Question: My partner and I own a loft in a small eight-unit building, and we are members of our building’s homeowner association (HOA). We share a common wall with our neighbor, who lives in our sister building next door, which has a different address and separate HOA. Our neighbor plays very loud music all day and night. We have called the police many times, written polite letters to her and even suggested mediation to resolve this problem. Our neighbor has refused mediation and hasn’t responded to our letters. Our HOA has written two letters to her HOA about the issue, but got no response. Does our HOA have a legal duty to help resolve this issue? Can our HOA fine our neighbor or fine their HOA for not taking care of this matter?
Steven Kellman, an attorney for tenants, replies
Your homeowner association is generally not responsible for handling noisy neighbor problems when the neighbor is not a member of the same HOA. In other words, you are probably on your own with this one. Do not despair, as there are things you can do. Polite letters are fine when you get a reasonable response. The police are generally helpful in these matters because they can at least let the neighbor know he/she needs to tone the noise down, and most people will respect that. Many people will also be amenable to mediation, which is also a reasonable approach. None of the above has worked for you so on to the next level. Try to obtain a copy of the CC&Rs for the noisy neighbor’s condo HOA. If there is a provision regarding excess noise, you may be able to take legal action against that HOA for not enforcing its own rules. You may also simply bring an action in the Small Claims Court against that neighbor for the trespass (i.e., noise entering into your unit) seeking compensation for the disruption with your peace and quiet. Getting a money judgment against this neighbor will be a nice attention-getter, which usually goes a long way toward resolving such problems.
Question: I am currently residing in an apartment, and concerned about my personal property if I pass away while living here. Is the apartment manager allowed to look through my possessions before my family can inventory everything? What are the laws regarding the security of my personal effects until my family or executor arrives? Some of my belongings are valuable, and I have reason to believe that the on-site manager feels he has the right to take his pick of recently deceased tenant’s belongings. My stuff is well documented on DVDs as well as being marked to identify so my family will know if anything is missing. I’m going to inform my family and executor of the apartment manager’s past deeds, but is there any recourse for them if my stuff disappears?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies
It has been said many times that there are only two things you can count on: death and taxes. Eventually, all landlords will have tenants that pass away. There are several legal issues that come up when this happens. Not the least of which is the issue of what to do with the decedent’s personal property. Typically, the legal process that applies when a landlord receives notice of a tenant’s death in a month-to-month tenancy is the rental agreement terminates as of the 30th day following the last payment of rent before the tenant’s death. A landlord may change the locks and take possession of the unit once that time period expires without the necessity of any court action. The landlord is then responsible for the safekeeping of any personal property left in the premises. Until the tenancy terminates, the estate of the decedent has the right of possession, and the landlord has no right to enter the premises, with the exception of making repairs or showing the unit to prospective tenants. Since you have made an inventory of your personal possessions, and gave a copy to the executor, the executor would have the necessary evidence to take legal action against the apartment manager in the event something turns up missing after your death. If you have actual knowledge of the apartment manager stealing possessions of deceased tenants, you should notify the police, the estate of the former tenant, and the actual owner of the apartment building.
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 James McKinley, principal in a law firm representing landlords.
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