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 recently purchased a home in a mobile-home park. Now the park managers are telling me that I need to remove my emotional-support animal, a Doberman pincher. They said they consider my dog's breed to be dangerous and, therefore, prohibited on the park premises. I love my dog and it would be very difficult for me to cope without him. "Butch" doesn't have a mean bone in his body and has never hurt anyone. Do I have a right to keep my animal?
A You may have a right to keep your animal. Generally speaking, the park managers are required by California law to allow mobile-home owners to have a pet, but that right is subject to reasonable restrictions such as size and behavior. However, you may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation for your medical condition if you can demonstrate that you have a disability within the meaning of the fair housing laws.
A "reasonable accommodation" is a change, exception or adjustment to a policy or practice that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his or her dwelling. A "disability" is defined as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself or working.
In your situation, you may be able to request that Butch be exempted from the pet restrictions on the property, as long as he has no history of bad behavior.
You will need to show an identifiable relationship between your request and your disability. The easiest way to do this is to provide a letter from your health care provider that your particular emotional-support animal is necessary for your disability. The law requires your park managers to engage in a dialog with you once you make this request, so that together, you can come to an agreement to meet the needs of both sides.
Q I just rented a cottage on a very nice lot that includes fruit trees in the backyard. I was looking forward to living here but now the woman who owns the cottage is ruining my peace and quiet. She lives nearby and every day, without any warning, she goes into the backyard to tend to the fruit trees.
I feel that I cannot go out into the yard because she is hanging around so often, which means I have lost the use of the backyard I am paying for. When I complained to her, she pointed out that my rental agreement allows her to enter the yard any time she feels it is necessary. Is there anything I can do to stop her?
A California places very strict limits on a landlord's right to enter rental property. These rules are found in Civil Code Section 1954 and apply to every part of the premises being rented, including yards, garages and storage areas. A landlord can only enter the rental property for certain specific reasons, such as to make repairs or alterations, or to respond to an emergency.
Even if the landlord has a purpose allowed by Section 1954, entry is only permitted upon 24 hours written notice and only during normal business hours. Your landlord's activity appears to be outside the scope of Section 1954. She is not giving you proper notice and even if she was giving notice, she is not making repairs or engaging in any other activity permitted by this statute.
She is asserting that you agreed to allow her to tend the trees in the backyard when you signed your rental agreement. That language would be considered a waiver of your rights under Section 1954. Even if you did sign an agreement with this waiver, it is not enforceable and does not permit the landlady to enter the backyard as she is doing.
California Civil Code 1953 states that any written waiver of your rights under Section 1954 is void and unenforceable. Of course you and your landlady could voluntarily negotiate some ground rules that meet your need for privacy but still deal with her apparent desire to care for the trees.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.