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Updated: Sunday, February 01, 2015


Landlord-Tenant Rules About Pets And Other Animals

A while back, the legal department of the California Association of RealtorsCAR >

In reviewing such laws it is important to keep in mind that most of the rules need to come with a footnote or to be stated as "in general." This is because there are all sorts of exceptions if the animal is a service animal such as a seeing-eye dog or an animal sometimes called a companion, comfort, or emotional support animal that is used to ameliorate a disability. By law, animals that fit into those categories are not considered pets, and different standards apply.

First, then, let us review the rules as they apply in general, remembering that there will be exceptions for service animals and animals used to mitigate a disability.

It is perfectly legal for landlords to prohibit pets. Moreover, it is legal for a landlord to discriminate among pets. A landlord could have a "no-dogs" policy, but might allow other kinds of pets. Conversely, a "cats-only" policy would also be legal. Landlords may even specify that certain breeds are prohibited whereas others may be allowed.

In California -- thanks to a somewhat recent law -- a landlord cannot require that a dog or cat, or any other type of animal, be declawed or devocalized as a condition of rental. A landlord could, though, require that any pets be spayed or neutered. Who knew such things?

Often landlords are willing to take on pets provided that the tenant will pay a deposit that is higher than normal. This is perfectly legal; but it is still subject to Californias security deposit law which only allows for a maximum security deposit of two months for unfurnished rentals and three months for furnished rentals. Calling it a "pet deposit" does not put it into a special category which avoids that limit.

As a matter of fact, the CAR memo suggests, "it makes more sense to simply charge a higher security deposit rather than creating a separate pet deposit fee." Among other things, doing that "prevents unnecessary arguments or confusion if money in the pet deposit is needed for cleaning or damages not caused by pets." Another pet->

As we have noted, the rules are different when it comes to service or companion animals. In those cases, even if there is a no-pets policy, if a disabled tenant "requests to keep a service animal or other animal and it is a reasonable accommodation of the tenants disability, the owner would have to allow the tenant to keep the animal."

This can be dicey. As a general rule, landlords may not inquire about a tenants disability. But the CAR memo points out the following:

"However, if a tenant asks for an animal and need for the animal is not obvious, then the landlord may further inquire. For example, a tenant who suffers from an anxiety disorder, which may not be apparent, may require a cat as a comfort animal. When a tenant asks for an accommodation, the tenant and landlord must engage in what is called a "good faith interactive process" to determine how best to accommodate the tenants disability. If the need for the animal is not obvious the landlord could ask for verification regarding the nexus between keeping the animal and the tenants disability. A tenant can satisfy this by providing written verification. Typically this written verification is from a medical practitioner, although it is not required that it be from a medical doctor and other forms of proof may be acceptable depending on the circumstances."

As noted, this can be dicey.

While California and Federal law are generally the same regarding service and comfort animals, California law goes further in that the same "reasonable accommodations" must also be made for a person who is licensed to train a service animal.

California landlords have no special liability with respect to the behavior of pets allowed on the premises, unless the landlord has knowledge of a pets dangerous propensities and the landlord has done nothing about it. It is the owner of the pet who has strict liability. Nonetheless, landlords who allow pets should review their insurance with respect to coverage for injury or damages caused by a tenants pet. They also should be sure what, if any, exemptions are made for certain breeds. Finally, its not a bad idea for a landlord to require that the tenant maintain a renters insurance policy that will provide the tenant with coverage if his or her animal causes harm to someone. The landlord should verify this coverage.

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way.


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How To Get The Most Out Of Your Refrigerator

Almost 5 million refrigerators shipped in the early half of 2014, reports Statista, and with the advances in kitchen technology, sales of smart refrigerators are expected to reach almost 3 billion globally in 2015. This means, if you are looking for a refrigerator this year, you arent the only one. But, how do you know what type of refrigerator to buy and then how to maintain it? The following are just a few tips:

Buying the Right Fridge

Many people inherit the fridge that comes with their apartment or home, so they are unsure of what >

Once you decide on which model suits your needs, you need to know what size to get. CNET explains that you need 4 to 6 cubic feet of refrigerator space per adult in your household, meaning at least 20 cubic feet for a family of four. However, if you have gourmet cooks, a really big kitchen or a large budget, you might opt for something roomier.

