Living La Vida Local

...continued from DEFENDING THE LANDLORD

JODI SUMMERS: When it comes to landlord tenant rights, what rights does a landlord have?

GORDON GITLEN: Not that many. He has the ability to put a roof over somebody else's head, and he has the ability to enforce his rental agreement. He doesn't have the ability to ask his tenant to leave. He doesn't have the ability to raise the rent to any level he wants. He doesn't have the ability to charge the tenant substantial sums of money unless the rent control board essentially gives permission.

JODI SUMMERS: What responsibilities does the landlord have toward the maintenance of the unit?

GORDON GITLEN: The rent control board in Santa Monica does not have a specified program that says after so many years you will recarpet, after so many years you will repaint. If its normal wear and tear, for instance if the paint is peeling, the landlord is required to provide a habitable dwelling. Peeling paint is not necessarily habitable, if the landlord doesn't fix the problem of peeling paint upon notice of the tenant, the tenant can go the rent control board and get a rent decrease.

A lot of times, the tenant causes damage to the unit. In the instances when the landlord can prove that the tenant has caused the damage, the tenant should pay for it.

JODI SUMMERS: Define damage to an apartment...

GORDON GITLEN: Something beyond normal wear and tear. Modifying the premises. If the tenant wants to redecorate as far as their home furnishings they can do that without any violation of the rent control law, but if they start moving walls, and they start repainting walls, things of that sort, even removing the carpet, that's a modification and alteration that requires prior written consent. It's not the tenant's property; it's the owner's property.

JODI SUMMERS: Can a landlord evict a tenant for abusing a unit?

GORDON GITLEN: If the tenant has put holes in the walls or has redecorated by painting the walls black, the landlord does have recourse because that is destroying the property, it constitutes waste, and it is devaluing the property. The tenant can be evicted for that upon service of appropriate notice.

Think about it, if a tenant has a secured deposit of one month's rent, or two month's rent, that's not going to cover that amount of damage. If you wait for the tenant to vacate, you will not have enough money to fix the apartment. The nature and the definition of the tenant is that they don't own real estate; so number one, you may not find them again to sue them; number two you're going to have to sue them to collect, and if they don't have any assets you're not going to collect the bill. The easier way is to enforce the provisions of the law that allow you to force the tenant to repair the damage or be evicted, at which point they lose their rent-controlled apartment.

JODI SUMMERS: How does a landlord tap into the security deposit to repair a property?

GORDON GITLEN: The landlord gives notice to the tenant of the damage and the amount of the repair. The landlord can then do that repair and deduct that amount from the security deposit. Next they give the tenant a 3-day notice to repay the security deposit.

JODI SUMMERS: When should a landlord go forward with eviction proceedings?

GORDON GITLEN: When the tenant does something that's incorrect. Violation of the law, violation of the renter relationship, the landlord should immediately serve the tenant with a notice to correct the default, and if the default is left uncorrected, he should file proceedings to solve the problem.

JODI SUMMERS: Can mediation solve the problem? And how long does it take?

GORDON GITLEN: Mediation is purely voluntary, so if either party doesn't want to attend the mediation, they certainly do not have to. Eviction proceeding normally takes about a month, a month and a half.

JODI SUMMERS: What happen if the tenant counter files a suit against the landlord?

GORDON GITLEN: There is no cross complaint allowed in an Unlawful Detainer complaint, which is an eviction proceeding. The tenant obviously sets forth a defense, but there is not cross complaint. Either the tenant prevails in his defense or the tenant loses. It takes about a month-and-a-half from the time the landlord serves the notice to the date of trial.

JODI SUMMERS: What are the fees for this?

GORDON GITLEN: Typically we charge a flat fee of $250 to file the summons and the complaint and then we charge an hourly rate of $200 thereafter. The process moves along rather quickly, so the costs of the Unlawful Detainer are generally not that large. In most instances the landlord really has no choice. If the tenant has damaged the property, the tenant is only going to continue to cause further damage to the property because they don't realize that what they're doing is wrong.

JODI SUMMERS: Is there a way for a landlord to recoup their attorney fees?

GORDON GITLEN: In some written rental agreements there is a clause where the prevailing party can also get an award of attorney's fees, so in the judgment there may be the attorney's fees and court costs. The problem is still collecting from the tenant. There may be a problem that the tenant has no assets. So the landlord immediately upon a defaulted tenant, should take action. Because by the time he does, there's only going to be more due, which will only lead to a higher judgment that is uncollected.

Gordon Gitlen's law offices are located at the Gitlen Law Building 2917 Santa Monica Blvd. Tel: 310.883.3333.

If you would like to more information of interest to property owners, please email Jodi Summers at [email protected], or call at 310-260-8269. We like real estate.