Real Estate

RentWatch

Can a landlord require a tenant to pay rent via PayPal?

Q Here is a question for our new digital age. I just received a written notice from my property manager informing me that from now on, my rent payments must be made through the PayPal Internet service. I have used PayPal for services such as Amazon, but wonder if I can be forced to use it for my rent payments rather than a traditional check.

I prefer to pay by check because a check would be easier for me to trace if there is a complaint raised about whether I paid my rent on time.

A The somewhat complicated rules on forms of rent payment are found in California Civil Code Section 1962. To begin, the form of rent payment must be specified in the rental agreement. If you have a lease, a new method of payment such as Internet payment through a service like PayPal cannot be added during the term of the lease without your permission.

If you have a month-to-month agreement, a new method of payment can be added by serving you with a 30-day written change of terms, if that method is authorized in Section 1962. This statute includes electronic transfer of funds as a method of payment, but it is unclear whether the statute allows electronic transfer to an account not connected with a "financial institution." This statute was last amended in 2001, which means that a "financial institution" in 2001 was probably intended to refer to a traditional bank.

We doubt that the legislature in 2001 even contemplated the existence of an Internet form of payment such as PayPal. Even if the statute authorizes electronic transfer through the Internet, there is still an argument that it is unreasonable to require tenants to use PayPal as the exclusive means of rental payment. Such a requirement would be an undue burden on tenants who do not have access to the Internet, or are not eligible for PayPal accounts.

We believe that a landlord's effort to require payment through the Internet as the exclusive form of payment without an accompanying procedure that would ensure all tenants could comply is not enforceable, absent a clearer authorization in Section 1962 to do so.

Rather than risk a notice for failure to pay rent based on a complex legal analysis, contacting the landlord through a mediation program would be a safer method to resolve this type of issue by raising some of the problems arising from requiring Internet payment.

Q I have been the local property supervisor at a large apartment community for several years. I thought I was well versed in my reasonable accommodation responsibilities, but recently I received a request from a resident that surprised me.

She has asked me to waive our no-pet policy so that she can have a pet parakeet to live with her in her unit. I understand that disabled people depend on seeing-eye dogs and that even cats and other animals can help disabled people by being their eyes and ears.

I don't understand how a parakeet can help someone who is disabled. Do I have to allow this request?

A As you already know, a reasonable accommodation request can be based on a waiver of a no-pet rule to permit the use of a "service animal" such as a seeing-eye dog. However, if necessary to improve the daily living functions of a disabled person, a reasonable accommodation request can also seek to utilize a "companion" animal.

Companion animals aid a disabled person, for example a person with a serious depression condition, by acting as the focus of the person's care and attention, thereby improving the disabled person's daily functioning. The person requesting a companion animal must have a genuine disability that affects a major life function.

The reasonable accommodation request must have the written support of a person with medical credentials certifying that the companion animal is necessary to alleviate the disability.

Q I am a student at a university and live on campus. Over the summer I have been trying to arrange a living situation where my best friend and I share a dorm room. The problem is I am a girl and my best friend is a boy. The university says that they do not allow mixed-gender dorms. Isn't that discrimination?

A The federal and state fair-housing laws generally do not apply to post-secondary educational institutions. Whether by legislative intent or practical application, neither the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) nor the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing will accept complaints about colleges or universities providing single-sex housing.

California's Fair Employment and Housing Act states that if the institute of education has housing segregated by sex, it must provide equal housing for both sexes.

Q I have rented a house for several years. The current owner told me that he is going through foreclosure. He says that he is about to conclude an agreement to allow a "short sale" of the property, which I understand is an agreement to sell the house to a new owner for less than the amount of the mortgage.

I thought there were special protections for tenants who are caught up in foreclosures. Are there any special protections for me if there is a short sale?

A There is a federal law, the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Action (PTFA), which gives additional rights to "bona fide" tenants living in a property that changes ownership due to a foreclosure. This law requires a minimum of 90 days' notice to month-to-month tenants after the foreclosure has been completed. Tenants who have a bona-fide lease are entitled to remain until the lease expires.

However, these protections apply only after the foreclosure has been completed. In California, foreclosure is completed when a trustee sale has occurred, resulting in a new legal title to the person or company who purchased the property at the trustee sale auction. The current owner has no standing to control the trustee sale.

A short sale occurs as a result of a "voluntary" agreement between current owner, new owner and the lender whose permission is required. The purpose of the short sale procedure is to avoid the trustee sale and find a new owner before the old owner's rights are extinguished by the trustee sale.

Unfortunately for you, this means that the additional protections of the PTFA will not be available to you because the foreclosure was never completed. The new owner taking title pursuant to the short sale becomes your new landlord and can decide to continue your tenancy or terminate it pursuant to the usual 30-day notice period, or 60-day notice period if you have been a tenant for more than one year.

