QI have two months left on my lease. I have been hearing a lot about rental apartment buildings being converted to condominiums. I am concerned because the new owner of our building has bought other apartment buildings and converted them to condos. I am worried that I will have to move suddenly. If the building is sold as condos and someone buys my unit, what happens if I have a lease that runs past the closing date? What are my choices on breaking the lease at the time of closing? Last week, the new owner's management company offered me a one-year lease to be signed at the time of closing. Could I leave or must I stay?

AProperty manager

Griswold replies:

Because your lease is expiring in two months, you have the option of leaving then or accepting the new owner's offer of the one-year lease.

Despite the track record of the incoming owner, it appears that he is not planning an immediate conversion of your apartment building to condos -- after all, you were offered a one-year lease. That new lease must be honored not only by the owner that signed the lease but also by any future owners, whether the building is converted to condos and sold unit-by-unit or the entire building is sold as an apartment building.

Thus, it is up to you whether you want to stick with the current lease for the next two months and then leave or if you want to accept the new 12-month lease, which protects you for at least 12 months of occupancy.

Another factor to keep in mind is that many owners are required to give extended notices or even moving allowances to current tenants when apartment buildings are converted to condos. You also may have an opportunity to buy the unit yourself if it is converted to a condominium. Often these units are available under favorable terms, as the condo converter can pass along to current tenants some savings in marketing and commissions.

We rented an apartment for four years before finding another unit nearby that was better suited to our needs. The on-site apartment manager (who was a longtime representative of the owner) told us we would get our full deposit of $900 ($500 general and $400 pet deposit) back if the kitchen and bathroom were cleaned and the rest of the apartment had sustained reasonable wear and tear.

After we moved out, I went back and talked to the handyman (another long-term employee of the building owner) who was renovating the unit. He recommended full refund of our deposit.

Three weeks after we moved out, a professional property-management company contacted us saying it had assumed responsibility for collecting money we owed the apartment owner for damages and cleaning fees, an amount greater than our deposit. The original manager and handyman no longer work there, and the new management company is ignoring our request for resolution. What can we do?

Property manager Griswold replies:

In my book "Property Management for Dummies," I encourage owners to make management changes as smoothly as possible. It seems to me that you are entitled to return of your security deposit. A change in management company will not alter your previous understanding; the management company is simply a new agent for the same owner. You left the premises in good condition and repair, which was acknowledged by the handyman who was working as the agent for the owner at the time.

Under these circumstances, there is no reason you should not have received your entire deposit back. If your deposit is not returned, you will have to take the landlord and the property management company to small claims court.

The landlord and the old property management company are both responsible to you for the deposit. You should name both of them as co-defendants. They can sort it out as to who should pay you. You may even be able to track down the former apartment manager and handyman and have them testify on your behalf. It sounds as if they were let go with the arrival of the new management company, so they may be willing to testify in support of your claim.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords 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 your questions to Griswold at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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