Q Where can I find a copy of the "Fair Housing Guidelines" for rentals? My landlord keeps referencing them when I want to speak to him about my new lease. He wants to raise my rent nearly $150 a month, and I want to negotiate, but he says he cannot due to fair housing guidelines. Does such a document exist, or is this an excuse because he doesn't want to negotiate a more reasonable rental rate?

A Property manager Griswold replies:

My interpretation of this reference to "Fair Housing Guidelines" is more of a company policy statement rather than a specific law under the state and federal fair housing laws. I think the guidelines your landlord is talking about are likely a generic statement that a landlord should always strive to treat all tenants equally. Your landlord probably has a genuine concern that if he gave different rent increases for identical units, then one of the tenants who is paying more may claim to be a victim of arbitrary discrimination.

For example, let's assume a landlord determines that a rent increase is in order and serves five tenants with written notice for $150 rent increases per month for identical two-bedroom, two-bath units. One of these tenants is a good negotiator and gets the landlord to increase his rent by only $50. This may provide a basis upon which the other tenants could argue that the landlord is favoring one tenant and that they are victims of discrimination.

It is my opinion and experience that many physical and other non-arbitrary factors are relevant in determining the appropriate rent level for a particular unit. Therefore, it is very common for tenants with the same floor plan to have different rental rates. Just as in hotels where certain rooms with pool views will be priced higher than the rooms on the freeway, landlords should be free to set the rental rates at different amounts as long as the basis for the rental rates are business-based and not correlated to the tenant.

However, your landlord is taking a conservative approach and treating all tenants equally to avoid any perception of discrimination, even when the differences in rental rates are based on business factors or market demand.

Your local office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development or the local housing authority can provide you with fair housing legal information. There are also many resources available on the Internet. I would suggest you start with www.hud.gov. It has links to state and local resources, too.

I have a rental home. My tenant routinely pays his rent late, but almost never pays the associated late fees. He tells me he will pay the late fee but doesn't. I have sent numerous written demands. A landlord friend of mine told me that he has had trouble collecting late fees even in court, with some judges advising that he should be glad the tenants pay the rent. He is so frustrated that he has completely given up on collecting late fees. My tenant is buying a home and will be moving in two months, so I have stopped sending him notices. Do you think I can deduct late fees that were never paid from the security deposit when he moves?

Landlords' attorney Smith replies:

Late charges are meant to be a deterrent to late rent payment. The legality of late charges in residential lease agreements is a subject of continuing debate. The dispute usually involves the amount and wording of the late-charge clause. Nonetheless, most agree that a properly worded, reasonably sized late charge is legal and enforceable.

A late charge is not rent. In leases, do not place a late charge on a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. Unpaid late charges could be enforced instead by a three-day notice to perform or quit. Alternatively, a 30-day notice could be served if the agreement is month to month. Although landlord-tenant laws are often silent on this issue, it is my view that your accumulated and unpaid late charges could be deductible from the deposit, along with other rent and cleaning, at termination of the tenancy.

This column is written by property manager Robert Griswold and San Diego lawyers Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant's Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords. E-mail questions to Griswold at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

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