California Attorney and Real Estate Broker Chris Adishian answers the question, “What if the Tenant leaves without paying his utility charges?” at the South Bay Association of Realtors event, “Commercial Attorney Panel-Hot Legal Issues for Commercial Real Estate” on March 5, 2014.
Question: “If you have a tenant that moves out, and 4 months later you get a bill from the Edison Company or Department of Water bill, that says that you owe that bill, and you tell the Department of Water or Edison that it’s the tenant’s responsibility, what can you do? Because the company or Edison or the Department of Water says, ‘No, but since you’re the owner, you have the money.’”
Answer: “Yeah sure, I mean there’s a lot of ways to handle this. One is: in our leases, in leases where I’m the Landlord directly versus managing for clients of ours who may have other leases, we have the tenants pay for everything, so it’s in their name. Or if it’s something we’re paying, we bill it to them on their ledger. So if we bill it to them on their ledger, it becomes an item if they fail to pay it, so we know because we’re doing the ledger every month. If they skip without having paid it, it’s in their name.
I think you as a Landlord have probably two choices: one is kind of take the ‘who cares’ approach, the place is vacant and move on; or pay it and take them to small claims, which I imagine this is going to be somewhere between $30 and $300? $1,000? Okay, still small claims. So you get your Judge Judy moment; you get to pay your bill; you go learn on the LASC if it’s in the LA county or whatever county, how to do a small claims action. You can’t have an attorney or like any of us represent you, but we could advise you on how to fill it out, and then you serve them.
And then you go in front of the judge and say, ‘Hey Judge, I served this person. I paid this $1,000. It happened during their tenancy. They owe me the money.’ If they show up, the judge will make a ruling on the spot. If the tenant doesn’t pay within 30 days I think it is, then it becomes a judgment and you can start attaching assets and go down that road. Or if they just don’t show up at all after you serve them, then you’ll get a default judgment.”
Adishian Law Group is a California law firm with a statewide practice in the areas of Corporate law, Employment law, Real Estate law and Mediation Services. Adishianlaw.com is one of the oldest continually operating law firm websites on the Internet. The firm serves its clientele via three offices located in the major business hubs of El Segundo, Palo Alto and San Francisco. As of March 2013, Adishian Law Group, P.C. has represented individual and corporate clients located across 20 California counties, 4 States outside of California and 9 foreign countries — in over 340 legal matters.
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