Q&A: Answers to legal questions about property management


By Ted Kimball, Esq. 

Question: A tenant wants to use the last month’s rent, which was paid at the time of the lease signing, for this month’s unpaid rent. If he is not moving out, can he do so?

Answer: Not unless your rental agreement provides that the tenant can use the last month’s rent deposit at any time, which it should not do.

Ted Kimball Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP

Ted Kimball
Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP

Question: Can we use a recent Section 8 inspection report as a standard of habitability in an eviction case?

Answer: The court will allow any relevant evidence that tends to prove the condition of the premises during the time in question. Since the purpose of the inspection is to qualify the unit as habitable and in compliance with HUD regulations, the report may be considered as evidence of the condition of the premises at the time of the inspection, but the custodian of records may have to testify as to the accuracy of the report.

Question: One of our tenants recently requested that we paint the inside of her apartment. She has threatened to do it herself and deduct the cost of the paint from the rent if we do not  have it painted within the next two weeks. Is she legally able to carry out her threat?

Answer: Unless the condition of the walls rendered the premises uninhabitable, the owner is under no obligation to paint the unit at the request of the tenant.

Question: Several of our tenants have complained to us about the neighboring property. The people who live there work on their cars in the driveway at all hours, and have loud and wild parties almost each weekend until dawn. What are my legal responsibilities?

Answer: You have a right to inform the owner of the neighboring property and request their assistance in resolving the problem. Recommend that your residents contact the police during the time of the disturbances.

Question: What is the most useful information on the tenant’s application for collection purposes?

Answer: The most useful for locating former residents are the Social Security, driver’s license and license plate numbers. For collection on judgments, current employment and bank account records are the most valuable.

Question: I rent out a condo that I own. Are the rules and regulation of the homeowner’s association automatically applicable to my tenant?

Answer: Not automatically; your residential lease should incorporate by reference the CC&Rs of the homeowner’s association and all rules and regulations. That way if there is a breach of the association rules, you can serve an appropriate notice to perform or terminate the lease.

Question: What is an estoppel certificate? The owner of the property I manage requested that each of the tenants sign an estoppel certificate. I did not want to appear unknowledgeable.

Answer: An estoppel certificate is a document signed by the tenant certifying that the major terms of the lease are true and correct. Estoppel certificates are sometimes required during the sale of rental property so the buyer knows that the tenant understands and agrees to the major terms of the lease.

Question: Can we legally restrict the number of automobiles our tenants can park on the property? There is open parking but some of our tenants have four or five cars.

Answer: You have the right to control the number of automobiles that the tenant may park on the property.  Clear guidelines should be given in writing and equally enforced.

Question: After serving a tenant with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit, what is my next step if the tenant does not comply? Serving a 30-day notice?

Answer: Your next step would be to file the unlawful detainer (tenant eviction) in the proper court. Each court has geographical boundaries, so you should make sure you are filing the action in the court of proper venue.

Question: We allow pets on our property but only in certain units. Sometimes there are no pet units available. Is this policy legal?

Answer: It is in the landlord’s discretion to allow or not allow pets or to allow them only in certain units.  Just make sure your policy does not apply to service animals, which are not considered pets.

Question: Our lease says that upon termination of the lease, the arrangement automatically becomes month-to-month. Any problems?

Answer: If the tenant remains in possession after the expiration of a fixed term lease, and the landlord accepts a monthly rental payment, California law presumes the lease term to be month-to-month under the same terms of the lease. If the lease is properly drafted, it can require the lease automatically revert to a month-to-month agreement.

Question: A tenant’s child broke a glass shower door. Can I charge the tenant for the repair of the door?

Answer: The tenant is liable for any damage done by its invitees, guests or other occupants of the premises. The tenant should have to pay for the repair of the door.

Question: After a tenant moves out and gives their change of address to the post office, how long are the landlords responsible for any correspondence that may still arrive at their former address?

Answer: You should let the post office do their job and if the forwarding address has expired, give it back to the post office and indicate that the person no longer resides at the mailing address. We do not recommend you help accommodate your former tenant by playing “post office.”

Question: I need to know the depreciation schedule of new carpeting in a home where the tenant lived for one year. The tenant put five cigarette burn holes in the carpet and spilled wax on the corner of this brand new carpet.

Answer: California’s security deposit law found in Civil Code Section 1950.5 states that the resident is responsible for damage above normal wear and tear. If the carpet needs to be replaced after one year and it should have lasted for five years, most judges will allow you to charge the resident four-fifths of the total replacement costs.

Ted Kimball is the founder of Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP, opening its doors in 1977. He continues to participate actively in the firm’s dynamic growth while remaining an expert in landlord/tenant legal issues in California.


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