Author Topic: What are my rights as a Tenant?  (Read 8874 times)


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What are my rights as a Tenant?
« on: May 29, 2008, 09:17:15 pm »

   It is very important before renting a property to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. The following guidelines will help you have a successful renting experience.

Does a Landlord Have the Right to Discriminate When Renting a Unit?

   According to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, a landlord cannot discriminate or refuse to rent to someone based on group characteristics, such as race, color, sex, religion, marital status, nationality, disability or medical issue (unless the unit would be impossible for the tenant to navigate in), sexual orientation, or any indication that the potential tenant has affiliations with persons who may demonstrate these characteristics.

   Additionally, a landlord cannot hold an unmarried couple’s income to a different standard than it would be for a married couple cohabitating. By the same token, landlords cannot apply any rules for unmarried couples, regardless of their sex, than they would for married occupants.

   If you believe you have been discriminated against when attempting to rent housing, you may resolve the issue with legal remedies available, including: receiving access to housing the landlord has denied you; recovering out-of-pocket losses; requesting damages for emotional distress; seeking attorney’s fees; and asking for civil penalties.

How Much of a Security Deposit Can a Landlord Charge, and Can They Refuse to Return it When the Tenant Moves Out?

   A landlord, under California Civil Code Section 1950.5, is not allowed to charge any more than two months’ rent as a deposit for an unfurnished unit, and three months’ rent for a completely furnished one. If you have paid your rent for each month that you have resided in the property and you wish to move without breaking a lease agreement, you should furnish the landlord with a thirty-day notice as a courtesy. The landlord has to advise you of your right to a preliminary inspection of the unit during the last two weeks before you move out. You should be present for this inspection and the landlord should give you a written list with repairs and expected costs if any are found. You, as the tenant, have the right to make any repairs yourself and clean the unit before you leave. In turn, if the landlord is attempting to charge you with damages or cleaning issues which you did not cause, or which were there when you moved in, you should inform the landlord of such, get any statements from witnesses who know this was not your responsibility, and take pictures before you move out.

   You may leave the keys in the unit when you vacate. Also, the landlord must return your security deposit within twenty-one days after the last day in which you resided on their property. Any legitimate repair deductions must be itemized and sent with your refund. If your landlord does not adhere to these rules regarding your security deposit, you may sue in small claims court.

As a Tenant, Can I Be Evicted Without Notice or Cause?

   The eviction process is rather complicated and varies from state to state. However, the landlord may evict a tenant for nearly any reason if the proper procedures are followed. Some reasons which may cause you to be evicted even with a lease are: nonpayment of rent, lease violations, obvious and purposeful damage, unlawful acts within or upon the premises, noise complaints, and interference with other tenants. Under any of these situations, a three-day notice is all that is necessary to remove a tenant from the unit. After notice is given, the landlord is required to give you an opportunity to correct the non-payment or the problem, and also give you complete contact information and hours in which to do so. It really does not help to attempt to hide from the landlord so that notice cannot be served, as it can be tacked to the door, dropped off at your place of work, or given to anyone at the residence over the age of 18. If you do not answer the notice and request a hearing to show just cause why you should not be evicted, the eviction will commence and you will be removed from the property. Your landlord must follow proper procedures, but it is possible that if you truly are not complying with the terms of your lease, not paying the rent, or conducting dangerous or illegal activities at the unit, you could face a lockout and removal by the sheriff’s department.

If you are renting without a lease on a month-to-month basis, the notice does not have to state the eviction reasons. It could range from anything to updating the property to a real estate sale, or wanting your unit vacant for another tenant. However, an eviction can never be for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation of some sort. If you have resided in the unit for less than a year, a 30-day notice is sufficient. However, tenants who have resided there longer need to receive a 60-day notice.

If you refuse to move after these proper procedures for eviction have been followed, the landlord will file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in superior court. If you, as the tenant, cannot show that the landlord is discriminating or that the claims are false, you will more than likely face immediate eviction.

Can My Landlord Enter My Home Whenever They Wish?

   In a word, no. Landlords to not have the right to simply drop in unannounced without a purpose, or even with one if the situation is not an emergency. Your landlord must make an appointment with you for a convenient time to perform repairs or an inspection of the premises. You do, however, need to comply with this request or after a reasonable period of time, the landlord has the right to enter anyway without your permission. The landlord also has the right to make an appointment with you to show potential buyers the property or potential renters if you are leaving or being evicted. The landlord must provide you with a twenty-four hour notice before entering to conduct normal business, and it must be during normal business hours, not in the middle of the night.

   If a landlord is repeatedly violating the set standards and codes for proper entry, you should first confront the situation and ask that this behavior not continue. This may also give you the right to simply move without notice if the landlord repeatedly violates your privacy after being told to stop. Lastly, a lawsuit may be the only remedy in some cases to terminate this type of repeated invasion.

What Can I Do if My Landlord Won’t Make Repairs to My Unit?

