Safe in Your Place: Anti-crime Tools
Safety is likely at the top of your list when it comes to choosing a place to call home.
Many factors play a role in how safe your home is -- the neighborhood, lighting, locked gates, security patrols, or dead-bolt locks on your front door. When it comes to rental housing, anti-crime policies adopted by property owners and managers play a large role. Such policies can be in the form of lease addendums, house rules, or a complex’s participation in a local “Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.”
Residents can look to lease addendums as an indication of the importance of safety and security at a property. Anti-crime lease addenda -- an additional agreement signed by the renter committing to a safe and crime-free lifestyle, with a list of specific activities -- are required at the discretion of a property manager or owner. They are increasingly common and are designed to help protect all residents, as well as the property owner’s liability. Your landlord also is likely to provide you with a set of “house rules” when you sign your lease. These rules help all residents in the community understand expectations and responsibilities regarding quiet times, guests, smoking, and more.
The goal of a Crime-Free Multi-Family Housing Program -- training for which is conducted by the Sheriff’s Department or other local law enforcement agencies -- is to keep illegal activity out of rental properties. The solution-based certification program has three central elements: enhanced physical security, tenant involvement and management training. The program may benefit both property managers and residents at communities with higher instances of reported crime. The managers will see fewer incidents of illegal activity and retain a higher caliber of residents; the tenants will have a greater sense of security and quality neighbors.
In San Diego, the program is voluntary and training is free. Calls for police service to crime-free certified properties drop significantly in the months following manager training, authorities say. SDCAA supports voluntary participation in crime-free programs. It’s an effective way to turn around properties with a troubled past.
If you’re the potential new tenant in search for an apartment in a transitional or urban neighborhood, anti-crime agreements, detailed house rules, and Crime-Free Multi-Family Housing certification may be good indications that a property takes safety and security seriously. For managers, these are additional marketing tools and ways to ensure high-quality properties and residents.
Owners and managers also can help make safety a priority and prevent crime through a strong resident screening product, such as InfoLink provided by SDCAA that includes a criminal database search.
At the end of the day, anti-crime policies help ensure that everyone feels safe in their home.
Preventing Mold & Mildew in Your Rental
Mold and mildew are virtually omnipresent – the potential for finding it in your apartment is endless. Wherever there’s moisture, you’re bound to have a little fungus growth. But it doesn’t mean that harmful, toxic mold you may read about in the news lurks on every damp countertop or shower curtain.
Molds are very common in all buildings, including residences, and will grow anywhere indoors where there is moisture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And
living in an area with coastal conditions also means a higher likelihood that mold or mildew will make an appearance in your apartment.
Generally, mold and mildew – its milder sibling – are simply smelly and unsightly. Exposure to mold doesn’t always lead to health problems, but some people are sensitive to molds and may experience an allergic reaction or aggravated health conditions.
There are simple, everyday precautions that residents can take to maintain a mold-free apartment. Start with the basics: Keep your home clean. Vacuum and mop regularly, along with consistent cleaning of kitchens, bathrooms and living areas. Regular cleaning helps halt the accumulation of dirt and debris, which attracts mold. Be sure to include window tracks in your cleaning routine.
If you are new to the apartment, check for signs of mold upon move-in, just as you would for any other concern such as cracks, leaks, and working plumbing and electricity.
Adequate ventilation is also a key step in mold prevention. Make sure that your apartment has working ventilation, such as exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms. Windows should be in good working condition, too. When steam or humidity from a shower or bath condenses on cool surfaces like mirrors, ceilings, windows and walls, mildew may form without proper ventilation and drying for the area. Ensuring such areas are kept dry and ventilated is the resident’s responsibility.
Additional measures you can take to keep your apartment moisture-free include using dehumidifiers and moisture-removal products found at home improvement stores.
Tenants should remove any visible accumulated moisture from all surfaces – floors, walls, ceilings, windows, furniture – as soon as possible, and always immediately clean up and dry water spills from any source.
If you do see small patches of mildew or mold, you should remove the fungus immediately by washing the area with soapy water or bleach diluted with water in an adequately ventilated area. If the cleanup is hazardous to your health, your personal items, or the property, get in touch with your landlord to evaluate the situation.
Finally, notify your property manager of any moisture, standing water or water intrusion of any kind – a sprinkler consistently soaking the side of the building or leaving pools of water where the ground meets the structure, for example. Give the landlord ample opportunity to evaluate the conditions and take appropriate actions, which will protect property owners and their valued tenants.
Apartments can serve as day-care centers
An increase in working parents has made home-based day care a service in demand.
Child-care offered at a residence in a familiar neighborhood can be a source of great comfort to working moms and dads. For working parents, finding good child-care is invaluable.
But if you rent your home or apartment, can you still be a day-care provider? The short answer: Yes.