Remodelista Janet Hall advises fridge shoppers to measure and consider the space in their kitchens for the size of the fridge, the size of the kitchen entrance and the available space for the fridge door swing. You also need to think about what kind of food prep you plan to do with a new fridge when considering features like shelves, bins and cooling zones.

Maintaining Your Fridge

Your food freshness depends on the operating conditions of your refrigerator. That means you need to check on things like condenser coils, drip pans, the water filter, door gaskets and temperature settings.

BrightNest suggests that you should clean your fridge twice a year from dust, hair and grime. You also should clean the condenser coils with a vacuum and coil brush, and make sure the drip pan and drain hole are clear. Also, be sure to clean the door gaskets of any crumbs, spilled food and liquids. If you have high energy bills or are unsure about your fridges performance, consider checking the condenser coils and door gaskets every three months, recommends HouseLogic. This can help you reduce any wasted energy from fridge doors that dont close tightly and clogged coils that make the fridge run more often than is necessary.

Cleaning Your Fridge

Keeping the inside of the fridge clean also is important for food safety and optimal operation. Here are just a few suggestions from Martha Stewart and BuzzFeed hacks:

  • Clean spills as they occur rather than letting them accumulate and drip into places where they may interfere with operation or be harder to clean later.
  • Dont let spoiled food sit in the fridge to smell and contaminate other foods.
  • Eliminate odors by keeping food in air tight storage containers.
  • Keep the door clean and free of smudges and stains with a weekly wipe down with soap and water.
  • Empty your fridge completely at least once a year for a thorough take-it-apart-and-clean-everything job.
  • Cover your fridge shelves with plastic place mats to protect against spills and to avoid bigger cleanups later.
  • Keep raw meat and seafood on bottom shelves to prevent them from dripping onto other foods.
  • Use organizing items like lazy susans and plastic bins to help you see and access everything easily. This also means you never have to dig into the back of the fridge again.

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Deducting Interest When You Are Not On The Title

Question: I want to buy a condominium unit for my son. Although he makes a decent living, his credit is not good. Accordingly, the lender has advised that title must be in my name only. My son will live in the property and make all of the mortgage payments.

Can he deduct the mortgage interest on his tax returns?

Answer: The answer is a qualified yes. There are certain rules which you must follow since if the IRS ever challenges the deduction, the burden will be on your son to prove that he is eligible to take the deductions.

We must first look to the regulations which have been promulgated by the IRS.

Regulation 1.163-1b reads as follows:

Interest paid by the taxpayer on a mortgage upon real estate of which he is the legal or equitable owner, even though the taxpayer is not directly liable upon the bond or note secured by such mortgage, may be deducted as interest on his indebtedness.

In August of 2003, the United States Tax Court addressed this situation and denied the interest deduction. The petitioner bought a house for his mother and although the mortgage loan was not in his name, he made the monthly loan payments. He argued to the Tax Court that he was obligated to repay his mother and "that his failure to repay would result, upon his mothers death, in a corresponding reduction in his testamentary share of his mothers estate. But the tax court rejected this argument. Based on the facts which were presented in evidence, the Court determined that the petitioner was neither "directly liable on the note securing the mortgage on his mothers house, nor was he a legal or equitable owner of the property." Montoya v IRS, decided August 5, 2003.

However, this same Tax Court held -- as recently as January 12, 2015 -- that the son was an equitable owner. In Phan v. IRS Docket 16202-13S, the court was impressed with the fact that the sons family had granted him an interest in the property and would allow him to add his name to the title if he paid the property expenses.

What exactly is required to be an "equitable owner"? Our legal dictionaries define this as ownership by one who does not have legal title.

Lets look at this example. I own property A; I am the legal title holder to the property. I enter into a contract to sell the property to you. Based on that contract, even though you have not yet taken title, you have certain rights. These rights are based on the legal principles called "equity" -- namely that the courts will do what is fair under the circumstances, rather than strictly interpreting the letter of the law.

