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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About California Landlord Tenant Laws

 
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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About California Landlord Tenant Laws

Prepared By: Melissa C. Marsh, Los Angeles Landlord-Tenant Attorney
Written: March 2009 - Last Updated: June 2017
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This article seeks to provide both California landlords and tenants a basic guide to navigating the rules pertinent to the landlord tenant relationship, with a primary emphasis on Los Angeles Rent Controlled Units and some references to the special rules in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. The article also provides an overview of Rent Control and Rental Agreements, the importance of Roommate Agreements, how to protect your Security Deposit, the landlord's Right To Enter, what to do about maintenance and repairs, the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment of the rental unit, and the basics about animals/pets and eviction. Los Angeles, California landlord tenant attorney, Melissa Marsh, is also available to answers your questions, and to prepare and review both commercial and residential lease agreements, letters, and notices.

Rent Control and Rental Agreements
Rent
Security Deposits
Right to Enter
Maintenance and Repairs
Right To Quiet Enjoyment
Notice
Eviction
Pets
Roommates

Rent Control and Rental Agreements

Q. What California cities have a local rent control ordinance?
A.
California Cities with a local Rent Control Ordinance that may expand the protections and rights afforded to tenants beyond the rules provided by state law include:

Q. How to Conduct An Inspection Of A Rental Before You Rent?
A.
Before a tenant signs a lease or rental agreement, the prospective tenant should carefully inspect the rental unit to determine whether and to what extent the landlord is maintaining the premises. Use the inventory checklist as an inspection guide, but carefully look for:

  • Cracks or holes in the floor, walls, or ceiling (which may have been quickly painted over);
  • Signs of water damage in the floor, walls, or ceiling;
  • Signs of mold which may cause severe health effects;
  • Signs of rust in water from the faucets in the kitchen and bath;
  • Signs of insects or other vermin;
  • Any leaks in the kitchen or bathroom; and
  • Any offensive odors (cat, dog, urine, mold, etc.) and
  • Chipping paint on the walls or ceiling.

Be sure to also test:

  • The hot water (how long does it take and how hot does it get);
  • The light switches; and
  • Heating and air conditioning.

Inspect the common areas of the building, its exterior, and the trash receptacles.

Finally, if you are concerned about safety, parking, and your landlord's real affinity toward making repairs, tour the neighborhood both during the day and at night on both a weekday and week-end. Ask the neighbors how they like living in the area and ask tenants how they like living in the building.

Q. Before Moving In, What Do I Need To Do?
A.
Take Pictures Of Everything.
Make sure you take pictures both before you move in (especially of any problems) and just before you move out (showing the pristine condition in which you left the premises). Have the photos developed immediately and save the receipt so you can prove when the photographs were taken. These photos will be very useful later if the landlord attempts to withhold your security deposit.

Q. What should a tenant do if a prospective rental unit has some problems?
A.
Discuss the items you are concerned about with the Landlord, or the building's manager. Find out which problems the landlord is willing to fix and if you still want to rent the unit. Make sure you get the landlord's written promise to fix the stated problems in writing and be sure to include the date by which you expect the repairs to be completed.

For any problem you are willing to overlook, make sure you write them down and take pictures or video before you move in. Be sure to use the time and date stamp, if your camera has this feature, otherwise get the pictures developed ASAP.

These items can help you avoid liability for problems that existed before you moved-in. Some landlord's are notorious for blaming the tenant.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please feel free to schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206

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Rent

Q. My landlord orally agreed to accept partial payment of my rent and said I could pay the balance in a week. Can he evict me?
A.
YES.
Tenants are required to pay their rent in full and on time. California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161 allows the landlord to take a partial rent payment and still serve the tenant an eviction notice (typically a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit.

A written agreement, however, is binding. If the landlord agrees to accept a partial rent payment and to provide a grace period for the balance, the tenant must get the agreement in writing for it to be enforceable. The written agreement should state the amount of rent the tenant will pay on time, the date by which the rest of the rent must be paid, the amount of any late fee the tenant must pay, and the landlord's agreement not to evict if the tenant actually pays the amount due by that date. Both the landlord and the tenant should sign and date the agreement and both should have a copy.

Q. Can a landlord charge an application fee or credit check fee?
A.
YES.
In California, property owners are allowed to collect an application/credit check fee up to $44.00 so long as the owner/manager provides the prospective tenant with an itemized receipt for the fee. The owner must only furnish a copy of the credit report to the prospective resident, if requested.

