The Berkeley Rent Board Mailbag
Q: My tenant just gave me a 30-day notice terminating her tenancy. I understand that the state law says I have to do a walk through inspection with her before she moves out. Can you tell me more?
CA Civil Code section 1950.5 states that you have to notify the tenant of her right to a walk through inspection, and if she desires one, the two of you need to try to set a convenient date and time that is not less than two weeks before the end of the tenancy. The purpose of this law is to allow landlords to identify the problems that they may hold tenants liable for prior to the tenants' moving out, so that tenants have enough time to fix the problems and avoid unexpected deductions from their security deposits.
Q: I recently had to move out of town rather quickly for a job transfer, so I wasn't able to give my landlord the 30 days' notice required under my month-to-month rental agreement. Instead, on June 1, I notified him that I would be out of the apartment on June 10, and asked him to apply part of my security deposit to the 10 days of June rent. My landlord withheld a month's rent from my security deposit, even though he rented it again two days after I moved out. Is he allowed to do that? How can I get my money back?
California law entitles the landlord to withhold from your security deposit no more than the amount necessary to compensate him for his losses. He was entitled to withhold a month's rent only if he was unable to rent your apartment within a month of your notice. Since he re-rented your unit on June 13, he can charge you rent just for the first 12 days in June. You should write the landlord a letter requesting the return of 18 days of rent, and give him a deadline to respond, say, two weeks. If he does not refund the money, you can seek recourse by filing a petition with the Rent Board for an unrefunded security deposit or by filing in small claims court.
Q: My tenant moved out and left a bunch of things in the apartment and in the yard. Some of it is obviously garbage, but he also left behind things of some value, like furniture and electronic equipment. Can I assume he doesn't want it and throw it out? Can I charge him for storage costs by deducting it from his security deposit?
Your responsibility under California law is to act reasonably to ascertain whether or not the tenant would like his possessions back or whether the property has been abandoned. In any case, you should safely store the property where it cannot be damaged or stolen because you could be liable for losses caused by your negligence. You must give the former tenant an opportunity to reclaim his possessions by written notice to him that sets a deadline (at least 15 days after the notice is personally delivered, or 18 days if mailed) after which he can no longer claim the property. You may demand storage costs incurred as a condition of returning the property, if you include your intent to charge these costs in the notice. (You could instead deduct the charges from his security deposit, but an accounting of deductions and return of any remaining deposit must, under state law, be made within three weeks after the tenant vacates.)
Q: I am a landlord and prefer not to rent to families with small children. It's not that I don't like children; it's just that I feel the complex I own is not an appropriate environment for toddlers. The stairs and yard are concrete, and a kid could easily get hurt by slipping through the railings or the steps, and I'd be liable. Also, the walls are rather thin, and if I lose tenants because they are disturbed by crying children in the middle of the night, I lose money. Am I within my rights to tell people I won't rent to families with small children?
No. You cannot discriminate against families with children in deciding whom to rent to. While other environments may better suit young children, as long as your property meets code requirements, it is presumed safe for all residents. If you have concerns about particular areas, such as the railing or steps, you may wish to take extra precautions to increase their safety.
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