Q: My apartment building is being turned into condominiums. Where can I find out more about my rights as a tenant?

A: You’re not alone. According to a joint release by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Census Bureau, 266,000 multifamily housing starts were reported nationally for May 2005. Completion rates for units in buildings with five units stood at 318,000. With the booming real estate market blasting many tenants from their rentals, many are left wondering about their options.

For links and a treasure trove of housing and renting information on a national level, start with the Housing and Urban Development Web site at http://www.hud.gov. Hone in on the search by state, since most states have some type of overview of consumer law for renters.

In California, for example, a publication titled “California Tenants” is a great resource for renters and landlords,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for the California Department of Consumer Affairs. “The guide lays down the ground rules for the landlord-tenant relationship, and it simplifies complicated laws. Many disputes between landlords and tenants can be prevented when both sides understand their rights.”

“Consumers can request a single copy for free, or view the publication on the department’s Web site,” said Heimerich. “The guide includes convenient checklists and is the Department of Consumer Affairs’ most popular publication.”

Available on the DCA Web site at http://www.dca.ca.gov. Links to local sites and further information are available via the site. Folks without Internet access can call the department toll-free 1-800-952-5210 for a copy of the publication.

Nationally, many cities have their own regulations, which can be checked by calling your local city hall and asking for the department that handles rental-housing issues.

In some cities, such as Los Angeles, tenants may be entitled to relocation money for condominium conversion evictions, even if the unit is not subject to rent control. The Los Angeles Housing Department can be reached by calling 1-866-557-RENT or online at www.lacity.org/lahd for more information.

Since condominium conversion laws can be complex, it may be wise to consult an attorney. Relocation, notice terms and housing options are other important issues to have on your checklist.

Q: I’ve been asked to fill out an estoppel form by my landlord. What’s this form about?

A: From the root word “estop,” the legal concept behind this fill-in document is to establish a set of “as of right now” details that are part of your tenancy and establish details regarding your individual unit.

Virtually unheard of a scant decade ago, estoppel forms or certificates have become increasingly popular. Why? Usually about a page in length, details bring into focus a past and present picture of the unit. The form also provides lenders or borrowers with concrete information during a sale. Items covered in estoppel forms often include:

  • Lease details, such as all original occupants, landlord and date. This helps establish who originally occupied and handed over the keys to the place.

  • Current occupants, especially noteworthy if not the same as original. Ditto for landlord.

  • Security deposit amount in one space, plus another for “other deposits”, just in case further funds are in the collection or on the original lease. While California State law currently only allows one type of deposit, some older leases mention “cleaning deposits”, “key deposits” and a host of others that are no longer allowed by California State Civil Code to be separate or non-refundable.

  • A statement that the Tenant “represents that the original Lease remains in full force and effect and constitutes the entire agreement between landlord and tenant except… providing space to fill in any amendments, rights, extensions, etc…”

  • Renewal options (if any) regarding the lease, and if exercised.

  • No claims, counterclaims, defenses or setoffs against the Landlord by the tenant are valid except… as named.

  • Notes if any right or option to buy the property was first offered to the tenant, establishing a preferential right.

  • That the tenant has not filed (or is in the process of) any type of bankruptcy.

  • Rents have been paid in full as of date of the certification.

  • Tenant is not in default under any terms of the lease, nor is the landlord.

Most of the information is easy to understand on the form, but if any term or item is unfamiliar, ask the person who provided the document before signing the final certificate. Properly used, an estoppel certificates provide a blueprint for the next owner regarding your tenancy and hopefully prevents any misunderstandings in the future.

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