Q. Can a landlord demand a holding deposit?
A.
but if you give the landlord a holding deposit when you submit a rental application, and the landlord later does not accept you as a tenant, the landlord must return your entire holding deposit.

Q. Can a landlord require a tenant to pay the rent in cash?
A.
Typically NO
, unless within the last three months, the tenant has paid the rent with a check that was dishonored by the bank for either non-sufficient funds, or stopped payment. See, California Civil Code Section 1947.3.

To require a tenant to pay rent in cash, the landlord must first give the tenant a written notice that: (1) says that the tenant's check was dishonored by the bank, (2) attaches a copy of the dishonored check, and (3) provides the tenant with the proper amount of advance notice (typically 30 days) from the date of the notice that the tenant must pay the rent in cash.

The period of time the landlord can require the tenant to pay in cash cannot exceed three months from the date of the bank's stop payment, or insufficient fund, notice.

For example, assume on April 1 the tenant gives the landlord a rent check. On April 10, the landlord receives a notice from his bank stating that the tenant's check has been dishonored for Non-Sufficient Funds. On April 11, the landlord gives the tenant notice saying the check was dishonored and that the tenant must pay rent in cash for the next three months. If the requirement that the tenant pay the rent in cash changes the terms of the rental agreement, the landlord's notice will take effect in 30 days (on May 11) so the tenant would only be required to pay June and July's rent in cash.

Q. Is the landlord required to give a tenant a receipt for the rent?
A.
Yes.
California Civil Code Section 1499 provides that if a tenant requests a rent receipt, the landlord is required to provide a signed and dated receipt. Tenants should keep a file with all of their rental receipts and/or canceled checks in the event a dispute later arises.

Q. Can a landlord charge a $500 late fee?
A.
Probably Not.
First, the California courts have routinely held that a late fee that is so high that it amounts to a penalty is not legally valid. See, Harbor Island Holdings, LLC v. Kim, 107 Cal.App.4th 790 (2003) and Orozco v. Casimiro, 121 Cal.App.4th Supp. 7 (2004). That said, if a rental agreement, or lease, contains a reasonable late fee provision, the landlord can charge a late fee if the tenant fails to remit payment of the rent on time. However, any late fee charged must be reasonably related to the actual costs incurred by the landlord as a consequence of the rent being late. In some communities, late fees are further limited by local rent control ordinances. For example, in West Hollywood a landlord is only permitted to charge a 1% late fee and then only if the rent is more than 5 days past due. In Los Angeles, a landlord is permitted to charge a "reasonable" late fee, but cannot demand a late fee payment in a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit.

In addition to a late fee, the landlord may also charge the tenant a reasonable returned check fee if the rental agreement or lease contains such a provision. To be reasonable, the returned check fee must approximate the amount the bank charges the landlord. California Civil Code Section 1719(a)(1) allows a landlord to charge a service charge instead of the dishonored check fee described in this paragraph. The service charge can be up to $25 for the first check returned for insufficient funds, and up to $35 for each additional check.

Q. How often can a landlord raise the rent?
A.
First, the landlord cannot raise your rent during the initial lease term (rental agreement or lease for 90 days, 6 months, 1 year, etc.), unless the lease specifically allows a rent increase.

If you are on a month-to-month tenancy, the landlord can increase your rent up to 10% but only after at least 30 days' advance written notice of the rent increase. The landlord must give a tenant at least 60 days' advance notice if the rent increase is greater than 10%.

If you live in a building that falls within a city or county's rent control ordinance, however, there are greater limitations on when and by how much the landlord can raise your rent. California cities with rental control ordinances are set forth at the beginning of this article.

In a rent stabilized unit in Los Angeles, the Landlord can only typically only raise the rent 3%. The table below shows the allowable rent increases from 1999 to present. In addition to the 3% annual allowed increase, the landlord of a rent stabilized unit is also permitted to increase the rent an additional 1% if the landlord pays for electricity supplied to a tenants unit and an additional 1% if the landlord also pays for gas supplied to the tenant's unit.



