Legal Corner

Marijuana, Utilities


Q: My apartment building has always been a nice and quiet community, no bother, no worries. Everyone keeps to themselves; never have complaints about behavior. Well, that all changed when my manager let down her guard and didn’t fully screen my newest residents!

Ever since these two characters moved in, flashing me their “doctor’s note” saying they could smoke pot, they’ve been puffing away ever since. Apparently they claim to be “disabled” and that because they are “disabled” they get to do whatever they want. Huge clouds of smoke literally billow out of their apartment! I’m concerned about lots of things, but mostly, the little girl who lives next door, I believe that she’s asthmatic. How much more of this must I, and the neighbors, take?

The audacity of some medical “professionals” to abuse and game the system by willfully pro scribing the use of “medical marijuana” to non-disabled fraudsters is an affront to all truly disabled persons.

As of this writing, the use of marijuana, medical or otherwise, is still illegal under federal law; however, the federal government has elected to stay any enforcement and prosecution for the use and/or possession of “medical marijuana.”

California legalized the recreational use of marijuana, which allows for the possession of a limited amount of marijuana, for personal use, provided certain requirements are met. Marijuana smoking is restricted by location. It may not be smoked wherever smoking is prohibited by law, within 1,000 feet of a school, recreation center, or youth center, on a school bus, or in a moving vehicle or boat. The right to “smoke” marijuana in your apartment community is not automatic, and will depend upon the individual facts of each case. The use of nonmedical marijuana is technically illegal under federal law and, as such, cannot be used or smoked anywhere, including your community, and may be grounds for termination of their tenancy.

The use of medical marijuana requires that the user be disabled, and the disability must be “verifiable.” Additionally, the disabled individual must request a “reasonable accommodation” from you, the housing provider, prior to just lighting up. Once the disabled person makes the request for a reasonable accommodation, you are obligated to consider the request, and attempt in good faith to accommodate the request in a reasonable manner. The accommodation does not necessarily require you to “grant” the request outright, but you must make a good faith effort to provide an accommodation that addresses the disability, but does so in such a manner that it does not unreasonably “burden” you, the housing provider. The courts will apply a “benefit to the requestor” versus a “burden to the housing provider” standard in determining whether or not you met your obligation to reasonably accommodate the disability.

In your specific situation, the initial hurdle for your new residents to surpass is to establish that one or both truly has a “verifiable” disability. A “doctor’s note,” provided it has not been forged, although highly suspect, will generally satisfy the extremely low threshold here in California. The reasonable accommodation, their request to smoke willy-nilly within the apartment, must be balanced with the “burden” to you, the housing provider, and those other residents that might be affected, i.e., the asthmatic child living next door. It is conceivable and probably likely that an asthmatic child, when exposed to the smoke billowing from next door, might have a devastating and fatal reaction. Certainly the neighbor child, with a truly verifiable disability of asthma, is entitled to be free of the exhaled smoke as a “reasonable accommodation” for her verifiable disability.

When balancing the benefit to “Cheech and Chong” of being able to light up in their apartment, with the burden to you as well as the extreme life threatening burden to the asth matic child, courts would most likely find that a reasonable accommodation would be to prohibit the smoking of the marijuana within the apartment unit or in any place that might affect the asthmatic child or others with such a sensitivity to smoke; but to provide an area within the community, possibly a portion of the outdoor common area, that may be used for the smoking of their medical marijuana. Alternatively, there are other methods of delivering the active ingredient in marijuana, i.e., ingestion, pills or tablets, food based, etc.

Remember, reasonable accommodation issues are extremely fact-sensitive and the analysis is dependent on a proper review of the relevant facts. Always contact an experienced attorney when faced with a request for a reasonable accommo dation, as the issues are typically complex and a reasoned response must be made in a timely manner.

Q: My new tenants just moved in a month and a half ago. The lease requires that the tenant pays for all utilities, and must put the utilities in their own name prior to moving in. Well, I just received the electric bill and it’s still in my name. I’m thinking about not paying it, just letting it get shut off. Maybe when the lights go out, they’ll take care of it. Can I do that?