Obviously, each case has to be decided on the specific facts presented to the Court. In the Montoya case, the Tax Court determined that the son just did not have enough evidence to prove that he had some kind of ownership in his mothers property. But in Phan, the sons testimony convinced the court and the son was allowed to deduct the mortgage interest on the mortgage payments he was making. Unfortunately, the opinion in Phan cannot be treated as precedent for any other case; however, the reasoning spelled out by the court will give taxpayers guidance.

Several years earlier, this same Tax Court also allow a couple to deduct the mortgage interest even though they were not on title to the property. In Uslu v IRS, the following facts were presented to the Court.

Uslu had filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy >

The Tax Court found that Uslus mortgage payments "constituted payments on an indebtedness" and thus could be deducted for income tax purposes.

According to the Court:

The Court is satisfied, from all of the evidence presented, that petitioners Uslu have continuously treated the... property as if they were the owners, and that they exclusively, held the benefits and burdens of ownership threof. On this record, the Court holds that petitioners established equitable and beneficial ownership of the property, and they were liable to the brother in respect of the mortgage indebtedness.

How do you meet the burden? Here are some suggestions:

  • your son must continuously live in the property. To prove this, his drivers license, voter registration and utility bills should be in his name at the property address;
  • you and your son should enter into a written agreement, spelling out that he is fully obligated to make the mortgage payments on a timely basis, and that you reserve the right to evict him should he go into default; the agreement should specifically state that you recognize that your son has an equitable interest in the property;
  • your son must be responsible for all maintenance and upkeep of the property, and
  • you should prepare and sign a Quit Claim Deed, in recordable form, conveying the property to your son. This will not be recorded, but will be further evidence of your decision that this property is, in reality if not legally, owned by your son.

There obviously are no guarantees, but if you follow the guidelines spelled out above, you have a good chance of prevailing should the IRS challenge your sons deductions.


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Ask the HOA Expert: Dealing With Hostile Neighbors

Question: Do you have any advice on dealing with hostile neighbors? There is a couple in our HOA that make the rest of us miserable with their constant complaining and badgering the board about rule violations.

Answer: Difficult people ra>

There is an excellent article in the www.Regenesis.net Article Archive titled "Dealing with Difficult People" that will be helpful in understanding personality types and how to cope successfully with them.

Question: Our board is considering a surcharge to owners that rent out their units. Any problem with this?

Answer: This kind of surcharge is illegal since it changes the homeowner fee allocation. Changing that allocation takes a 100 approval vote of the membership and, possibly, their mortgagees. However, if any resident causes extraordinary costs to the HOA like damage to common elements, those costs can be passed on for reimbursement. It is fairly common to charge Move In/Move Out fees when there is documentable costs incurred by the HOA but those fees should apply to all residents, not just renters.

Question: Our HOA has provisions in the governing documents requiring board approval for certain additions like awnings. The board recently received several requests for awnings and the board has decided not to allow awnings of any kind. Is this a correct interpretation of the board authority?

Answer: Its reasonable for members to assume that since the awning option is mentioned in the governing documents, the intention was to allow them. The board cannot enact a policy that contradicts the governing documents. If the board feels that awnings arent desirable in any form, the governing documents should be amended by an appropriate vote of the membership. Otherwise, the board should honor the provision as it is written, arrive at a awning standard and approve requests under those conditions. Adopting a standard is important because of consistency, quality and curb appeal considerations. It also saves both board and petitioner a lot of time and guesswork.

Question: Our regularly scheduled board meeting fell on a holiday. At the last minute, our management company informed us that they could not make the meeting and failed to provide reports or materials for us to review. I cancelled the meeting and reschedule it for another date. Some directors disagreed with my decision stating I was letting the management company run the HOA instead of the board. Was I wrong?

Answer: A board meeting scheduled on a holiday is never a good idea and the management company should have advised you well in advance about not being available to attend. Presumably, there was just a miscommunication. But you made the right decision to reschedule.

One of the most important benefits of professional management is the counsel the manager provides. Having the manager attend board meetings is critical to get objective feedback and adequate information for the board to make informed decisions.

It sounds like some directors are maneuvering to self manage. In most cases, this is a very bad decision. There is a lot more to it than they imagine, not the least of which is having to collect money and enforce rules on neighbors. It ra>

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to www.Regenesis.net.


