Q: I live in a 12-unit apartment complex. Five of the units are occupied by the owner’s employees. The rest are regular tenants like me. But the employee-tenants have special privileges, like access to the laundry room, keeping a pet, parking in the inside lot, and the right to mount satellite dishes. Is this legal? –Nancy V.
A: With one exception, your landlord’s policies towards the favored few are probably legal, although annoying. The fact that the lucky ones are employees of the owner is irrelevant to our answer — what you’re dealing with here is simply a group of tenants who have a better deal than the rest of you.
Before we get to that exception, let’s be sure that your lease didn’t promise you the very things that you don’t have. If the lease referred to use of the laundry room, or if it was part of the tour you got before moving in, that implicitly made use of the facility part of the deal. Ditto for parking — if the lease mentioned use of the lot, or you had use of it from the outset until you were told to stop, you can argue that it, too, was included in the rent. Similarly, if you don’t have a "no pets" clause in your lease, you are free to have a reasonable pet.
In sum, if you can point to a right to launder, park, and keep a pet either in the lease or implicitly given to you by example or acquiescence, you may have good grounds for arguing that you should continue to enjoy these rights and amenities until the lease ends.
Assuming that you never had the perks that the company tenants enjoy, can you argue that this deprivation is illegal? I don’t think so. Being a "non-company tenant" doesn’t entitle you to equal treatment under the fair housing laws, as it would if, for example, management withdrew or never offered these perks to members of a religion or ethnicity. In other words, if the owner gives his employees a particularly nice place to live, and doesn’t extend the same features to you, you’re being treated differently, but it’s not against the law.
Now to that exception. Federal law prohibits landlords from unreasonably interfering with their tenants’ rights to receive over-the-air reception of satellite signals. Landlords simply cannot impose a blanket ban on all satellite dishes proposed by any tenant, for aesthetic or any other reason (they can insist on safe installation procedures, and structures that have National Historic status may limit them). This feature of your owner’s scheme is against federal law, and you can confidently point this out to the owner (for chapter and verse, send him to the Federal Communications Commission’s Fact Sheet). …CONTINUED
Q: My yearlong lease ended several months ago, and I stayed on as a month-to-month tenant. The lease included a clause that said that if this happened, I’d have to give my landlord 60 days’ notice in order to end my tenancy. Without this clause, I’d have to give only 30 days, though my landlord has to give me 60 days. Is it legal for the landlord to increase my notice period? –Rigo R.
A: When you stayed on after the expiration of your lease, apparently with your landlord’s permission, the terms and conditions of the lease rolled over to your month-to-month tenancy. This includes that extra-long notice clause. But although this clause made its way into your monthly tenancy, this doesn’t necessarily make it legal, even though you signed the lease that included the clause.
Whether your landlord may increase your termination period will depend on the wording of the state statute that sets notice periods. A very few states set a "default" notice period for landlords and tenants, which will apply if the rental agreement doesn’t specify a different rule; but landlords are free to choose their own periods.
Most states, however, set notice periods and do not allow for variations. When you read your statute, look for language that makes it clear that terminations must be done "as provided for" in the statute — this tells you that the Legislature did not intend that landlords get creative. You may even find that the tenant’s notice period is further nailed down, with wording that directs the tenant to terminate "with at least as much notice as the rental term [monthly]." Language like this actually protects landlords, making it mandatory that tenants give no less than one month’s notice.
Finally, think about why the Legislature required 60 days’ notice from landlords, but only 30 from tenants. A scheme like this will protect tenants, especially those in a tight market or those with special needs, from having too little time to find a substitute rental when the landlord wants them out. It would hardly make sense for the Legislature to allow landlords to impose a 60-day notice period for those same tenants, who might need to leave a rental due to health problems, income drops (particularly these days), and other special needs, and for whom an extra 30 days stuck in the rental would be a real hardship. Why punish them when they need to leave, but give them a break when the landlord wants them out? It wouldn’t make sense.
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord’s Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant’s Legal Guide." She can be reached at email@example.com.
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