No, you cannot let the utilities be shut off. Your tenant’s actions are a breach of the rental agreement and must be addressed in compliance with California law. You should immediately prepare and serve a Notice to Perform or Quit - Breach of Covenant notice. The notice should identify the specific breaches, the failure to place the electric utility in their own name, and their failure to pay the utility charges incurred since taking possession. The notice should be specific as to how they must cure the breach, namely, they must put the utilities in their name, and reimburse you for the amount of utility changes that have been billed and incurred post tenancy.

Note that some jurisdictions may require that you include a statement identifying a witness who observed the breach, as well as the date and time of the breach. In such jurisdiction, you or your manager would suffice as the witness, and the breach would be considered “ongoing” as it continues to occur. In the event of non-compliance, you would be entitled to file an unlawful detainer action to recover possession of the premises. Rarely though is that necessary, as the vast majority of residents will immediately comply.

This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm has successfully handled over 255,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California, and has collected over $155,000,000.00 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714-279-1100 or 800-829-6994. Please visit for more information.

Rent Deductions, Disagreements, A Leak


Q: It’s always something with one particular tenant of mine. When he first moved in three months ago, he deducted about $100 from the rent because he said he had to fix a few things in the unit. I didn’t say anything at the time, I needed the unit rented, and I didn’t want to upset my new tenant. Since then, he has been able to find something wrong each and every month, deducting a little bit each month. I told him I didn’t think that was right, but he did it again this month. He says he is entitled to it, that California law says he can “repair and deduct” for anything wrong in his apartment. Is this true?

No. California law, specifically California Civil Code Section 1941.2, provides that a residential tenant may make repairs and deduct the cost from the rent only under certain circumstances. These certain circumstances require the tenant to give the landlord notice of the dilapidation before using the repair and deduct remedy. After giving notice, the landlord has a “reasonable time” to make the repairs, before the resident can unilaterally “repair and deduct.” Only defects that render the premises uninhabitable will qualify for this remedy. Tenants may only invoke this remedy twice in any 12-month period, and each time the remedy is utilized, the tenant cannot exceed one month’s rent. In your situation, it appears that the tenant is abusing a privilege only available to tenants with serious dilapidations in their apartments. Without providing notice to you of the defect, and an opportunity for you to correct any serious defect, the tenant is not entitled to deduct anything from his rent. Provided you haven’t condoned his conduct or waived your rights to accept the full amount of rent, you may demand that the tenant pay all amounts previously deducted and become current.

Q: My tenants and I seem to be able to work out our differences quite easily, but there are times when we disagree as to just who is responsible for making certain repairs to the apartment. Can you give me some guidelines that will help me decide if the repairs are my responsibility or the responsibility of the tenant?

Residential rental units must be “habitable.” In legal terms, “habitable” means the rental unit is fit for persons to live in and that it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that materially affect a tenant’s health and safety. The law makes both landlords and tenants responsible for certain repairs, but you are ultimately responsible to ensure the unit is habitable. You are not responsible under the “implied warranty of habitability” for repairing damage caused by the tenant, his guests or his pets. You are responsible to take care of the habitability items, but your rental agreement can determine who takes care of the minor repairs. California law lists several items that are required to maintain a habitable unit. These are: effective water proofing and weather protection, including unbroken windows and doors; plumbing in good working order, including hot and cold running water connected to a sewage disposal system; gas facilities, heating, and electrical in good working order; clean and sanitary buildings and grounds; adequate trash receptacles; and floors, stairways and railings in good repair.

Additionally, each rental unit must have a working toilet, washbasin and a bathtub or shower; operable dead bolts on the main entry doors, window locks and smoke detectors. A landlord is also responsible for the installation and maintenance of the inside wiring for one telephone jack.

