Legal Corner

Collection Rates, Deadbeat, Escrow, Renewal

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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 www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.

Third Party Rent, Screens, Vacancy

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Q. Just received a letter from one of my longer term residents. Long story short, she says she won’t be able to pay next month’s rent because of an upcoming medical surgery that will keep her from working for six weeks. A charity has offered to pay the rent for her, and is asking that I sign a paper affirming her tenancy and agreeing to accept rent from them. Money is money I guess, any problems with accepting?

A.
Generally that is true, money is money, but a couple of issues to keep in mind. Acceptance of rent from a third party can create certain rights in the third party that you may not want. Additionally, the paper that you are being asked to sign may bind you to terms that may not be acceptable to you. Review the document that they are asking you to sign.

Ensure that the agreement is clear, and says exactly what is being represented to you, namely that the rent payment is being made by a charity on behalf of your existing tenant, that no tenancy rights are being created with the third party, and that you are not waiving any provisions of the lease. Watch out for terms stating that you are agreeing to continue the tenancy for some period of time, typically six months, or that you are agreeing to not serve a notice of termination of tenancy without prior notice to the charity, or some other provision that may alter or restrict your rights.

Q. Seems like I’m replacing screens and clearing drains on a regular basis for one of my residents. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I have more money going out for repairs than I have coming in as rent! How do I control the repeat repairs and expenses?

A.
It’s very important to create a baseline with your tenants. Upon move in, ensure that you use the move in inspection checklist provided by your apartment association. Itemize any and all defects or items that are in need of repair, and note any nonhabitability items that have pre-existing damage that you are not required to and do not intend to repair. Ensure that all habitability items are promptly corrected and that you document that fact by entering it into your maintenance log, and have your resident sign off that the work was completed satisfactorily. Your rental agreement will identify who is responsible for what repairs and maintenance items. Make sure you review these responsibilities with your tenants so that they are aware of what is expected of them. Often landlords shift the burden of small plumbing stoppages to the tenant, while retaining responsibility for main line blockages. Your rental agreement should state that the apartment is equipped with the requisite screens, and that the resident has inspected them and agrees to maintain them during the tenancy.

Q. I’m accepting applications from prospective residents for an upcoming vacancy. I’m kind of surprised at the response I’m getting from my advertisement. Lots of calls, and lots of interest.

A fellow in a wheelchair applied, and asked if I allowed co-signers. Says that because of his injury, he can’t work full time, and that his parents help him out with the rent. I have always had a strict no co-signer policy, just seems like too much hassle, so I told him that I was sorry, that I did not accept co-signers and wished him good luck. Now I think that maybe I should have handled the situation differently; should I have?

A.
Yes, even though you have a policy of not accepting co-signers, there are exceptions for persons with a verifiable disability. Federal and State law provide that a no co-signer policy may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act as applied to a person with mobility or other verifiable disability. You would be required to “reasonably accommodate” the disabled person by making an exception to your no co-signer policy, as the courts would likely find that the benefit to the resident greatly outweighs the burden to you of allowing a co-signer.

Q. I rented an apartment to four roommates quite a while ago. One of the four is now moving out, but the other three are staying. The one moving out is demanding that I return his portion of the security deposit. Do I have to?

A.
No, the security deposit remains with you as long as any of the roommates remain in possession of the rental unit. Absent a written agreement to the contrary, when all the remaining roommates vacate, the refund check should be made payable to all four of the roommates.


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 www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.

Bed Bugs, EFT, Gyms

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Q. I understand that there is a new requirement that Housing Providers must follow certain procedures and provide a notice to our residents regarding bed bugs. Also, are we required to include new language in all of our leases as well? What do I need to do to comply?

A.
Bed bugs are very much in the news today. There has been a huge increase in their presence and a dramatic increase in litigation filed by tenants who have experienced bed bugs first hand. Because of this, the California legislature has responded with the following new statutory requirements:

Civil Code §1954.602 prohibits a landlord from showing, renting or leasing a unit that the landlord knows has bed bugs. It does not require a landlord to inspect for bed bugs, but if a bed bug infestation is apparent, the landlord is considered to have knowledge of bed bugs in the unit. To protect themselves from future bed bug lawsuits, landlords should have infested vacant units treated and have an approved pest control company issue a bed bug clearance and maintain it on file for all such units.