Allowable Rent Increases in Los Angeles Rent Controlled Apartments
Year Amount
7/1/99 - 6/30/06 3% each year
7/1/06 - 6/30/07 4%
7/1/07 - 6/30/08 5%
7/1/08 - 6/30/09 3%
7/1/09 - 6/30/10 4%
7/1/10 - 6/30/11 3%
7/1/11 - 6/30/12 3%
7/1/12 - 6/30/13 3%
7/1/13 - 6/30/14 3%
7/1/14 - 6/30/15 3%
7/1/15 - 6/30/16 3%
7/1/16 - 6/30/17 3%
7/1/17 - 6/30/18 3%


Security Deposits

Q. Is a Tenant Entitled to Interest on his or her Security Deposit?
A. Typically No,
but some rent control jurisdictions require the payment of interest. In California there are 15 rent-controlled cities that require landlords to pay interest on the security deposits they collect from their tenants, and in each city they are calculated differently.

In Los Angeles, since 2004, the amount of interest payable is either: (1) the simple interest rate established by the Rent Adjustment Commission; or (2) the actual amount earned by the landlord on the security deposit. If the second method is used, the landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of a bank statement indicating the interest earned on their deposit for the year.

The simple interest rate set by Los Angeles' Rent Adjustment Commission for 2007 was 2.39%, for 2008 it was 3.22%, for 2009 it was 1.76%,for 2010 it is 0.55%, for 2011 it is 0.29%, for 2012 it is 0.22%, for 2013 it is 0.15%, for for 2014 it is 0.18%, for 2015 it is 0.12%, for 2016 it is 0.06%, and for 2017 it is 0.07%.

The City of West Hollywood's Rent Stabilization Ordinance requires that tenants be paid interest on their security deposits by January 31 of each year in an amount determined by the City based on the prevailing interest rates. For 2017, the City of West Hollywood has determined that amount is 0%.

Q. My lease says my security deposit is non-refundable. Is that legal?
A.
No.
California Civil Code Section 1950.5(m) prohibits ALL rental agreements and leases from characterizing a security deposit is "nonrefundable." There is no such thing as a non-refundable security deposit no matter how it is characterized: (i) last month's rent, (ii) move-in fee, (iii) pet deposit, (iv) key deposit, etc. All money paid by a tenant beyond the first month's rent is a security deposit and is refundable.

At the end of a lease, or after a tenant moves-out, the landlord must return a tenant's security deposit (less allowable deductions with receipts/estimates) within 21 days. If a landlord fails to return a security deposit, the tenant should make a written demand for it. If the tenant receives no response, the tenant should file a claim in Small Claims Court for the amount of the security deposit illegally withheld, any out-of-pocket costs the tenant incurred as a result, and the statutory damages provided for the landlord's bad faith retention of the security deposit. The court may award the tenant statutory damages of up to twice the amount of the security deposit retained plus any actual damages the tenant may have incurred. A "non-refundable" security deposit provision in a lease, or rental agreement, is strong evidence of the landlord's bad faith.

Landlords in California need to know that California law REQUIRED the landlord to return a tenant's security deposit along with an itemized statement of deductions, and actual receipts for deductions taken within 21 days.

See, California Civil Code §§ 1950.5 and 1940.5(g). If the landlord is deducting more than $126 from the tenant's security deposit, then the landlord must also provid actual receipts evidencing the deductions taken. Estimates are only permitted if the landlord can show there was no reasonable way the landlord could conduct the needed repairs within 21 days.

For more on Security Deposits, see Tenant Security Deposits.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Right to Enter

Q. When can a landlord enter a rental unit?
A.
California Civil Code Section 1954 governs when a landlord can enter a tenant's rental unit. Under California law, a landlord can enter a rental unit upon at least 24 hours advanced written notice Monday through Friday during normal business hours (8am-5pm), absent an emergency, for the following reasons:

  1. to address an emergency;
  2. to make necessary or agreed-upon repairs;
  3. to show the rental unit to prospective tenants, purchasers, or lenders;
  4. to inspect the installation and maintenance of a waterbed (Civil Code Section 1940.5(f));
  5. to inspect, repair, and re-rent a unit after the tenant has moved out, or has abandoned the rental unit; and
  6. pursuant to a court order permitting the landlord to enter.