Tenants must take reasonable care of the rental unit and the common areas. Tenants are responsible for repair of all damage resulting from their neglect, abuse or acts by their family, guests or pets. Tenants must do all of the following: keep the premises “clean and sanitary;” use and operate gas, electrical and plumbing fixtures properly; dispose of trash and garbage properly; not destroy, damage or deface the property; not remove any part of the structure, dwelling, facilities or equipment; use the premises as a place to live and use the rooms for their intended purpose; and notify the landlord when dead bolts and window locks don’t operate properly.

Q: I have a problem in one of my rental properties. The property has parking below the complex for the residents. Apparently, due to the rains, a leak occurred in the ceiling of the garage. The water collected in one of the ducts, becoming quite dirty and rusty. This water then leaked down onto a resident’s car. As it turns out, the car’s rear passenger window was cracked open and the water leaked onto several of the tenant’s personal belongings. Needless to say, the tenant threw a tantrum in the management office the next day. I apologized profusely and offered to have her car washed and detailed. She accepted. However, the next month, this tenant’s rent was $175 short. Along with the rent, the tenant included a letter stating that she had deducted the cost of the damage to her personal belongings. Can the tenant do this?

No. A leak onto the automobile of a tenant has nothing to do with the tenant’s obligation to pay rent. As such, the tenant may not deduct these items from her rent. You would be within your rights to serve the tenant with a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit for the $175 difference. As far as the damage to her personal property, the landlord is generally not liable for the tenant’s personal property unless the landlord was somehow negligent.

Q: I am an owner of several complexes. All of the on-site managers have different “theories” on what to do with a tenant’s personal property when the tenant vacates. I know that there is a duty to safeguard the personal property, but could you please tell me the procedure and duration of my duty to store a former tenant’s personal property?

Well, the answer depends on under what circumstances the tenant vacated. If the tenant vacated voluntarily, you must mail a Notice of Abandonment of Personal Property to the tenant’s last known address and allow the tenant eighteen (18) days to claim the property. If, however, the tenant vacated following the enforcement of a writ of possession, you must allow your tenant fifteen (15) days to claim the property. The property must be kept in a reasonably safe place but does not have to be stored in the leased premises. If the property left behind is less than $700 you may dispose of it after the above required time periods.

However, if the abandoned property is worth more than $700 in fair market value, you must sell the property through a public sale. This requires you to publish the date and time of the sale in a newspaper of general circulation once a week for two consec utive weeks, with the sale the following week. If the tenant returns to claim the property, you must return it, but you can charge reasonable storage fees. Be aware that you may not hold the property as ransom for the rent owed, even if you have a judgment.

This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm has successfully handled over 255,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California, and has collected over $155,000,000.00 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714-279-1100 or 800-829-6994. Please visit for more information.

Pools, ADA and Attorney Fee Provisions


Q: I just put my single-family house on the rental market and have agreed to rent it to a nice family of four: mom, dad and two kids, ages two and five. The parents seem responsible enough and I’m sure they’ll make great tenants, but I am concerned because the house has a pool. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from liability should one of the children fall in and drown?

The short answer is yes. There are several measures you can, and should, take to protect yourself. First and foremost, ensure that the pool and the gate/enclosure conform to all state and local codes and ordinances. The gate should be self-latching and should be checked to ensure that it closes properly.

Review your insurance policy with your broker to ensure that your coverage is adequate; consider an umbrella policy as well. Your broker can counsel you on coverage limits; consider $3,000,000 as a minimum. Finally, you should include as part of your rental documents an addendum to the lease in which the tenant acknowledges the dangers of the pool, agrees to ensure that all gates are kept closed, and agrees to periodically verify that the self-latching gate functions properly. Consider requiring that your tenants procure renters liability insurance as well. These requirements should be a part of your rental policies for a property with a pool, regardless of whether or not your tenants have children.