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What Buyers Should Know About Home Inspections

For many first-time buyers, buying a home can be a scary experience. They know theyll be maintaining or improving a home with little to no maintenance experience, so the solution is to buy a home in perfect condition. So they hire a home inspector to point out all the flaws.

The problem is -- no perfect home exists. Air conditioners break, plumbing pipes leak, and roof tiles blow off in the wind.

If youre buying a home, start with a reasonable expectation of what home inspectors can do. Their job is to inform you about the integrity and condition of what youre buying, good and bad.

A home inspection should take several hours, long enough to cover all built-in appliances, all mechanical, electrical, gas and plumbing systems, the roof, foundation, gutters, exterior skins, windows and doors.

An inspector doesnt test for pests or sample the septic tank. For those, you need industry-specific inspectors.

Heres what else you need to do.

1. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed. The responsibilities of home inspectors vary according to state law and their areas of expertise.

2. Ask what the inspection covers. Some inspection companies have extensive divisions that can provide environmental for radon and lead paint. Be prepared to hire and schedule several inspectors according to your lenders requirements and to pay several hundred dollars for each type of inspection.

3. Some inspection reports only cover the main house, not other buildings on the property. For specialty inspections such as termites, make sure the inspection covers all buildings on the property including guest houses, detached garages, storage buildings, etc.

4. Attend the inspection and follow along with the inspectors. Seeing problems for yourself will help you understand whats serious, what needs replacement now or later, and whats not important.

5. Dont expect the seller to repair or replace every negative found on the report. If youre getting a VA or FHA-guaranteed loan, some items arent negotiable. The seller must address them, but otherwise, pick your battles with the seller carefully.

A home inspection points out problems, they also point out whats working well. It can help you make your final decision about the home - to ask the seller to make repairs or to offer a little less, to buy as is or not to buy at all.


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Getting The Best Mortgage Interest Rate

When you go online to look at mortgage rates, it can be confusing. The only way to get the best rate is to talk to real lenders.

First, decide on which loan program youre going to compare. You need to decide between a fixed, an adjustable rate mortgage ARM and a hybrid. A fixed rate is fixed throughout the life of the loan, an ARM has an interest rate that can vary throughout the life of the loan and a hybrid is an ARM that is fixed for a predetermined period then adjusts into an ARM.

In the current rate environment, with interest rates near historical lows, most people select a fixed rate, but that depends on how long you want to stay in the home. If you think youll sell within five years, go for an adjustable rate. If you believe youll occupy your home for longer, youll be better off with a fixed rate loan.

You also need to select a loan term, or its amortization period. The most common fixed rate term is the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. You can also select a 15, 20, and 25-year term. The shorter the term, the lower the interest rate, but the higher your monthly payments will be.

Some buyers opt for the 30-year term, and pay down their principal when they can. Conventional income-to-debt ratios prevent you from having more than 41 of your gross income used toward debt plus mortgage payments. If you have low debt, or are buying a modest home compared to your means below an income of 28, get a shorter term so you can build equity faster.

Now youre ready to compare loan rates. Get referrals for three lenders from family and friends. Give each lender you call the same facts -- what kind of loan you want, the term, how much you want to put down toward the purchase price, and your credit score. This is to get preapproved.

Keep in mind that quotes you receive arent binding on the lenders part until you actually sign an application and share your personal financial information. Once you put a contract on a home, then you can apply with the lender of your choice. Thats when youll receive your good faith estimate, or binding costs.

Mortgage rates can change throughout the day, so compare lenders rates a close to the same time as possible. You might get a rate quote from a lender on a Friday morning of 4.5 percent then call another lender the following Monday afternoon and get a quote of 3.75 for the very same loan. That doesnt mean the second lender is lower than the first lender, it means the markets may have changed and rates in general have gone down. You need to call back the first lender and get their updated rate quote.

Give your lenders the opportunity to earn your business, just make sure theyre all competing under the same conditions. Thats the only way to know youre getting the best rate.


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14 Sneaky Ways To Get Your House Sold

Lets face it: Selling a home is stressful. The longer its on the market, the more stress it brings and the more it typically costs sellers. Having to lower the sales price, sometimes multiple times, carry two mortgages, or delay the purchase of a new home if an existing home wont sell - stinks. You need every advantage you can find to get your home sold. Try a few of these and youll be packing in no time.