In California, Civil Code 1941.1 gives general guidelines as to what a landlord is required to repair. For example, paint colors which you do not like or worn out carpeting is not a reason to demand a repair. You can request a change of these items, but the landlord is under no obligation to do so unless they are clearly damaged. A landlord is required, however, to repair anything that interferes with your daily living capabilities and also items which may endanger your health. A landlord is also obligated to ensure your safety outside of the unit if certain unlawful practices are taking place on the property, such as gang activity or the dangerous and illegal actions of other tenants. Landlords are required to repair or update lighting, structure, appliances (if they come with the unit), any foul odors or pests, trash around the unit which does not belong to you, broken locks, even noise issues.

   You should make a list of anything and everything which you feel is the landlord’s responsibility to correct and present it to them. If the repairs do not take place, you should write a letter according to the guidelines of Civil Code 1942 stating that you are moving out due to unhealthy conditions. Make sure to take pictures of anything which you feel should not be left unattended. Take good notes in case you have to appear in court regarding these issues. Also, if you feel the unit violates health and building codes, call an inspector to come out and view the damages. Generally, if you are correct in that items need attention, the landlord will be given a citation for repairs to be made within 30 days or face severe penalties and fines. You can also make some repairs yourself, but be certain to keep a valid repair list noting what the issue was, where it was located, when it started, how it impaired your living conditions, and what you paid to fix it. You may not immediately withhold rent for repairs, but if the situation becomes bad enough and is considered not habitable and illegal due to the infractions, you may then do so. At times, it may be necessary to sue your landlord or ban together with other tenants suffering the same circumstances and file a joint lawsuit to force the necessary repairs and upgrade of living conditions.

What Can a Tenant Do if a Landlord Refuses to Allow an Early Lease Termination?

   There are some circumstances in life, such as a marriage, job change, relocation, etc., where a tenant must terminate a lease early. A landlord may see this as an opportunity to force you to pay rent on a unit after you have moved out. Regardless of how the landlord attempts to intimidate you, breaking the lease is not impossible. First, you should review your lease for any provisions about breaking it early. It is possible that your lease is only a checklist where items and dates are left unnoted, or an early departure clause has been inserted. If this is the case, moving out should be very little problem. Other good reasons for breaking a lease early are non-working appliances which the landlord won’t fix, illegal electric, plumbing or construction issues, no screens or window locks after several requests, odors which can’t be resolved, criminal activity, fire, infestations, etc. Customarily, you should give your landlord a 30-day notice if you choose to move. This will allow him or her time to prepare for re-renting the unit and avoid any hard feelings. If an agreement is reached between both parties, make sure you put it in writing. However, some landlords are determined to make you stay, or at the very least, make you continue paying.

   Tenants often are mistaken into thinking that if they just up and leave in the middle of a lease, they are absolved of rent payments. That isn’t true. You are no longer in possession of the unit, but you are still obligated to pay for it. A landlord could make you pay for each month’s rent until the end of your lease if you do not give proper notice and attempt to work out a solution for terminating early. Also, if an agreement is not reached, even if you have given notice, the landlord may be able to legally charge you until the unit is rented again. However, the landlord does have to make an effort to attract new tenants during this period.

   If your lease is terminating anyway, you may move without notice and not renew the lease. But, make certain that you leave the unit is as good a condition as you found it, thereby avoiding some or all of your security deposit to be withheld.

Can the Landlord Raise the Rent Anytime They Wish?

If your lease doesn’t give provisions for rent increases and states a monthly rental rate for the period of the lease, the landlord cannot usually alter that arrangement. However, if you rent on a month-to-month basis, your landlord can raise your rent less than 10% with a 30-day notice or 10% and up with a 60-day notice. When a landlord does not give proper notice for a rent increase, the tenant usually doesn’t have to pay it right away until proper notice is given, but it is very important to continue paying your old rental amount on time.

The landlord cannot raise your rent to force you out for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation against you for asking for repairs or making legitimate complaints about the unit or other tenants. You can refuse to pay the increase if you are certain that it has occurred in this manner. You should also contact the housing authority and file a report detailing the situation before your landlord takes action, such as an eviction notice, against you for non-compliance.

If you live in a rent-controlled area, then the landlord must abide by the control guidelines before raising rental fees. Several cities and areas have different rules, so it is always wise to contact your local housing authority when you are presented with this type of notice.

Can I Just Go and Get a Pet?

In a word, no. If there is a “no pets” clause in your lease or rental agreement, then it means what it says – no pets are allowed. This also includes small caged animals and fish, but sometimes the landlord might bend the rules for contained creatures (general not exotic ones) if you ask nicely and promise that the animal will be kept clean and not cause any damage. However, if there are pets allowed in your unit or building, always ask before bringing one home. Even though pets are acceptable, the landlord has the right to refuse any type of pets except service animals. Yes, even if other tenants have pets, you can still receive a refusal. Perhaps the landlord has decided that once the pets who now live in the building are gone, no more will be allowed. Or, maybe the type of pet you wish to get is not acceptable and could cause problems for other tenants. You may request a valid reason for the denial, but remember, it is the landlord’s final decision as long as it is not discriminatory against you in any way.