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Question. I just put my single-family house on the rental market and have agreed to rent it to a nice family of four; mom, dad and two kids, ages two and five. The parents seem responsible enough and I’m sure they will make great tenants, but I am concerned because the house has a pool. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from liability should one of the children fall in and drown?
Keith K., Long Beach
Answer. The short answer is “yes.” There are several measures you can, and should, take to protect yourself. First and foremost, ensure that the pool and the gate / enclosure conform to all state and local codes and ordinances. The gate should be self-latching and should be checked to ensure that it closes properly. Review your insurance policy with your insurance broker to ensure that your coverage is adequate; and consider purchasing an umbrella policy as well. Your insurance broker can counsel you on coverage limits; consider $3,000,000 as a minimum. Finally, you should include as part of your rental documents an addendum to the lease in which the tenant acknowledges the dangers of the pool, agrees to ensure that all gates are kept closed, and agrees to periodically verify that the self-latching gate functions properly. Consider requiring that your tenants procure renters liability insurance as well. These requirements should be a part of your rental policies for a property with a pool, regardless of whether or not your tenants have children.
Question. I received a notice from my bank informing me that my tenant’s rent check was returned unpaid because he placed a stop payment on it. There was no warning, no phone call, and the ‘deadbeat’ did not even have the courtesy of letting me know he was going to stop payment on his check. It kind of makes sense though, he asked a couple of weeks ago if I would let him out of his lease early, guess his girlfriend has a nicer place and he wanted to move in with her. I called his phone number, got a recording saying that it had been disconnected. His cell phone works, got his voice mail, and left a message. I’m guessing that when I swing by later today, it will be empty. What do I do now? I don’t want to make any mistakes; can I just
change the locks if he’s out?
Answer. You have a couple of issues that you need to resolve, first the issue of return of possession of the premises, and then, of course, getting you paid. If the tenant appears to have vacated when you visit the unit, then you must follow certain procedural rules before you simply change the locks. Ideally, you will be able to contact the tenant on his cell or at work. If you make contact, ask that the tenant confirm that he is out by faxing or emailing you written confirmation. If you can confirm that he has moved out, you will not have to follow the abandoned real property notice requirements and will be able to retake possession immediately.
If when you visit the unit, and find that it is vacant, and if the rent is due and unpaid for fourteen (14) days, and the tenant has not voluntarily surrendered possession, then you must serve a written notice of Belief of Abandonment of Real Property. The notice can be posted on the premises and mailed by regular mail to the tenant’s last known address, your property. You must wait eighteen days before you retake possession. If the tenant does not reply, in writing, by informing you of his address for service of an unlawful detainer within eighteen days, then you may retake possession, and change the locks. Once you regain possession, prepare the security deposit disposition form. If he skipped mid-lease, he would owe the balance of the term, or until you mitigate your damages by re-renting the unit, whichever occurs first. Hang on to the tenant’s check that was returned by the bank. Stop payment orders are only effective for six months, unless renewed by the maker, which rarely happens. That means, in six months and a day, you can redeposit the check, and if there are sufficient funds, the check will clear.
This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a specific situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm may be reached at (714) 279-1100 or (800) 829-6994. Please visit www.DuringerLaw. com for more information.
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