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Message # 906 Right and duties of landlords

mp3 #906 Rights and Duties of Landlords (mp3 file)

If you rent a house or apartment to another person, you enter into a legal contract known as the landlord and tenant relationship. This agreement has certain basic conditions specified by the law, which you should understand before you enter into the agreement. As a landlord you have certain rights; you also have certain duties.

Your obvious right as a landlord is to receive rent for the use of the property. Another important right is to have your property returned to you undamaged at the end of the agreement. It should be returned in the same condition in which it was received, except for ordinary wear and tear. In return for these rights, it is your duty to provide a home that is safe and sanitary, and to make safety and structural repairs when necessary.

It is also your duty to respect your tenant's rights. One of the most important of these is the right of peaceful possession. By renting a home to your tenant, you are giving your tenant the possession and use of your home free from interference. That means that you may not enter frequently, at odd hours, or without notice. Rights relating to reasonable inspection are often set forth in a written rental agreement. You normally have a right to protect your property through reasonable inspection, but you must give reasonable notice. You must give the tenant reasonable notice if you wish to show the property to prospective buyers. If the house or apartment is rented on a month to month basis, you must give thirty days notice in writing to change the terms of the rental agreement or the amount of the rent you charge. In fact, all notices to amend or to end a rental agreement of a month or less must be given in advance for the same number of days as the rental period. For example, a month to month rental period requires 30 days notice. A week to week rental period requires 7 days notice. If the rental agreement is longer than a month-to-month -- for example, a one year lease -- then the notice must be 30 days. Such notices must be in writing, and should be delivered personally to your tenant.

Finally, both the landlord and the tenant have the duty to observe state and local laws concerning the use and condition of the property.

The basic rights and duties which have been mentioned apply whether or not the agreement between you and the tenant is in writing. A written agreement is best because it serves as a memorandum of other terms and conditions you may wish to include, such as restrictions on the number of adults or children, or types of pets, to be allowed. And if you wish to provide for terms of a year or more, or for the payment of attorney's fees to enforce the agreement, it must be· in writing to be enforceable.

If the tenant permanently moves out before the end of the rental term, and leaves your property vacant, this may be considered as an abandonment of the property after complying with the legal notice requirements of Civil Code Section 1951.3. After 15 days where there is abandonment and after complying with the notice requirements, the landlord may then re-enter the premises. You may attempt to collect the unpaid rent for the rest of the agreed upon term, provided you first make a reasonable effort to re-rent the house or apartment. The rights and remedies often are complex, and legal advice or assistance should be considered.

The situation is more complicated if the tenant seems to have gone away, but has left some of his or her personal property on the premises or there is a considerable amount of unpaid rent. In such a case, you should consult an attorney before trying to dispose of the tenant's possessions or re-rent the property. It is illegal to treat the tenant's possessions as your own, and they must be stored in a safe location under terms provided by law.

Another complicated problem is the situation in which a tenant fails to pay the rent or refuses to move out at the end of the rental term. Under these circumstances you have the right to evict the tenant--but only after you have taken the proper legal steps according to a very specific timetable. You must serve proper notice or notices on the tenant, usually a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit. If the tenant ignores these notices, you are next required to file a complaint and have the tenant properly served with summons and complaint. Five days after the complaint is served, you may request the court to set a date for hearing. At the hearing, you can ask that the tenant be evicted. If the judge agrees that the tenant has violated the terms of the agreement, a marshal will serve an eviction notice on the tenant. The tenant now has five days to get out of your property. Only after these five days are up can you legally lock the tenant out or lock his or her belongings in. Otherwise a landlord may never engage in self-help remedies such as padlocking doors, cutting off utilities or removing doors or windows in an attempt to force tenants to vacate. Because these procedures are so technical, it is if wise to have them handled by an attorney or by an eviction service. Even if you decide to file the claim yourself in small claims court, you should have an attorney review the notices you have given and the ways you have served them, to make sure you have properly observed all of the necessary requirements of the timetable. A single mistake can result in serious delay in your regaining possession of your property.

Because the landlord/tenant relationship is a legal contract, you should understand its various provisions before you rent your property to anyone. Remember that as a landlord you will be required to provide living quarters that are safe and sanitary, and keep them in good repair. You will have to turn over possession of the property to the tenant, free from unnecessary interference from you. In return, you may collect rent, and on reasonable notice you may inspect the property. At the end of the rental term, the property must be returned to you with no damage beyond ordinary wear and tear. The cost of dealing with normal wear and tear to carpets, floors, drapes and paint is usually borne by the landlord as a cost of doing business. The landlord has certain duties to account for or refund tenant deposits within two weeks after the tenant has vacated the property, as more fully explained in the tape entitled "Rights And Duties Of Tenants". All deposits in California are now deemed refundable unless the landlord produces an accounting showing expenses for which deposit moneys were spent. Many of these basic conditions apply whether or not there is a written agreement. A number of statutes impose additional obligations on-landlords.

Finally, landlords must always remember that as a general rule tenants have exactly the same rights as any citizen when it comes to contacting appropriate government agencies, associating with friends and neighbors, or exercising rights of free speech as guaranteed by the constitution. State laws also protect tenants from attempts by landlords to evict or otherwise punish tenants for exercise of these rights of citizenship.

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