The right for renters to operate such a vital service is state law, spelled out in the California Health & Safety Code. Small family day-care facilities are not considered a “business use of property,” and so they would be protected under any leases or rental agreements that prohibit operating a business out of a rental home.
Renters who wish to open a family day-care in their home should have little to no conflict if they meet certain conditions, follow clear rules, and communicate the details with their landlord or property manager. This applies to rental homes of any kind: apartments, townhomes, condominiums and single-family residences.
First, a child-care provider must be licensed by the state Department of Social Services. Once a tenant is licensed to provide family child-care, he or she must give the landlord or property owner 30 days’ written notice of the intent to begin operating the day-care service in the rental home. The license will include the number of children that the provider is allowed to care for. The state license application includes a notice form for landlord notification, which is helpful.
That form also explains the renter’s right to operate a family day-care. Landlords or property managers cannot discriminate against a tenant for operating a day-care. However, landlords do have the option of requiring a higher security deposit, but the deposit cannot exceed the maximum allowable under state law.
Next, proof of liability insurance – or waivers signed by parents – must be shared with landlords. Operators of in-home day-care are required to fulfill one of three options when it comes to insurance: obtain liability insurance; secure a bond of $300,000; or, if they choose not to secure the insurance or bond, they must inform each parent of that decision and obtain affidavits acknowledging that the parents are aware of the lack of insurance or bond.
Then, be a good neighbor. The same rules that apply to other residents also apply to child-care providers. For example, control excessive noise that might be disruptive for other tenants, and be mindful of activities or behavior that could damage the property.
Finally, emphasize the benefits of having a family home day-care in your neighborhood or apartment community. Having a day-care provider as a neighbor likely means that you have an extra set of eyes on your community. A person who’s been hired to care for young children likely will be vigilant about ensuring safe, clean surroundings. Think of it as an extra neighborhood watch.
The California Department of Social Services has a guide for family child care and tenant rights.
Ways to make your rental more 'green'
The "go-green" movement isn't new to everyone, but the real financial and other positive impacts that simple changes can make is still not common knowledge to many property owners and managers.
We all know the conventional steps: turning off the lights, shutting off the faucet in between uses and so forth. But most people don't realize that there are many other easy ways to cut the excess and maximize savings. For example, did you know that simple appliances like DVD players, stereo equipment, and printers that are generally left on throughout the day can silently account for as much as 20 percent of a residence's power usage? Try switching off and unplugging unused appliances to see a big difference.
Another trick to lowering your energy consumption can be found hanging from your ceiling. Not only is a ceiling fan a greener way to cool a room, it also can help circulate warm air that tends to rise during the winter. It's a simple and great way to help your heating system go further.
Dryers are high on the list of notoriously inefficient appliances. If you have the space, and if it is permitted, try line-drying your clothes for a greener change that will lighten the load on your wallet and the environment. Line drying can work in the bathroom, too.
When people take steps to go green, and those steps become routine, everyone wins.
Domestic Violence and Rental Agreements
Residents and landlords might not realize California law says that lease agreements may be terminated early on grounds of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. While no one wants or expects to end up in this type of situation, studies show domestic violence affects one in every three households in every community.
California law prohibits tenants from being evicted because they have reported domestic abuse. The law seeks to protect the rights of the landowner while trying to ensure the safety of domestic-violence victims.
Residents pursuing early termination must have a written report by a police officer stating the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. A copy of a temporary restraining order or emergency protective order, issued within the last 180 days, also may be used as grounds to end a lease. Victims of elder abuse or abuse of a dependent adult also are covered by this law.
Tenants are still responsible for paying 30 days' rent following the notice to terminate. If the perpetrator is not a tenant in the same unit, a landlord must change a victim's locks within 24 hours after a victim makes a request and provides a restraining order or police report documenting domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
If the victim allows the person against whom the protection has been issued to enter their unit, the notice to terminate is invalidated.
Safe and dependable housing is critical for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. It's important tenants and landlords understand the law and their options.
What to do about noisy neighbors
Most of us, especially if we live in a large residential complex, have had to deal with a noisy neighbor at one time or another. In the interest of being neighborly, you don't want to overreact. So what should you do?
Noise ordinance laws exist, but they were not designed to make sure you don't ever have to hear your neighbor. They are standards put in place to allow people to make acceptable amounts of noise.
Zoning does affect the allowable decibel level. In residential-only areas, a typical noise ordinance sets a "sound curfew," or period of reduced allowable noise, between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays, and midnight to 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. on weekends.
This applies to the dog that barks all night and your neighbor's carpool buddy who lays on the car horn every morning.
The rule of thumb is that if the noise is loud enough to keep a reasonable person awake, then it is probably illegal. A police officer can use a device to read decibel levels to verify whether your neighbor is breaking noise ordinances.