Q. What can a tenant do if the landlord enters the apartment illegally?
A.
If the landlord illegally enters a tenant's apartment, or is abusing the right of entry to harass the tenant, the tenant should: (1) Keep a log of all known entries and speak with neighbors who may have either had similar experiences or witnessed the entries; (2) Send a letter to the landlord via certified mail return receipt requested demanding that the illegal entry(ies) stop, that 24 hours written notice be provided for future entries, and that entry will only be granted for legal purposes and then only during normal business hours on weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., absent a true emergency; and (3) if the illegal entries continue, consider installing a video device (like a nanny cam) and suing your landlord in Small Claims Court for $2,000 for each violation for breaching the Warranty of Quiet Possession (California Civil Code §1927) that is implied in every lease. See also, California Civil Code §1940.2(b)

To bring such a claim, however, you must be able to show proof that the landlord, the manager, or other agent of the landlord is illegally entering your apartment. Simply saying, I know he is won't do.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Maintenance and Repairs

Q. What is the Implied Warranty of Habitability?
A.
A landlord has the duty ensure that a rental is habitable before the keys to the rental unit are turned over to a tenant. A landlord is also required to repair problems which make the rental unit uninhabitable. Pursuant to California case law, all leases and rental agreements, oral and written, come with the implied warranty of habitability. Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d. 616 (1974). This warranty cannot be waived. This warranty exists even if a rental agreement, or lease, contains a clause to the contrary.

Under the "implied warranty of habitability," the landlord is legally required to repair conditions that seriously affect either the health or safety of the rental unit's occupants, or fails to substantially comply with one or more of the state and local building and health codes. "Habitable" means the rental unit conforms to the standards set forth in California Civil Code Section 1941.1.

If a landlord breaches the implied warranty of habitability, a tenant may bring a lawsuit against the landlord for any personal injury and/or property damage suffered (including attorneys fees) as a consequence of the uninhabitable conditions. To prevail in this type of claim, a tenant must merely show that an uninhabitable condition existed, that the landlord had actual, or constructive knowledge of it, that the landlord failed to makes repairs in a timely manner, and the tenant suffered damages as a result. In addition, landlords should familiarize themselves with California Civil Code 1941.1 because the failure to maintain proper waterproofing and weather protection, plumbing, gas, hot and cold water, heat, electric lights, property that is free from rodents/vermin, trash receptacles, safe stairs and railings, floors in good repair; and lockable mail receptacles entitles the tenant to a minimum of $100 (but no more than $5,000) in statutory damages per violation plus the tenants out of pocket costs and attorney's fees.

Tenants beware.... the landlord is NOT responsible under the implied warranty of habitability for damage caused by the tenant, or the tenant's family, guests, or pets.

Unpermitted dwellings pose a huge risk for California landlord as they were typically not built to code and are not generally suited for human habitation. This includes garages that have been illegally repurposed and unpermitted additions to a single family homes. If no permit exists, or if no certificate of occupancy exists, for that particular unit, the unit should not be occupied. However, Los Angeles landlord's rejoice. Los Angeles is creating a plan to assist landlords with unpermitted recreational rooms to get them legally permitted as rentals with a real certificate of occupancy. Stay tuned to the Client Alert section of my website.

Q. What makes a rental unit uninhabitable?
A.
The implied warranty of habitability is not violated merely because the rental unit is not in perfect, aesthetically pleasing condition. The implied warranty of habitability is not violated if there are minor housing code violations (e.g. lack of a working phone jack), which, standing alone, does not affect habitability.

However, pursuant to California Civil Code Section 1941.1, the implied warranty of habitability may be breached if the rental unit substantially lacks one or more of the following:

  • Effective waterproofing and weather protection of the roof and outside walls; unbroken doors and windows.
  • Plumbing, electricity and gas facilities in good working order.
  • A reasonable amount of hot and cold running water, and a sewage disposal system.
  • Adequate and safe heating facilities (at least 4 rooms must have an adequate heat source).
  • Electrical lighting, wiring and equipment maintained in good working order.
  • Floors, stairways and railings maintained in good repair.
  • An adequate number of containers for the disposal of garbage.
  • Buildings and grounds which are free of rubbish, garbage, rodents and other pests.

In addition, a rental unit will be deemed uninhabitable if there is the presence of mold, lead, or a structural hazard in the rental unit is affecting either the livability of the unit or the health and safety of its occupants. Similarly, if the rental unit lacks proper sanitation and in turn is endangering the health, life, or safety of its occupants or the public, the unit will be deemed uninhabitable. The implied warranty of habitability is also breached if a local health officer determines the rental unit is contaminated by methamphetamine. A rental unit may also be deemed uninhabitable (unlivable) if a nuisance endangers the health, life, safety, property, or welfare of the occupants or the public.

