Dispute Over pro-rated Rent And Improperly Delivered Notice
August 30, 2017 4:25 PM   Subscribe

What recourse do I have in fighting 5 days of pro-rated rent that was verbally going to be waived if I was out by the first?

I have been renting a month to month in an apartment in California. My landlord gave me 60 days "notice" via email to vacate the premises because they needed the apartment for their "personal use".

The notice was given on July 5 via email. I had a phone conversation with the secretary who told me the pro-rated rent amount per day as well as verbal and email confirmation that if I move out one the 1st that I would only owe one day's worth of pro-rated rent.

Later on she calls and said the landlord actually wants all five days of the pro-rated rent. Meanwhile I had banked on saving this additional money and hired a mover to move me out on the 1st to expedite the process so I could get it done in one day.

I already didn't like this landlord to begin with (slumlord), and now I'm irritated and do not want to be intimidated into paying after they said I didn't have to pay.

I know from research that by California law their notice to vacate is not legally binding as it was not served in the proper way (email is not a legal way to serve the notice), nor did it include a certain clause that must be stated in the notice. I'm curious if I can use this as leverage or if I have any legal standing here.

I have already signed a lease for a new apartment that starts on the 1st, and I do not want to continue to stay in the old apartment.

They are holding one month's security deposit of mine, which I would like back, so that is an issue as well.

From what I can see these landlords are not re-renting the premises; they are renovating the unit next door and although I can only guess, their son is moving into my unit as he is currently living in the unit that is going to be renovated.

This is all so silly and I don't know if it's worth all the trouble over a couple hundred dollars of pro rated rent, however funds are very tight for me right now due to work issues and a number of extremely bad luck vet visits for my dog, and now I'm extremely irritated they went back on what they originally stated.

So now I'm looking for reasons I can legally terminate my lease on Sept 1. I shied away from complaining about anything at my apartment to the landlord because of two different tenants telling me stories of how cheap and rude the landlord was (the landlord didn't want to send out a plumber while the basement was flooding while I was out of town, apparently, as well as the current neighbor being told the lease would not be renewed after they complained that the owner entered our shared basement with no notice). Additionally they served me this "notice" RIGHT after I phoned to ask permission to have a plumbing company professionally install a gas dryer I had purchased (the apartment had hookups and I was given earlier permission to obtain a washer and dryer) and received a phone call stating that I might want to not install the dryer because they "might be having me move out but would know soon". Perhaps the landlord was trying to save me some hassle (I couldn't tell because she sounded annoyed about the entire thing on the phone), but I found it to be suspicious and irritating....I can picture them having a conversation "well now they are installing things, let's just have them move out now." Additionally when I had the stove checked by the gas company they found an out of date valve connector and gave me an order ticket to change it, which I forwarded to the landlord and was told they'd replace it....which they never did. Actually the entire apartment is probably overrun with code violations, but I think it's too late to have a building inspector come out.

They have a right to give me notice, however this was all done completely improperly, and now with the additional "just kidding" about the pro rated rent I'm not feeling like being bullied.

Would I have to pay for an attorney or are there any organizations or pro-bono tenant rights lawyers in San Diego or Southern California I can turn to? On the other hand I don't know if this sort of thing is worth the time and energy. Perhaps there's not much to be done, perhaps this is my lesson to get everything in writing (and an interesting lesson in properly serving notices), but I hate seeing cheap/bully landlords win.
posted by argylesockpet to Law & Government (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
By state law, they can not keep your Deposit for rent. They must return the Deposit within 21 Days, or owe you damages (I think it's x3?) I feel like you know this.

I'm assuming you had that phone call on your cell phone and it's documented? Have you returned the keys yet? Taken pics? Cleaned?

Return the keys with a dated letter saying (a) you are returning the keys with this letter, and (b) the address they can mail your deposit to. If they asked for the 5 days rent in writing, HERE IS WHERE YOU WRITE THAT AS PER YOUR CONVERSATION ON X DATE YOU WILL NOT BE PAYING RENT ON THE APARTMENT, YOUR TENANCY IS TERMINATED.

If they did not ask for the additional rent in writing, do not mention it. Deliver the Letter and Keys. Wait, collect your documentation. On day 22 if they have not returned your deposit, or illegally witheld part of it, file in Small Claims Court. If they send back your full Deposit, but send you a demand for the additional 5 Days, reply in writing (certified mail) that as per their agreement on X Date, you do not owe this money. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

Understand they might fuck you over by selling your "overdue" rent to a slimy debt collector and you might have to send them a dispute letter + keep an eye on your credit score for the next year or two.

That's it. CA.GOV for regulations if you want to cite them in your letter. You're playing chicken, although you a technically in the right. It's up to you what to do.
posted by jbenben at 5:15 PM on August 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh thank god jbenben got here first and did all the hard work :)

California tenant/landlord laws are unambiguous and (usually) favor tenants. The 3x in damages is at the judge's discretion and can be awarded if they believe the landlord acted in bad faith, like not using proper delivery method, not returning your full security deposit on time and/or with with the required listed deductions.

Here is a PDF of the California Dept of Consumer Affairs tenant/landlord handbook. You can also call them directly if you have questions; they are very, very helpful.

Fighting your landlord requires privilege on a few axes, but if you can, you should, because every unscrupulous landlord is counting on their tenants to be too uninformed or scared to fight for their rights. That includes fighting retaliation for exercising your rights, which is very, very against the law.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:55 PM on August 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

California does not award 3x damages. §19505.5(l) states that for "bad faith" retention of your security deposit, a Court *may* award "up to twice the amount of the security", plus "actual damages."

And, although jbenben is usually right about these things, rent can be deducted from your security deposit. §1950.5(b)(1) specifically says that any default in the payment of rent can be deducted.

All that said, I agree with both jbenben and Room 641-A. You're probably right, but the question is whether it is worth it. Some counties yes, some no.

If you haven't found it yet, this document is from the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Good luck!
posted by China Grover at 8:08 AM on August 31, 2017

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