Q: A couple of weeks ago, one of my more senior residents fell and broke her hip. Her health has been deteriorating over the past several months, and this has really affected her mobility. She is now in a wheelchair most of the time. She’s lived in our community for many years and I’d hate to see her move; everyone loves her. Her son asked if I would take out the carpet and install vinyl flooring throughout the unit so that her wheelchair could get around easier. He also requested that I install grab bars in the shower and in the bathroom. He kind of implied that I must do it at my expense because of the ADA requirements, whatever they are. Now this resident is very sweet, but my husband and I are barely making it as it is. Do I have to pay to install vinyl flooring and grab bars in the apartment?

No, you do not have to bear the cost; however, you must allow a disabled tenant to make reasonable modifications to the rental unit to the extent necessary to allow the tenant full enjoyment of the apartment. The resident must pay for the modifications, and the modifications must be done in a workmanlike manner. You can require the tenant to sign an agreement obligating the resident to restore the premises to their original condition upon termination of the tenancy. Although you cannot require an additional security deposit in this situation, you can require that the tenant deposit sufficient money into an escrow account, to be held for the benefit of the landlord, to assure that the premises are returned to their original condition. The money that is deposited into escrow is not a security deposit and is not limited by the two-month limitation.

Q: My rental agreement has a provision requiring that “the prevailing party shall recover reasonable attorney fees and costs in the event litigation is commenced.” It goes on to state, however, that attorney’s fees are capped at only $500. I’m thinking of crossing out this last part, I don’t want to limit my recovery if I ever have to sue the tenant. What do you think?

Keep the provision as is. Do not strike it. Attorney fees provisions are important provisions and should be included in all rental agreements. The vast majority of litigation involves the filing of an unlawful detainer by the landlord against the tenant. Landlords prevail in 99.9 percent of all cases and should be compensated for their attorney fees expended. Attorney fees for evictions generally do not exceed $500, even in most contested matters. Remember, court costs are not attorney fees, are not capped, and get added to the judgment.

Most courts in Southern California calculate attorney fees in accordance with a court schedule, rather than actual fees incurred. Typically, courts allow $350 to $450 as recovery for attorney fees, even in a typical contested eviction.

The purpose of the cap is to dissuade tenant attorneys with too much time on their hands from demanding jury trials, and from filing frivolous lawsuits against landlords. If the potential for recovery is limited, the incentive to bring an action against you, the landlord, is greatly diminished.

Also note that when judgment is entered in your favor, and the judgment includes an award of attorney fees, then all post-judgment attorney fees are recoverable and can be added to the judgment during the entire period of time you are attempting to collect. Not only does your judgment accrue interest at the rate of 10 percent per year, but all those collection fees can be recovered as well.

Q: I’ve always heard that I should post my rental criteria in a conspicuous place so that applicants can plainly see whether or not they are qualified before they submit their application. I typically require that the applicants combined income exceed three times the rent; however, I might make exceptions. Also, in years past, a foreclosure on an applicant’s credit report was an automatic disqualifier, but after attending your tenant screening class, I have reconsidered. With so many exceptions to my rental criteria, my sign would be huge! How do I handle this?

Yes, it’s a good practice to post your rental criteria in a conspicuous place. The details and specifics of your rental criteria, however, do not need to be included as these details and specifics are not necessarily static; that is, they may change or evolve over time depending on your situation.

For example, your three times income require ment may work fine if you have a single vacancy and a dozen applicants. However, it may be a bit too restrictive in a different economy or in the event you have three vacancies, your phone hasn’t rung in days, and you’ve only received a single appli cation in the past two weeks.

Every owner should establish the following as their general rental criteria. A qualified applicant should:
i) have a verifiable and positive credit history; ii) have a verifiable and positive past tenancy history;
iii) have sufficient and verifiable income to meet his or her present and future financial obligations; and
iv) should not pose a risk of harm to the rental property or to others. These general rental criteria can and should be applied equally and fairly to all applicants, and in compliance with all fair housing rules. Once applied, the best applicant should accepted, not necessarily the first to apply.

This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm has successfully handled over 255,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California, and has collected over $155,000,000.00 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714-279-1100 or 800-829-6994. Please visit for more information.