Civil Code §1954.603 requires that a specific bed bug notice be given to new tenants on and after July 1, 2017 (with specific language listed under “Information about Bed Bug Laws” in at least 10 point font) and to existing tenants by January 1, 2018. Landlords must notify tenants about the procedure for reporting suspected infestations to the landlord. The following is the required language:

“Information about Bed Bug Appearance: Bed bugs have six legs. Adult bed bugs have flat bodies about ¼ of an inch in length. Their color can vary from red and brown to copper colored. Young bed bugs are very small. Their bodies are about 1/16 of an inch in length. They have almost no color. When a bed bug feeds, its body swells, may lengthen, and becomes bright red, sometimes making it appear to be a different insect. Bed bugs do not fly. They can either crawl or be carried from place to place on objects, people, or animals. Bed bugs can be hard to find and identify because they are tiny and try to stay hidden. Life Cycle and Reproduction: An average bed bug lives for about 10 months. Female bed bugs lay one to five eggs per day. Bed bugs grow to full adulthood in about 21 days. Bed bugs can survive for months without feeding. Bed bug bites: Because bed bugs usually feed at night, most people are bitten in their sleep and do not realize they were bitten. A person’s reaction to insect bites is an immune response and so varies from person to person. Sometimes the red welts caused by the bites will not be noticed until many days after a person was bitten, if at all.

Common signs and symptoms of a possible bed bug infestation:

  • Small red to reddish brown fecal spots on mattresses, box springs, bed frames, linens, upholstery, or walls.
  • Molted bed bug skins, white, sticky eggs, or empty eggshells.
  • Very heavily infested areas may have a characteristically sweet odor.
  • Red, itchy bite marks, especially on the legs, arms, and other body parts exposed while sleeping.

However, some people do not show bed bug lesions on their bodies even though bed bugs may have fed on them.

For more information, see the Internet Websites of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the National Pest Management Association.” Civil Code §1954.604 requires landlords to conduct follow up treatment not only of infected units, but all surroundings until bed bugs are eliminated.

Civil Code §1954.605 bed bug laws require landlords to notify tenants within two business days of receiving the pest control operator’s findings after an inspection. When infestations are found in common areas, the landlord must provide the notice to all tenants. This means that if a landlord finds bed bugs in a common area, then all residents in the building must be notified of such a finding.

Q. I encourage my tenants to pay rent by electronic funds transfer. I use the apartment association’s lease, which states “If Resident fails to pay the rent in full by the end of the 3rd day after it is due, Resident shall pay a late charge of $100.00 as additional rent...” One tenant seems to initiate the EFT later than the 1st day of the month, but I can’t be certain of what day it is, and if that day is a week-end or holiday, I see no sign of her pay ment in my bank until the following bank business day. That can mean I see the payment on the 5th or 6th day of the month. Is her rent late? When is rent legally considered paid? If my tenant gives me a check on the 3rd day of the month, and that day is a Saturday and I deposit it that day, I can see a pending transaction immediately, but the funds are not available to use until the next bank busi ness day. With a check, I know when the trans action is initiated and completed. With an EFT, I only know when the transaction is completed.

A.
When rent is paid by EFT, it is considered received by you when it is credited to your account. It is immaterial when the tenant initiated the transfer, the date which the funds actually are credited to your account is controlling. In the case of a check or draft delivered to you, it is the date which you actually receive the actual check or draft. You have control over the funds/payment instrument upon deposit of funds or receipt of the actual check. Of course the specific terms of your lease control. Most leases require that the resident “deliver” the rent to you on or before the first. This eliminates the old “check is in the mail” excuse. However, some “creative” landlords insist on writing their own “special” terms on their leases, and if those special terms require the tenant to “mail the check to a PO Box” or put it in a “drop box,” then these terms may alter the date of payment, and in some cases may shift the risk of loss in the mail to you the landlord rather than the resident. Additionally, if the account number provided for the resident to make his EFT to is incorrect and the delay is caused by the landlord’s incorrect instructions, then the resident will be provided additional time. For these and many other reasons, it is very important not to alter the language provided to you in your apartment association forms, they typically anticipate these types of situations.

