Question: I live in a decent neighborhood but my apartment building is not well maintained and the owner just doesn’t seem to care. So I am looking to move to a nicer apartment in the same area. I do realize that the cost of this will be a higher monthly rent; but the asking rent for pretty much any apartment, in any city, has gotten quite out of hand. I keep trying to get advice on what is a reasonable amount to ask for a one-bedroom one-bath, and two-bed one-bath, in my neighborhood. The only answer I can get is whatever market value is. Here’s the dilemma: I know and completely understand market value on land and various properties for sale (I studied real estate), but not asking rent on apartments. And, with the current state of the economy, would I be out of line asking a landlord to knock off $100-200 off of the outrageous asking rent? Or, should I just let it go and stay put where I am now?

Property Manager Griswold replies:

Ultimately the choice will be yours but you need to know all of the facts and the alternatives in order to make the best decision. There is no simple answer. You need to do your homework and gather information by calling on ads and signs for similar rental units in your area. Obviously, if your research reveals that the landlord has been overly aggressive in raising your rent you can either move to one of these other properties or approach your landlord with the information in hand and request a more reasonable rent. The best way to control your future rent is to sign a long-term lease assuming that you are able and willing to lock in and won’t need to move since you cannot just break the lease because your needs have changed. If your landlord agrees to lower your rent or especially if you do move, be sure to sign a long-term lease otherwise you could see your rent go up unexpectedly. Even if the rent survey indicates that your current rent is reasonable there is nothing wrong with asking for a lower rent or at least a long-term lease. The best option would be to ask for a month-to-month rental agreement with a “rent guarantee” in which the landlord agrees in writing to not increase your rent for a certain period of time i.e. 6 months, 12 months, etc. This way you have the flexibility of the month-to-month and can give a 30-day notice at anytime with or without cause but you know that your rent is locked in.

Question: Do I understand correctly that it’s acceptable to agree in a lease that smoking isn’t allowed inside the rental premises, but it’s not okay to refuse to rent to smokers? I currently have tenants who are smokers who apparently are conforming to the lease (which prohibits smoking inside), but they are smoking outside in the common areas and leaving cigarette butts on the ground near other tenant’s front and back doors and in the flower boxes, etc. It remains to be seen whether they will clean them up when they move out. I would like to be able to deny tenancy to anyone who smokes, or at least prohibit smoking anywhere on the premises. Is this possible?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman responds:

Since places to smoke cigarettes are becoming more and more restricted, the last place of refuge for the smoker is in the home. But even there, the smoker is under attack. While smoking is a lawful activity, it still may be limited on private property by rule of the owner or on public property by a law or regulation. The right to breathe clean air and be free of cigarette butt litter is making great strides against the personal right to smoke. Landlords complain about property damage from cigarette smoke, the expense of cleaning up the litter and the fire hazard that smoking causes. Further non-smoking neighbor tenants do not want to smell or breathe the smoke or be subjected to the litter of smokers who just throw their used butts and ashes on the ground. Unfortunately for those who choose to smoke, there does not appear to be any reason that you as a landlord cannot limit smoking at your property. While “smokers” are not a protected class of individuals (like race and religion), you should probably not reference them as a group when making leasing rules. You should simply include the new smoking restrictions in any new lease. These rules would apply equally to anyone including smokers, visitors, or even non-smokers who are just sampling the habit for a day. For current tenants on month-to-month tenancies, you would need to serve a change of terms of tenancy notice with the new smoking prohibition rules. Of course, this will pose a challenging situation for those who find it difficult or impossible to quit smoking within 30 days.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.

E-mail questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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