Q. What can a tenant do if the landlord refuses to maintain the property?
A.
If the landlord fails to meet his or her legal responsibilities, a tenant usually has several options, depending on the state. These options typically include:

  • paying less rent;
  • withholding the entire rent until the problem is fixed;
  • making necessary repairs, and deducting the cost from the rent;
  • hiring someone to make necessary repairs and deducting the cost from the rent;
  • calling the local building inspector, who can usually order the landlord to make repairs, or
  • moving out, even in the middle of a lease.

A tenant can also sue the landlord for a partial refund of past rent paid, and in some circumstances can sue for the discomfort, annoyance and emotional distress caused by the substandard conditions.

If a California landlord fails to repair and maintain either the premises, or the rental unit, such that the unit has or is becoming uninhabitable, the tenant should immediately complain to the landlord in writing. The letter should state the deficiencies in detail, the effect the deficiencies are having on the occupant's health and safety, and provide a reasonable date by which the tenant expects the needed repairs to be made. 15 to 30 days is generally reasonable depending on the severity of the situation. If the only toilet in the rental unit is not working, 24 hours may be reasonable. The letter should be sent certified mail with return receipt and via confirmed facsimile and/or email (if possible). The tenant should retain a copy of the letter and the return receipt. Second, if you live in a city with rent control, contact the housing department and register a complaint with them. If you still have no luck you can: (1) make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost of the repairs from the rent (discussed in more detail below - consult an attorney before taking this action); (2) move out and sue your landlord for your moving costs, set up fees, and higher rent for the balance of your original lease term (Consult an attorney before taking this action); (3) organize with other tenants in the building and hire an attorney to represent all of your interests (if the landlord isn't maintaining one unit, he probably isn't maintaining the others either); or (4) withhold rent (Never Recommended).

Before taking any action such as withholding rent, making the repair yourself and deducting it from the rent, or moving out, tenants should consult with a local landlord-tenant attorney, and check the local laws to understand the available remedies in their particular jurisdiction.

Q. What is the "repair and deduct" remedy?
A.
California Civil Code Section 1942 allows a tenant to use the "repair and deduct" remedy to deduct up to one month's rent to pay for repairs of substandard conditions in the rental unit that are affecting the health and safety of the occupants, and substantially breach the implied warranty of habitability (e.g. no working toilet, no hot water, a gas leak, a leak in the roof during a storm or while a storm is approaching).

The repair and deduct remedy should only be used to make absolutely needed repairs of serious conditions.

We also strongly suggest that prior to availing yourself of this remedy, that you consult with a local landlord-tenant attorney, or legal aid foundation that handles landlord-tenant matters.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Right To Quiet Enjoyment

Q. What can I do if another tenant is making too much noise?
A.
California Civil Code Section 1927 provides all tenants with the Warranty of Quiet Enjoyment. In other words, all tenants have an implied right to the quiet enjoyment of their rental unit. How this relates to a tenancy, however, depends on the local noise statutes and codes in your city.

Most cities have a noise law that prohibits everyone from making unnecessary, excessive or offensive noise which disturbs the peace or causes the annoyance or discomfort of any reasonable person (e.g. loud noises from musical instruments, sound systems, stereos, pets and the like).

If you are in this situation, first contact the offending individual and send them a written complaint specifying the specific dates and times that you believed the noise levels were uncontrolled. If you don't get any relief, contact your local police department and explain the situation.

Q. What can I do if my landlord is using force or intimidation to force me to move?
A.
California Civil Code Section 1940.2(b) allows a tenant to go into Small Claims Court and sue the landlord for $2000 for nuisance if the landlord tries to force a tenant to move through:

  • Conduct that constitutes theft or extortion; or
  • Threats, force or menacing conduct that interferes with the tenant's quiet enjoyment of the rental unit and would create the fear of harm in a reasonable person; or
  • Abuse of the landlord's right to enter the rental unit (entry without proper notice and for no real purpose other than to harass and annoy). See, What can a tenant do if the landlord enters illegally and When can a landlord enter a rental unit.

If your landlord has engaged in any of this behavior be sure to keep a log of the date, time, what the landlord said and/or did, and any witnesses that were present. Immediately send the landlord a letter via certified mail return receipt requested telling the landlord that the specified actions are unacceptable, must stop, and if they persist will lead to legal action. If the harassment persists, file a complaint with the Fair Employment and Housing Department (800-884-1684). If the harassment still continues, you should contact a local landlord-tenant or real estate attorney and file claim in Small Claims Court.

