Once You've Moved In

By Alan Pentico, CAE, San Diego County Apartment Association

I shared advice for people moving into an apartment last month. In this column, I will offer tips on what do to once you're moved into your new place.
One of the questions renters routinely ask is: "When can a landlord enter my apartment?"
A landlord may enter your apartment for one of the following reasons:

  • In an emergency.
  • When you have moved out or abandoned the apartment.
  • To make necessary or agreed upon repairs and other improvements.
  • To show the apartment to prospective residents, purchasers or lenders.
  • To provide entry to contractors.
  • To conduct an initial inspection before the end of tenancy as allowed by law.
  • If a court permits it.

Except in an emergency, or with your permission, the landlord must give you reasonable advance notice before entering your apartment. The law considers 24 hours advance written notice to be reasonable in most situations.

As a renter, you have other rights you need to be aware of. Your rights fall within a range of areas, including repairs, payment of rent and military leave.

An apartment, for example, must be fit to live in, meaning it must be habitable and comply with government health and safety codes. A landlord is responsible for fixing repair problems that make the apartment uninhabitable. Generally, "habitable" means:

  • Leak-free walls, windows, doors and ceiling.
  • Plumbing in good working order.
  • Gas, heating and electricity in good working order.
  • Clean and sanitary buildings and grounds, free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage and rodents.
  • Adequate trash receptacles in good repair.
  • Floors, stairways and railings in good repair.

Weather the landlord is responsible for making less serious repairs is usually spelled out in the rental agreement.
Residents are required to take reasonable care of the apartment and common areas. You also are responsible for repairing damage you cause, or that is caused by anyone for whom you are responsible (family, guests or pets).

Payment of Rent
A rental agreement should spell out when rent is due, generally on the first of the month. Make sure you understand exactly when the rent is due, where you should send payment and what the policy is regarding late fees and late payment of rent. If you pay by mail, make sure to send it early enough so that it arrives by the due date. . If you pay your rent in cash or with a money order, you should ask your landlord for a signed and dated receipt. Legally, you are entitled to a written receipt whenever you pay your rent. If you pay with a check, you can use the canceled check as a receipt. Keep the receipts or canceled checks so that you will have records of your payments in case of a dispute.

Military Exception
If deployed or transferred, active military personnel and their families may be exempt from normal notice requirements spelled out in the rental agreement. It is always a good idea, however, to send the owner a letter informing him/her that you are moving and include  a copy of your orders (see Servicemembers Civil Relief Act). More information can be found at http://usmilitary.about.com/od/sscra/l/blscramenu.htm.

A landlord may set reasonable rules about the length of time guests may stay with you. These are usually listed in your rental agreement. Restrictions based on age, race, gender, gender identification or sexual orientation are not legal. A landlord cannot object to overnight guests based on religious or moral views.

After the rental agreement's time limit for a guest has passed, the landlord may ask your guest to fill out a rental application and sign a rental agreement.

A landlord can give you a written notice for failing to comply with the rental agreement, when terminating the tenancy or changing the terms of the rental agreement.  A landlord's notice of a rent increase must be in writing and can be delivered in person or sent by mail.

For more tips, including notice requirements for both renters and landlords, check out the "Living in a Rental Unit" web page by the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

As always, pay close attention to the terms of your lease. There may be additional clauses about subleasing, late fees, and more. I'll be back next month with advice for people moving out of their apartment or rental home.

The article also appeared in March 2012 in the Union-Tribune Renter Section, Lilly Leung, Reporter

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