bedroom but it had been painted over and clearly was not functional. I went to the property manager's office to ask about the phone line.

She told me I was welcome to have the phone company restore the phone service but that the repairs would be at my expense. She said that I always have the choice of just using my cell phone.

Do I really have to pay for my own installation if I want a traditional land line?

A California law is very clear on this requirement. California Civil Code Section 1941.4 requires a landlord to be financially responsible for installing at least one useable phone jack, with inside wiring in good working order. The wiring must meet applicable National Electrical Code standards.

The landlord is responsible for the cost of any repairs required to bring the jack and the wiring up to standard. The landlord's duty is unconditional. That duty is not affected by the fact that you may also have a working cell phone. There are obvious features still unique to a land line, including safety and dependability benefits.

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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