3 Day, 30 - 60 Day Notices, Grace Period and more


Q: I have been a property manager for many years. As a matter of practice, when I serve Three-Day Notices to Pay Rent or Quit, I always attach a letter outlining the rent owed along with the late charges for a total amount due and owing. Most tenants understand that since their rent is late they have incurred late charges. Yet recently, I had a judge rule for the defendants stating that my notice was inaccurate because of the confusion created by the two different amounts requested between the Three-Day Notice and the attached letter. Was the judge right and what do I do in the future?

Assuming your Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit was valid, the attached letter requesting a different amount than that requested on the Three-Day Notice creates an ambiguity that will be decided in favor of the Defendant. For example, if your Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit demanded rent of $1,200 for the month of April and then your attached letter states that the tenant owes $1,200 plus a $50 late fee for a total due and owing of $1,250, what amount must the tenant tender to cure the default? Thus, the ambiguity will render the notice defective. In the future, you should instead, prepare both a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, for the rent, plus prepare and serve a Three-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit for the late charges. By demanding the rent on one notice along with a demand for late charges on the other, the tenant is obligated to comply with both.

Q: When I serve 30-Day or 60-Day Notices to Vacate, I normally wait until the tenant pays their rent for the month before serving them to ensure that the owners will not be out that month’s rent. Well, I recently was told that after serving a 30-Day Notice that I could serve a Three-Day Notice for Rent if the tenants do not pay. Is this true?

Yes. Despite the existence of the Termination Notice, a tenant is still responsible for the rent during the notice period. Thus, if you serve a 30-Day Termination Notice to Vacate on July 1, the tenant is still responsible for the rent through July 31. If the tenant does not tender their rent for the month of July, you may serve a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit requesting rent for July. However, be careful when you are calculating the dates that rent is due. If you served a 30-Day Notice on June 20 to expire July 20, then the tenant does not owe rent for the whole month of July but rather a prorated portion for 20 days of July’s rent. If the tenant were to pay July’s rent in full and you accept, your 30- Day Notice would be waived.

Q: I aggressively manage my properties. I find that by requiring all the tenants to pay rent on the first of the month and not giving them a grace period, I have far fewer evictions and vacancies. Thus, if a tenant does not pay their rent by the first of each month, I serve them a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit on the second of the month. Most of the tenants are responsive and those that are not are evicted quickly with minimal loss in rents. However, last month, after serving a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit and the tenant failed to comply, I contacted an attorney to initiate the eviction process. He informed me that I was premature in serving the notice as the first of the month fell on a weekend and the tenant had through Monday to pay me the rent. Is he right?

Yes. A Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit is only effective if it is served after the rent demanded becomes due. However, if the rental due date should fall on a weekend or holiday, the tenant has through the next business day to tender the rent in compliance with the rental agreement. For example, if the rent is due on the first of the month, it is normally deemed late on the second of the month if not received. However, if the first should fall on a weekend or holiday, the tenant has through the next business day to tender the rent, or Monday for purposes of our example. Your Three-Day Notice would be premature if the first fell on a weekend and you served the notice on Monday. Yet had you waited until Tuesday to serve the notice, your notice would be valid.

Q: I guess I am becoming hard in my old age because I am finding that it does not pay to work with tenants when it comes to paying rent. I used to accept money from tenants even after I served them with a notice for non-payment of rent. I thought that it was helping me because I would not be out so much money every month. As it turns out, it was a lot more work and very little difference in income. So now I do not accept any money after the expiration of a notice. Am I okay by not accepting rent?

Yes. After expiration of the notice period, there is no obligation by the landlord to accept any sums, either a partial payment or payment plus additional charges. If the landlord chooses to accept partial funds, they must serve a new notice for any unpaid balance in order to proceed forward and file an unlawful detainer. Of course, if the landlord accepts payment in full at any point, then the notice and remedies of forfeiture thereunder are waived.

