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January 28, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 28, 2005

Too old to manage property? Too old to manage property? (January 28, 2005)

Paperwork is an integral part of renting property

by Martin Eichner

Q I'm getting older and am having trouble keeping up with the paperwork of being a rental property owner. I've added an addendum to all the rental agreements for new tenants stating that I agree to accept verbal notices or repair requests from the tenants if they agree to accept verbal notices from me. These notices would cover all aspects of a tenancy such as entry, repair and increases. I'm an easy enough person to get along with; what do you think of this approach?

A This approach is probably not legally permissible and definitely would not be in your best interest or that of your tenants. It is very important that all parties agree and understand any arrangements or changes that occur to a tenancy. Memories can be short and even under the best-documented conditions, things can go wrong.

Civil Code 1953 states that a tenant cannot be asked to waive his or her right to proper notice, which in the case of notices such as changes in conditions or rent increases, must be in writing. There are specific laws regarding notice of entry (Civil Code 1954) and rent increases (Civil Code 827). Perhaps it is time for you to hire a management service or an individual manager to handle the paperwork end of being a landlord. Contact your local housing mediation program for more information.

Q The apartment complex I manage allows current tenants to sublet. The problem is when the original tenant along with the sublet tenants move, the property owner wants me to charge both of them storage fees if they leave belongings behind. I feel this is over-charging. What do you think?

A A landlord is entitled to charge reasonable storage fees for belongings left behind by a previous tenant. The cost of storage is measured by the fair rental value of the space required to store the items. Civil Code 1990 states that a landlord shall not charge more than one person for the same costs for the same property. Since you don't know whose property was left, and since you don't have a contractual relationship with the sublet tenants, you can only work with the prime tenant for storage fees.

There are two ways to handle abandoned property. Civil Code 1965 allows for the property settlement to be initiated by a tenant, who within 18 days after vacating can send a written request describing the property and giving a forwarding address to the landlord. Within five days of receiving this request, a landlord may send the tenant a demand for the storage fees.

In this case, a tenant has 72 hours after receiving the landlord's storage fee demand to pay the charges and pick up the property. If the landlord does not comply with the tenant's request to reclaim the property, the tenant can proceed into legal action for actual damages and, if bad faith is proven, an additional $250. If a tenant vacates and does not initiate return of his or her personal property, Civil Code 1984 requires a landlord to send a Notice of Right to Reclaim Abandoned Property to the tenant's new address or last known address.

The tenant has 18 days to reclaim the property. If the tenant does not claim the property, depending on the value, the property can be thrown away (under $300) or sold or auctioned (over $300). Selling property worth over $300 is complicated and should be avoided if possible. We recommend working diligently with a tenant to avoid the need for a sale.

Storage fees cannot be deducted from a security deposit if the property is thrown away. If the property is sold or auctioned, any proceeds after storage fees have been deducted, need to be deposited with the appropriate county agency -- usually the Department of Revenue. Contact your local housing mediation for more information.

Q I need to change the parking arrangement at the duplex I manage. The current month-to-month tenants disagree with the new configuration and refuse to sign the notice I prepared. Is the parking change still effective even if the tenants don't sign their notice?

A Yes, the parking change is effective as long as you prepared and served the tenants a valid, written 30-Day Change of Terms Notice to change the parking arrangement. It is not necessary for month-to-month tenants to sign or acknowledge any notices served by landlords or their agents. If any of the tenants have leases, the parking arrangement cannot be changed until their leases expire. If you are in a rent-control area, taking away parking could be seen as a reduction in service, which is treated the same as an increase in rent. Contact your local housing mediation for more information.

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 and Mountain View. Call (650) 856-4062 for dispute resolution or (650) 321-6291 for fair housing. Copyright 2004 Project Sentinel. All rights reserved.

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