- Don’t Forget that Tenants are people too: In law school, they teach us that ownership of real estate includes a bundle of various rights which we can keep or give away. One of the most important is the right of occupancy. An owner gives this right away to another person (“Tenant”) for a period of time through use of a Rental Agreement which can be month-to-month or for longer. For the Tenants, the Property becomes their home… a safe and secure place to live and raise their families. No–one has a right to interfere with the Tenants’ right of occupancy while their Rental Agreement is in effect… unless that right is given in the Rental Agreement. Typical provisions allow the Owner to enter following a written Notice to inspect the Property, make repairs, or show the Property to prospective purchasers or lenders. However, unless agreed to by the Tenants, this generally does not permit installation of a lockbox or the holding of Open Houses. In my experience, Tenants are often willing to cooperate with a Seller’s desire to sell the Property if they are treated with respect and consideration. Remember, they are losing what they consider to be their home and will have to move. Smart owners seeking a faster sale will make it worthwhile for the Tenants to cooperate.
- Legal Support for Tenant Rights: When I acquired my first rental property in 1977, Property owners could do almost anything they wanted… they truly were the “Lord of the Land.” Changes in the law and social awareness have balanced the scales somewhat, but abuses of Tenant rights still occur, especially where Tenants lack the financial ability to fight back. Although the Fair Housing Commission closed in 2014, community and regional organizations have sought to fill the gap, including Legal Services of Northern California at McGeorge Law School. And for serious abuses, State and Federal authorities may step in with legal action. While some might decry this as being an erosion of Owner rights, the underlying purpose is to provide equal opportunity for housing for everyone.
- Recent Expansions: In the not too distant past, people were denied housing based upon their race, or religion, or nationality, or sexual orientation. While advances in the law have substantially reduced such abuses, the last few years have expanded housing opportunities for disabled persons. Today State and Federal laws generally compel Property Owners to make “reasonable accommodations” to allow disabled Tenants to have a Service Animal, even in Properties where pets are not allowed. More recently, State and Local laws have encouraged (but not compelled) Owners to allow the use of Medical Marijuana where smoking is otherwise not permitted. It is unclear at this point if California’s legalization of Recreational Marijuana might find similar support. My guess is that current smoking restrictions will similarly apply to recreational marijuana.
In addition to being a Real Estate Attorney and former REALTOR®, I have been a Sacramento Fair Housing Commissioner and was a Board Member of the Sacramento Rental Housing Association. For over 30 years, my wife and I have owned and managed rental units from single dwellings to a 100 unit apartment complex. So, I have a lot of this content and my personal interest in our theme of Fair Housing and will highlight several key legal issues that impact REALTORS® and their clients.