Q: When serving notices, our policy is to “postandmail” whenever possible to avoid confrontation. Now, my attorney is telling me that the law requires that I try personal service first before posting and mailing. Is she correct?

Yes. Under California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 1162, a Three-Day Notice may be served by the following methods: (1) A copy of the notice may be delivered to the tenant personally; (2) If the tenant is absent from his or her place of residence and usual place of business, a copy may be left with a person of suitable age and discretion at either place, and a copy mailed to the tenant at his or her place of residence; or (3) If the places of residence and business cannot be ascertained, or a person of suitable age or discretion cannot be found, a copy of the notice may be affixed in a conspicuous place on the property, a copy delivered to a resident (if one can be found), and a copy mailed to the tenant at the location of the property.

Note that method (2) may be used only if method (1) was tried but failed to reach the tenant. Method (3) may be used only if methods (1) and (2) were tried but failed. Thus, “post-and-mail” should not be your standard policy for service of a Three-Day Notice when personal and substitute and mail service were not attempted.

This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm has successfully handled over 255,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California, and has collected over $155,000,000.00 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714-279-1100 or 800-829-6994. Please visit for more information.

Collection Rates, Deadbeat, Escrow, Renewal


Q: Is there anything I can do to increase my collection rate after I've evicted someone? Seems like after the Sheriff gives them the boot, these characters just disappear into the wind never to be heard from again. I know you see this every day, so/ thought you might be able to share some thoughts that will help me get my money back from these deadbeats?

A: Of course. Start thinking collection before you even create the tenancy. It seems counter intuitive, sure, but your tenant screening process lays the groundwork for firms like ours to go after and collect the monies due you after the tenant vacates. A complete and verified application is the best start. Those crazy questions asking for references and emergency contact information is where a good collector will start to find that former tenant. A legible copy of a valid government issued iden­tification is important as well. Make a photocopy of the first rent check you receive from your brand new tenant, then each month compare the bank information to see if it changes. Copy any new check the tenant tenders and put it in your file.

You should ask your tenants for emergency contact information, i.e., cell phone, email, work phone, etc., on a regular basis, at least once every year. Phone numbers, cell and work change throughout the course of the tenancy, the best information is the most current. Generally, tenants fully cooperate at the inception of the tenancy and during the term prior to any dispute, Rarely do tenants refuse to provide such contact information as most rec­ognize that it is needed in the event it's necessary to contact the tenant during the tenancy in case of emergency. In the event of an eviction, make sure your attorney proceeds to get the money judgment for rent, costs and attorney fees. If the tenant skips, small claims court is generally the place to go to reduce the amount due to a judgment. A judgment, coupled with the information stated above, in the hands of an aggressive collection attorney will dramatically increase the likelihood of securing a full recovery.

Q: Just opened up the mail and what do you suppose was in it? A notice from my bank informing me that one of my tenant's rent checks was returned unpaid because he placed a stop payment on it. Imagine that, it's now mid­-month, no warning, no phone call, the deadbeat didn't even have the courtesy of letting me know he was going to stop payment on his check. It kind of makes sense though as a couple of weeks ago he asked if I'd let him out of his lease early; guess his girlfriend has a nicer place and he wanted to move in with her. I called his phone number and got a recording saying that it had been disconnected. His cell phone works, got his voice mail, and left a message. I'm guessing that when I swing by later today, it'll be empty. What do I do now? I don't want to make any mistakes. Can I just change the locks if he's out?

A: You have a couple of issues that you need to resolve. First the issue of return of possession of the premises; and then, of course, getting you paid. If the tenant appears to have vacated when you visit the unit later today, then you must follow certain procedural rules before you simply change the locks. Ideally, you will be able to contact the tenant on his cell or at work. If you make contact, ask that the tenant confirm that he is out by faxing or emailing you written confirmation. If you are able to confirm that he has moved out, you will not have to follow the abandoned real property notice require­ments and will be able to retake possession immediately.