Q. I have an apartment building with a small workout area, kind of like a mini gym. There are a few exercise machines, a treadmill and some exercise mats. I’ve been worried about somebody hurting themselves and then suing me, claiming I was somehow negligent in maintaining the exercise equipment. I’m thinking about just turning it into a storage room. Is there any way I can keep the exercise room, the tenants really enjoy it, but eliminate the risk of being sued for negligence?

A.
Until just a few years ago, the answer was no. Landlords, by statute, could not add exculpatory language to their leases prohibiting residents from suing them for negligence relating to the rental property. A couple of appellate court rulings just might effectively change that. The courts have ruled that the prohibition should only relate to the core rental unit, and does not necessarily extend to a non-core amenity, such as workout gyms, a recreation room or other entertainment amenity. A release and waiver of liability for injury suffered in the apartment itself, the garage or parking area, a walkway or corridor would be ineffective, however, a properly drafted release and waiver of claims for injury suffered in a gym, recreation room or entertainment facility, or other non-core amenity would be effective.


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 www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.

Violent Crime, Parking Spaces

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Q. I recently bought a building in a pretty rough neighborhood. Seems like a day doesn’t go by without some sort of violent crime nearby. Just the other night, there was a shooting just down the street. I buy paint by the truckload to cover all of the graffiti and tagging on the building. I have a couple of vacancies now, and I don’t know if I have to tell them about all the stuff going on. If I did no one would rent. What do I do?

A.
Crime, unfortunately, is a fact of life in many communities throughout Southern California. When asked by the prospective resident about crime in the area, refer them to the local police department for statistics. Be careful not to portray your building as a “security” building or advertise it in any way that may create a false sense of security or safety. If your property provides an increased risk of harm or has had a recent rash of criminal conduct, you may have a duty to disclose this fact to the prospective resident, even if not asked.

Q. Street parking spaces are few and far between near my building. My apartment complex has just enough parking spaces for my residents to each has one space. If a resident has more than one car, they must try to park it on the street. It has been working out fine for years but now I have this one tenant who refuses to follow the rules. He is constantly parking his second car in someone else’s assigned spot. I’ve told him several times but he just ignores me. What do I do?

A.
Your community rules and regulations should specify your parking rules, specifically stating that only one vehicle may be parked on the premises and that all parking is assigned. Ensure that you have the proper signage at the entrances to the parking area. Most cities require the sign to contain certain restrictive parking language, plus the local police department telephone number, and the California Vehicle Code section that provides for towing of unauthorized vehicles. Contact your local police department for their specific requirements, as they vary from city to city. Next if you know the offender, then provide a written warning of the violation. Attempt to serve it at his residence, post it on his door if he’s not in, and also put the warning on the windshield of his car. If practical, take and save a photograph of the warning on the vehicle windshield, because the offender will always claim that you did not give prior notice before towing. If he fails to remove the offending vehicle, the car may be towed.


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 www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.

Month to Month Balances

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Q: We have a guesthouse in the back of our home. The place has been there forever. Anyway, after the kids went off to college, we started renting it out. The current tenant signed a lease to pay rent plus their prorated portion of the monthly utilities. We didn’t get a payment this month. I am getting ready to serve a default notice, but I want to make sure I do it correctly. He owes rent and the utilities. Not sure if I can include both on the same notice. How can I recover the utility portion? Also, what if the resident pays the rent, but fails to pay the utilities? The utilities aren’t much, should I just let him run an outstanding balance and either deduct it from his deposit when he leaves or maybe ask for it when it gets a bit higher?

A:
First, the outstanding utilities should be paid timely and can be demanded through the service of a Three-Day Notice to Perform or Quit for Breach of Covenant. This notice should be served concurrently with your Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. The Notice to Perform would inform the resident of his default in payment of the utility charges, and would require that the tenant perform by paying the outstanding utility charges within three days. It’s never a good business practice to carry balances over from one month to the next. When the time comes for you to take action, your prior conduct of accepting late payments without objection could result in the court finding that you “waived” your right to receive payment on time. Such a “waiver” of your rights and remedies may prevent you from enforcing your late fee provision or demanding payments on time. As such, even though the utility payment may be small when compared to the rent, it is still an obligation under the lease, and it should be enforced like any other provision.


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 www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.

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