1. Get your neighbors involved.

Neighbors who like you will be happy to help you get your home sold. Same for those who dont like you. Everyone else might need convincing to lift a finger. Offer a 200 prize to anyone who brings you a buyer who closes.

2. Crowdsource it.

Accessing the power of social media will naturally increase the number of people who see your home for sale. Up the ante by offering the same incentive to the person responsible for bringing in the buyer.

3. Throw in the kitchen sink.

Incentives can create additional interest in your home and maybe even convert a "maybe" to a "yes."

"Individual sellers should consider price and other incentives that could entice a buyer to take a look. You have to attract their attention somehow," said Bankrate. "You want to create the buzz."

Everything from gas cards to movie tickets to the furniture you were getting rid of anyway, to a year of homeowners fees can do the trick.

4. Entice with cookies.

You know how they say the way to a mans heart is his stomach? Chocolate chip cookies are an equal opportunity seduction tool. Have a couple of packages of Nestle Tollhouse cookies on hand to throw in the oven before home viewings and you just might convert a prospect into a surefire buyer.

5. Toy story

Is there a family touring your home? Set out a few key toys in the play room or put some crayons and a few coloring pages on the kitchen table to occupy the little ones.

6. Research your buyers

Dont become a stalkerbut uncovering a few facts you can use to your advantage could help make that connection with a buyer. Are they golfers? Conveniently leave out your clubs. Wine enthusiasts? Borrow a few bottles from your best friends wine collection and arrange on the countertop.

7. Write it out.

Leave a personal note for the potential buyers touring your house telling them how much you have enjoyed living there and offering a few tips about the neighborhood the best place for ice cream, where to find a good babysitter. The personal touch will endear you to buyers and help make your home memorable.

8. Create a list.

Another way to make your home memorable is to create a "Top 10 reasons to love our house" list. Have it printed and/or laminated and leave it for buyers.

9. Another kind of "leave behind."

Use the best picture of your home to create a magnet or key chain for buyers to take with them.

10. Stage it.

"Sellers need to understand that the way we live in our home is not the way we sell our home," said Front Door.

Homes that are staged "spend 73 percent less time on the market; typically sell for more money; end up on buyers "must see" lists; are viewed as "well-maintained;" and have fewer concessions requested of the seller," according to the Real Estate Staging Association, said the Daily News.

Staging can cost up to 2,500, but by using tactics used in model homes, sellers might be able to do it themselves. The first step "is a thorough de-cluttering. Sellers should purge the house of all personal belongings, family photos and countertop appliances," said Front Door. "Furniture should be rearranged so as to make the room appear larger. Space sells.

11. Underprice it.

This is no new tactic, but it is one that can result in a bidding war and a higher sales price that would have been achieved otherwise.

12. Forget the open house.

Ditch the typical open house and throw a wine tasting party instead. Feature a few local wines, pull together a couple of appetizers and voila. Not only is this a different approach that will make your listing stand out, it will also showcase the homes entertainment potential.

13. No bones about it.

If theres a loud barker in your neighborhood, offering to pay for a day of doggie daycare during an open house may be warranted. Handing out special dog bones packaged as "Open House Bites" will help occupy dogs on your street and help keep them quiet while potential buyers are touring your home.

14. Borrow some bikes.

If you live in a family neighborhood, make sure it looks like you live in a family neighborhood. Enlisting some neighbor kids to leave their bikes outsideand maybe parents of babies can leave out a stroller or twoduring an open house will warm up the street and illustrate who lives there.

Have any more ideas for sneaky tactics you can use to get a home sold? Let us know in the comments.


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Updated: Sunday, February 01, 2015

Ask the HOA Expert: Dealing With Hostile Neighbors

Question: Do you have any advice on dealing with hostile neighbors? There i...
> Full Story

What Buyers Should Know About Home Inspections

For many first-time buyers, buying a home can be a scary experience. They know theyll be mai...
> Full Story

Getting The Best Mortgage Interest Rate

When you go online to look at mortgage rates, it can be confusing. The only way to get the b...
> Full Story

Copyright © 2015 Realty Times®. All Rights Reserved

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