If when you visit the unit, and find that it is vacant, and if the rent is due and unpaid for 14 days, and the tenant has not voluntarily surrendered posses­sion, then you must serve a written Notice of Belief of Aban­donment of Real Property. The notice can be posted on the premises and mailed by regular mail to the tenant's last known address, your property. You must wait 18 days before you retake possession. If the tenant does not reply, in writing, by informing you of his address for service of an unlawful detainer within 18 days, then you may retake possession and change the locks. Once you regain possession, prepare the security deposit disposition form. If he skipped mid-lease, he will owe the balance of the term, or until you mitigate your damages by reletting the unit, whichever occurs first. Hang on to the tenant's check that was returned by the bank. Stop payment orders are only effective for six months, unless renewed by the maker, which rarely happens. That means, in six months and a day, you can redeposit the check, and if there are sufficient funds, the check will clear.

Q: I just closed escrow on a small building and I'm trying to figure out who's who. I received the rental agreements, but the tenant information seems incomplete. The applications, the few that I've found so far, are old and outdated. I can't seem to find any telephone numbers for the residents, and I'm not real sure that the names on the agreements are the same people who actually live in the units. I've read your articles before and I know the importance of reviewing the files and doing thorough due diligence before closing escrow, but this deal just happened too fast. Now that I've closed escrow, what can I do to clean up the records?

A: First things first, figure out what you know and what you don't. Establish individual tenancy files, one per unit. Based on the limited information you have, write down the names and ages of the occupants, the terms of the rental agreement, written or oral, lease or month-to-month, rental rate, deposit on file, and date paid through. Compile whatever contact information you have: home phone number, and work and cell numbers. Design a "tenant emergency information sheet" that includes spaces for the following: names of all occupants, home and cell phone numbers for each occupant, work phone numbers, email addresses and detailed vehicle information.

Visit the building about dinner time as most resi­dents will be home, and go door to door and meet briefly with the occupants of each apartment. Spend a few minutes confirming the information in your files and gather any missing information. Ask the residents to complete the "tenant emergency information sheet," for use in case of an emergency, while you are there. You will find that the vast majority of your residents will cooperate fully and provide the requested information. Residents are generally eager to please, and since the relationship is still new, there should be no animosity or distrust.

This is also a good opportunity to find out the condition of each unit; simply ask the residents if there are any issues that need addressing. Better to find out now and have an opportunity to address the needed issues than to allow conditions to worsen, as well as your relationship with the residents. This is also an opportune time to prepare new month-to ­month rental agreements for signatures. You don't know the players yet, so you certainly don't want to do fixed term leases. The few residents who are less than cooperative will be quickly identified as your "problem residents" and can be handled individually. Names and contact information of the uncooperative ones can generally be gathered from the other residents, or from public records. If the property is not rent control, and a month-to-month tenancy, the rental rate and term can be set with either a 30- or a 60-day notice of change of terms, depending on the extent of the change.

Q: Some of my leases are coming up for renewal in the next few months. One of these leases is for a resident who has been a thorn in my side since the day he moved in. If I don't want to renew him, do I need to provide him a reason? Also, do I need to serve any particular type of notice?

A: Provided your property is not located in a rent or just cause eviction controlled area, then you do not have to provide a "reason" for non-renewal. Provided your desire is not based upon illegal discrimination and is not in retaliation for the resident exercising a protected right, then you are free to "not renew" the lease. Generally, a fixed-term lease expires on a certain day. Provided there is no language in the lease that "automatically" converts the lease to a month-to-month tenancy, then the resident is required to vacate on or before the lease expiration date. Neither the tenant nor the landlord is required to serve any prior notice. However, most industry lease agreements used by landlords include an automatic conversion provision that states that the tenancy automatically converts to a month-to-month tenancy unless a written notice of termination was served by either the landlord or the tenant. In this event, a written notice of termination would have to be served to terminate the resident's tenancy.

This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm has successfully handled over 255,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California, and has collected over $155,000,000.00 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714-279-1100 or 800-829-6994. Please visit for more information.

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