October 2019 Landlord/Tenant Questions and Answers

Ted Kimball, Esq.

1. Question: My tenant moved in a few years ago with a roommate, and they paid the security deposit together.  One roommate moved out and another roommate moved in.  At that time, the rent was increased and they paid some additional security deposit. Who is entitled to the security deposit when the unit is vacated?

Answer: You should make the check out to all of them unless you receive in writing from any one of them that he or she has relinquished all rights to the security deposit to the others.

2. Question: Can a small claims court action regarding a security deposit dispute be appealed?

Answer: If the action was in small claims court, you can only appeal if you were the defendant, and then the case is heard all over again before a different judge. 

3. Question: Under a twelve-month lease on a single family home, if a tenant breaks a window and does not repair it after a week or two, can we take the money out of the next rent payment?

Answer: It is better to fix the window, or require the tenant to fix the window with a licensed contractor.  If the tenant refuses to pay for or fix the window, serve a 3-Day Notice to Perform Conditions and/or Covenants or Quit.  If he/she refuses to pay or fix the window in three days, you can commence the eviction.

4. Question: We have a tenant who has been in the unit for one year and has painted it dark purple. Can I charge the resident for returning the paint color to white when he vacates the unit?

Answer: Yes, if you have a lease provision against making alterations without your consent.  You can only charge the actual cost of turning the paint from purple back to white.

5. Question: After sending a tenant an itemized disposition of security deposit, (there is a balance due to us), how long must I wait before taking her to court?  Should I contact her one more time before doing so?

Answer: You can take the tenant to court immediately, and if your lease was written, the time within which you must bring an action is 4 years.  It is always a good idea to attempt to resolve the issue first before seeking court action.

6. Question: One of our tenants claims we owe him for the loss of his food stored in his refrigerator.  The refrigerator broke down, and we had it fixed within two days.  Do we have to pay for his food?

Answer: Not unless your tenant could prove that you were negligent in the maintenance of the refrigerator or knew or should have known it would break down.  Landlords are not the insurers of their tenant’s property loss.  Smart tenants purchase renter’s insurance to cover these types of losses.

7. Question: I am an owner of a duplex and I suspect my next door neighbor is dealing drugs.  I have a 6- month agreement with him that is not up for several more months.  What can I do?

Answer: First, call the police and inform them what you know about the illegal activity.  Work with the police to gain enough evidence that will allow you to proceed with an unlawful detainer (eviction).  If you can prove the illegal activity, the law allows the owner to serve a 3-Day Notice to Vacate.  Failure to comply with the notice will give rise to an action for unlawful detainer.

8. Question: I rent out a condominium unit and I have a problem with people leaving half way through a one year lease.  How do I collect my lost rent?

Answer: In order to collect your unpaid rent, you could sue your former tenants in small claims court.  Once you receive a judgment, you could go through formal collection procedures such as garnishing their wages or levying on their bank accounts.

9. Question: I heard that unless your rental agreement requires rent to be paid in advance that it is not owed until the end of the month.  Is this true?

Answer: Under California law monthly rent is not due until the end of the month unless the lease or rental agreement require the rent to be paid in advance.  That is why almost every written rental agreement contains that language.

10. Question: I rent a garage to two young men under a 6-month lease and I suspect that they are living there.  I specifically told them they could use the garage for storage of their personal property only.  What can I do?

Answer: In California, an owner of rental property can limit the tenant’s use of the property for specific purposes.  If the tenant uses the rental for something else, he could be evicted.  If you could prove that the tenants were residing in the garage, you could serve them a 3-Day Notice to Perform or Quit, followed by an eviction if they fail to stop using the garage as their residence.

11. Question: What are some examples of a reasonable accommodation?

Answer: Common examples are allowing a resident to have an assistive animal, reserving a special parking space for a resident, allowing a resident who needs to move due to a disability to terminate a lease without further obligation for rent, or modifying a rent due date to coincide with the receipt of disability payments.


Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP is a full service real estate law firm representing residential and commercial property owners and managers. This article is for general information purposes only. While KTS provides clients with information on legislative changes, our courtesy notifications are not meant to be exhaustive and do not take the place of legislative services or membership in trade associations. Our legal alerts are provided on selected topics and should not be relied upon as a complete report of all new changes of local, state, and federal laws affecting property owners and managers. Laws may have changed since this article was published.  Before acting, be sure to receive legal advice from our office. For contact information, please visit our website:  www.kts-law.com.  For past Legal Alerts, Questions & Answers and Legal Articles, please consult the resource section of our website.

© 2019 Kimball, Tirey and St. John LLP