If you live in a rental unit, odds are there is something in your lease that covers "house rules," which includes something like this: "Quiet Enjoyment: Resident shall not commit nor allow to be committed any nuisance or other act which may disturb the quiet enjoyment of any other resident at the community."
Should you talk to your neighbor before calling your landlord or the police? Not necessarily. Trust your instincts and what you know, or don't know, about your neighbor. Property managers and police officers can put an end to a rowdy party without telling anyone who called in the complaint.
Satellite Dishes in Rentals
When it comes to TV access today, consumers have numerous options in addition to their local cable company. Viewers can watch their favorite TV shows on network websites, through streaming services like Netflix or Hulu Plus, and through satellite service providers.
One of those options – satellite service from companies like Dish Network and DIRECTV – involves installing equipment outside your home. So what does opting for satellite TV mean for apartment and condominium residents or single-family-home renters?
Renters who want satellite service are supported in their choice by Federal Communications Commission rules. The FCC says anyone renting his or her home has the right to install a satellite dish or receiving antenna. The federal agency's guidelines also state that a landlord is prohibited from imposing restrictions that prevent or delay installation, maintenance, or use of an antenna or satellite dish. In most cases, requirements to get approval before an installation are prohibited, the FCC says.
However, the property owner does have the right to impose some restrictions on the installations, such as for safety reasons or the preservation of historic areas. Details may be explained in your lease or rental agreement.
Generally, the rental guidelines for having a satellite dish are straightforward. The dish must be one meter or less in diameter, and it must be installed only in an area leased by the tenant. That means the dish must be in the satellite subscriber's residence or on his or her balcony, patio or terrace. For single-family homes, permissible areas include the house, patio, yard, or similar areas.
A satellite dish cannot be placed in an apartment or condominium complex's common areas, such as on the roof or exterior walls.
The installation must be performed by a professional, and take into consideration safety, interference, and potential alterations of the property. For example, the dish must be secured safely to a heavy object or tripod, and the dish installation can't interfere with the complex's own telecommunications and electrical systems. And, if the signal transmission from the dish requires a cable, the line must run flat under a door jamb or windowsill or via other industry-standard methods so that it does not alter the residence or the use of the door or window.
Finally, when a renter moves, the satellite equipment must be taken out. The resident would be responsible for the cost of repairing any damage that occurs in the removal process.
As with any modifications to your rental home – whether it's an apartment in a large complex or a single-family home – checking with your landlord first is advised.
When Can a Landlord Enter Your Rental
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, buyers 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.
Understanding Your Security Deposit
Most landlords will require new residents to pay a security deposit prior to move in. The deposit is used to reimburse the landlord if the tenant(s) or their guests cause damages to the rental unit.
The landlord may require additional deposit amounts for keys or pets, however the total of the security deposit can't exceed the limits listed above that are governed by California law.
Return of the Deposit
Generally the deposit must be returned within 21 calendar days of returning possession of the rental unit to the landlord. If however there are damages that cannot be completed within that time frame, the landlord is allowed to hold the estimated cost of the additional repairs. If this is the case the former tenant should receive notification within the first 21 days after returning possession that all or part of the deposit is being held pending uncompleted repairs. Within 14 days of the repairs being completed any unused deposit must be returned to the former tenant.
The Rental Agreement
The rental agreement is the tenant's contract with the property owner and like all contracts it should be carefully read before signing.
Month-to-Month vs. Lease
Generally, the agreement will be a month-to month rental agreement or a Lease. A month-to-month agreement is just that, the tenant or the landlord can simply give notice (as specified in the agreement) and move. Whereas a lease is a fixed term agreement that generally covers 6 months or a year of time. In a lease agreement if the tenant must move (i.e. relocating for a new job) they are still liable for the rent on that unit for the term of the agreement.
The agreement will state the acceptable forms of rental payment, when the payment is late, the penalties associated with a late payment and the delivery method of payment. Read and understand exactly how to comply with the agreement before signing it.
Repairs and Alterations
If the agreement has a section dealing with repairs and alterations, potential renters should read it and ask questions if they don't understand it. Under California law, the renter is required to return the rental unit to the property owner in the same condition they received it, allowing for ordinary wear and tear. If unauthorized alterations are made to the to the rental unit (i.e. painting , hanging wallpaper, etc.), the tenant may find that most or all of their security deposit may be used to return the unit to its previous condition...or worse they could be required to pay for damages beyond the deposit.
Addenda to the Agreement
A potential renter should read all addenda to the agreement and understand them. Some addendums are required by law; others are used by the owner or their agent to maintain the property. In multi-unit buildings it's not unusual for the agreement to have house rules that govern things like parking, quite hours, pool rules, pet policies, illegal activity, proper cleaning, etc. Generally these rules are designed to minimize conflict between residents living in close proximity to their neighbors.
Reading and understanding the rental agreement will avoid conflicts and have greater enjoyment of a rental home.