Q My husband and I were given a 30-day notice to vacate our two-bedroom apartment. We have lived there for two years without any problems, but we had twin boys born two months ago. The manager just told us we need to move.

We suspect the manager is asking us to move because of our babies, since the community caters to singles, fostering a "young professional" culture. Until we had our children, there were no tenants with children.

We know our young boys are noisy like any newborns and our neighbors have complained, but does the owner have a right to terminate our tenancy?

A A landlord generally has the right to terminate a month-to-month tenancy with or without "cause" that has existed for more than a year by serving a 60-day written notice. This means that the notice your landlord gave you is invalid, because it was for 30 instead of 60 days.

Even if your landlord gave you a 60-day notice, there is an important exception to a landlord's general right to terminate a month-to-month tenancy. A termination of tenancy cannot violate federal or state Fair Housing Laws. Discrimination against tenants because they have children is a violation of these laws.

You have described strong circumstantial evidence supporting the conclusion that your family status was the motivation for terminating your tenancy, for example the absence of other families with children, your uneventful tenancy for many months prior to having children, and the landlord's effort to attract singles.

The fact that your newborns are noisy should be tolerated by the landlord regardless of complaints, since a normal level of noise from newborns is inherent in housing inhabited by families. Of course if there is some unusually disruptive type of noise coming from your unit, that noise might be considered a nuisance that a landlord can take action to stop.

Contact your local fair housing agency. Agency staff can follow up by educating the manager so that he or she will understand the applicable notice and fair housing principles, or if necessary they can open an investigation.

Q I called the rental office of a local apartment complex in response to a newspaper ad. The manager told me on the telephone that there were several one-bedroom units still available and we set up an appointment to view the units.

When I arrived for the meeting, the manager saw that I am an African-American. When he saw me, he told me there was only one unit left. I went with him to see this unit, but as we walked to it, I noticed several units near a nice fountain and patio area that appeared to be vacant. When I asked about those units, I was told they had just been rented.

The unit I was shown was in a separate building located in the back of the property near the carports. When I was inspecting the unit, I noticed that several of the immediate neighbors were black or other minorities. I didn't see any minority tenants in the other parts of the complex.

I felt like I had been misled and I left. Now I am wondering if I had been a victim of discrimination.

A Federal and state fair housing laws specifically prohibit housing providers from limiting tenants of a certain race to separate areas of the property. This practice of channeling individuals to certain areas and denying rental opportunities in other areas is known as "steering."

Steering may occur in several forms. For example, a large housing provider may rent part of a complex only to certain minorities or only to families with young children, while saving other sections for tenants perceived by the landlord as being more preferable.

Your experience definitely raises a suspicion of steering. For more information, contact your local fair housing agency or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. These agencies can follow up to determine if there is evidence of discrimination by sending "testers" of different races to apply for an apartment to see if they are treated differently based on their race.

The agency may also decide to survey current tenants to determine if there is a pattern of steering. If your experience is supported by further evidence, you may have remedies available to you.

Q I am embarrassed to ask this question but I have no choice. I separated from my husband six months ago. Two months ago, I rented an apartment so that I could live in peace but my husband keeps stalking me and threatening me.

The police were called the first time and tried to calm down the situation, but when he showed up again a week later, I obtained a restraining order. I have been paying my rent on time, but the resident manager has told me I need to leave before the end of the month because the owner doesn't want to upset the other tenants with my domestic problems.

I cannot find another place before the end of the month. I am afraid I will wind up living on the street. What can I do?

A The situation you describe would define you as a victim of domestic violence within the meaning of a new state law, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161.3. This law prohibits terminating the tenancy of a victim of domestic violence, if the domestic violence has been documented in a police report within the last 180 days or has resulted in a restraining order.

"Domestic violence" covered by this statute includes "stalking." Since you have both a police report and a restraining order, you should be protected from eviction by this statute. You would also be protected if your husband was a tenant on the lease.

You should know that you have the right to request that your landlord change the locks to your unit to ensure your husband cannot get in. If your landlord does not change the locks as requested within 24 hours, you may change the locks yourself, as long as you do so in a "workmanlike" manner and give the landlord a copy of the new key.

The law does allow the landlord to evict you if you voluntarily allow your husband into your unit or if your husband is a genuine danger to the other tenants. However, if you continue to pay your rent, don't give permission to your husband to return, and otherwise comply with the rental agreement, the landlord cannot terminate your tenancy.

If an eviction action, known as an unlawful detainer is filed against you, you should file a written answer asserting this statute as defense to the eviction, and you should bring supporting evidence to show the judge on the day of trial.

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 e-mail mediate4us@housing.org.

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