Illegal rents and change in terms

The rent agreement/lease is a binding contract.

It spells out the duties and rights of the landlord and the tenant. The agreement must be lawful. If any parts of the agreement are in conflict with your rights under federal, state, or local law, that part of the agreement may be void.

A rent agreement may also be voided if entered into by fraud of the owner.

Rent control laws in various cities may determine that if a housing service is reduced or removed (like parking or laundry facilities) then the landlord may need to give you a reduction in rent. It is most times not necessary to sign a new rent agreement that is only favorable to the landlord.

The signing of the rent agreement, as with any agreement, must be by mutual written consent.

Some cities, like Los Angeles, require under rent control that changes to the rent agreement can only occur thru mutual written consent. For example, like at 1522 Hi Point (Street) Apartments, most rental agreements may specify that rent is paid to the resident manager/drop box and must be paid by check, money order, or certified check. That is the terms of your rent agreement. If either party does not abide by the terms, there could be consequences like the landlord is sued or the tenant is evicted. Some violations require double or treble damages to the tenant. The terms and conditions cannot be changed except by written consent. Be careful of giving or listening to oral consent because it may not be binding on either party. If the owner takes away your privilege of paying to the resident manager/drop box, without a reduction in rent, the owner may have engaged in “illegal rent”, so contact rent control or seek an attorney. It may not seem like a big deal or much money, but if you give the landlord an inch, they will take a foot, and they may cheat you the next time around for sleeping the first time.

RAC 410.03. [LAMC] “A tenant rents an apartment with the appurtenant housing services available at the time of renting the apartment. Landlords who reduce housing services without a corresponding reduction in rent effectuate an increase in rent. The purpose of these regulations is to guide the Los Angeles Housing Department in its evaluation of a corresponding reasonable reduction in rent.”

The owner may try to get you to pay electronically or pay a processing fee.

NO NO NO NO NO. If it does not say it in your rent agreement, you don’t have to do it. Even if you make an exception or volunteer and do it rather than follow the rent agreement, you still have not given your written consent to the changes. In addition, a notice of change in terms, if lawful, must provide you with 30 days notice prior to the change. If the change is lawful, like a yearly rent increase, and the owner has not given the 30 days in advance written notice, you do not have to comply.

Just because you sign a rent agreement, or decide in a rent control building to take the Ellis or THP options, does not mean you have to give up all your rights.

Tenants do have legal rights. And you also have the right to assert those rights without being retaliated against. Just because you want to move out with relocation benefits, does not mean you have to give up other rights.

One of the benefits of rent control apartments is that the rent increases are small and mandated by the government. In a non-rent control building an owner can go up any amount with a simple 30 or 60 day notice. So if this is your first apartment experience be forewarned. For example you are paying $1000 per month in a rent control building. The owner can only raise the rent 5% (example) once a year so your rent may rise to $1050. But say you live in a non rent control building and pay $1000; the owner only has to give 60 days notice to raise the rent $200 (any amount example) and can raise it as many times as they want as long as they give the 30 or 60 days notice. So the owner raises your rent $600 in one year’s time to $1600. So which is the better deal? It happens.

Here is an excellent site on ways to deal with a corrupt landlord and written by a lawyer out of New York City. How to Protect Yourself from a Greedy Landlord

Does your rent agreement talk about housing services and say “including but not limited to”?

You just may have a gold mine. A lot of the older rent agreements stated housing services come with the apartment “including but not limited”. To me that means everything in there for the use of the tenant —even if not itemized in the agreement— is your housing service. This is the benefit: in many rent control areas like Los Angeles, if a housing services is reduced or removed, you are entitled to a rent reduction and if the landlord does not give you one, you are paying “illegal rent”. This means if you can prove you had the use of two parking stalls, or you can prove your apartment came with an intercom [working or not], you are entitled to a rent reduction either thru rent control or thru the courts. But even if you are in a rent control apartment, and your rent agreement does not say, “including but not limited to”, you are still protected because guess what the city Los Angeles RAC regulations say?

RAC 410.04. Housing services are services that are connected with the use or occupancy of a rental unit including, but not limited to, utilities (including light, heat, water and telephone), ordinary repairs or replacement, and maintenance including painting. The term also includes the provision of elevator service, laundry facilities and privileges, common recreational facilities, janitor service, resident manager, refuse removal, furnishings, food service, parking and any other benefits, privileges or facilities. (LAMC Sec. 151.02, Definition of Housing Services).” [Editor” emphasis added. And if the landlord reduces a service without a reduction in rent, you may be entitled to double or treble damages. That is the thing about those pesky THP and Ellis regulations: for owners that don’t follow them, the tenant could be entitled to double or treble damages. Let’s see the City of Los Angeles enforce THAT.]

 

The property owner and the city employees will try to talk you out of money you are owed. DON’T LET THEM DO IT!

Annual Rent Registry Form: New

The City has passed a new regulation added to rent control: “annual rent registry form”. The owner will not receive a rent certificate for the building if he does not submit the form. While the form, accessible to the public, will not list your name, it will list your apartment number, number of bedrooms, current rent, last rent increase, if utilities are paid by the landlord, and is “parking included in the monthly rent”. Whoa!!!!

And what will the city do with this information? God only knows.

 

[Editor: this is not intended as legal advice. Do your own research at a law library or consult with an attorney. Contrary to popular opinion, unless you have an accident injury, most lawyers are not free and will charge a fee upfront. The payment of such fee does not guarantee that you will win your complaint or case.]