DennisBeaverMay 21, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Have you been told you must sign as a tenant on an apartment lease of a friend or parent? Wait! We may be able to save you thousands of dollars in rent which you should not be paying and prevent damage to your credit.

Today’s story is disturbing. It began with the unexpected death of a parent.

Difficult for children of any age, it was especially so for 19-year-old Christian Ramos, whose father, Victor Ramos, was only 49 when he suffered a fatal brain aneurysm this past September.

“When Victor moved to Hanford 8 years ago, Christian spent about 30 percent of the summer on and off with him, and much less during the school year,” explained Christian’s mom, Christina Faldon.

“It’s difficult for any child – especially a 19-year-old son – to understand or accept his father being suddenly taken away,” she stated while crying during our lengthy phone call.

‘Outrageous, heartless greed’

The last thing Christian needed was to deal with an uncaring, heartless, cold landlord. But it didn’t take long for the manager at Victor’s apartment to do the unthinkable and demand, not just his father’s last month’s rent, but $1,000 in additional, highly questionable charges on top of that.

The full-time, unemployed college student living with his mother was threatened with being turned over to a collection agency and a possible lawsuit by if he didn’t pay.

When property managers and real estate attorneys who represent apartment owners reviewed this case, they described the conduct as “outrageous, heartless greed, not at all justified.”

“Give me a break! His father lives there for years, suddenly dies, and his son is chased for the last month’s rent? You cannot justify this behavior. This poor kid should have been allowed to grieve for his father, and if the dad was a good tenant, I would just let it go. This makes me sick,” stated Bakersfield real estate attorney Fawn Dessy.

Victor was a “very good tenant all the years he lived there,” we were told by the apartment’s attorney, Greg Altounian of Fresno, on our conference call with Christina and Christian. Unbelievably, in the same breath, Altounian insisted, “Somebody’s got to pay the last month’s rent.”

Son told he must sign the lease

So how could this happen?

In June 2010, Victor was given a lease and told that Christian had to sign it as he was over the age of 18. But the managers knew that Christian had no job and only visited his father on an intermittent basis, as he had done for years, and that he resided with his mother. He was his father’s visitor/guest.

To qualify as a tenant there, you had to be able to pay rent or have a co-signer. Christian had neither.

“Dad was under the impression, based on statements made to him, that if I did not become a tenant, he would be evicted or I could not stay with him. I did not want to get him in trouble, and I didn’t want to sign the lease. I was unemployed and didn’t live there, but I felt I had no choice at all,” Christian told us.

‘A greedy grab for dollars’

“Such a threat is absolutely wrong,” commented attorney Craig Braun, who practices real estate law in the southern San Joaquin Valley. “You’re virtually forcing a signature by suggesting that the dad could be evicted if the son did not sign. It is misrepresentation.”

Christian was not legally obligated to sign the lease, as he was a guest, nothing more. But if you are over 18, a guest, and sign the lease, then what? Then contractually you’ve become a tenant and responsible for unpaid rent and related charges, unless a court decides that your consent to sign was made under duress – not freely given.

Hanford attorney Ron Jones agreed with the positions stated by the other lawyers.

“It is classic that they wouldn’t have rented to Christian on his own, but had no problem coercing him and his dad to put Christian on the lease as a potential money grab for them. Even if the law was on management’s side – and it isn’t – a little humanity shown would go a long way further than a greedy grab for dollars. Christian should take it to small claims court to seek a rightful result.”

A compromise was worked out and Christian borrowed $1,000 from his mom to pay. It was either that or be sued – not good for a credit report. In our opinion, they owe him a refund and an apology.

“Victor would have been so proud of his son for speaking with you, Mr. Beaver, in telling this story which should encourage others to not make the same mistake. Get advice on situations where you just do not know what to do,” Christian’s mom told us, holding her son’s hand.

There wasn’t a dry eye in that room.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.