Please note that a landlord does not violate a tenant's rights by giving a tenant one or more warning notices that the tenant, or the guest of a tenant, violated a law or a term or condition of the rental agreement. The tenant's receipt of one or more warning notices, even if untrue, typically will not be considered harassment.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Notice

Q. I need to cancel my lease before it expires, what should I do?
A.
Many leases provide that the tenant may sublet the premises to another so long as the landlord consents. In addition, the law requires the landlord to mitigate his or her damages. Therefore, when the landlord is notified that you can no longer meet the lease obligations, the landlord must try to relet the premises to another. Unfortunately, if you cannot find a suitable (financially solvent) tenant, you will have to reimburse the landlord for the costs of advertising the premises. You will also be responsible for any rent that goes unpaid while the landlord seeks a new tenant. Finally, if the landlord is incapable of leasing the premises for the same amount of rent previously paid by you, you will be responsible for the remaining lease term for difference between the rent you were required to pay and the newly paid rent.

This can be a very difficult situation and we suggest you IMMEDIATELY contact a local landlord tenant attorney who practices in the local county in which the real property is located. If you feel you cannot afford an attorney to represent you in your dealings with the landlord, at the very least spend a little money on getting specific advice tailored to your particular situation. Oftentimes, an attorney will advise you on what to say and how to say it for a nominal fee -- we charge betas little as $85 for such advice, which is often less than a paralegal.

Q. When must the notice be given for a rental increase?
A.
Pursuant to California Civil Code Section 827(b) and Code of Civil Procedure Section 1013, a landlord's notice of a rent increase must be in writing and served either personally or by first class mail. If the rent increase is 10% of less the tenant must be served with written notice of the rent increase personally at least 30 days in advance, and if by mail 35 days in advance. If the rent increase exceeds 10%, the landlord must personally serve the tenant written notice of the rental increase at least 60 days in advance, and if by mail 65 days in advance.

Q. How should a tenant give notice to a landlord?
A.
Regardless of your purpose, whether it is to inform or notify about a condition or to advise the landlord of your intent to avail yourself of the repair and deduct remedy, the abandonment remedy, or the withholding of rent remedy, the tenant should send the notice via certified mail return receipt requested with a copy by first class mail. The notice should be signed and dated and written in the form of a letter describing in detail the problem(s) with the rental unit, the affect it is having on its occupants, and the repairs that are required. The tenant should always retain a copy of any and all notices sent to a landlord.

Although it may be necessary to immediately inform a landlord if there is an emergency (plumbing back-up, flood, etc.), whenever notice is given via telephone, fax, or email it should always be followed with a signed and dated written notice in the form of a letter sent via certified mail that not only a describes in detail the problem(s) with the rental unit, the affect it is having on its occupants, and the repairs that are required, but also the other attempts the tenant has taken to inform the landlord (e.g. voicemail message, fax and email).

If the landlord or a manager is willing to accept notice in person, the same written notice described above may be personally delivered so long as the landlord, manager, or agent is willing to date and sign (or initial) the tenant's copy of the letter so, if necessary, the tenant can later prove the landlord received the notice.

If in response to your written notice the landlord or the manager telephone you, make sure you write down the date, time and take copious notes of the details of such conversations.

Q. What are the new requirements for 3 Day Notices (Pay Rent or Quit, or Cure)?
A.
Effective January 1, 2002, landlords in California must include additional information on their Three-Day Notices to Pay Rent or Quit. These 3 Day Notices must now inform the tenant of the name, telephone number and address of the person to whom payment is to be made and the typical days and hours of that person's availability (Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161). Three-day notices that do not include this information will be deemed defective.

If a landlord gives a defective three-day notice and then files an eviction lawsuit (summons and complaint) against the defaulting tenant, the tenant can then file a "demurrer" in response. If granted, the demurrer will result in the dismissal of the case, which n turn will force the landlord to go through the eviction process again -- starting with a proper Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit.

Q. What is proper service of a Notice? How do I know If I Was Served Properly
A.
California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1162 allows a landlord, the landlord's agent, or anyone over 18 to serve a 3-Day Notice, 30-Day Notice or 60-Day Notice on the tenant in one of three ways:

  1. by personal service (you are personally handed the Notice);
  2. by substituted service (the Notice is left with a person over the age of 18 at your home or work and a copy is mailed to your rental unit's address); or
  3. by posting and mailing (the Notice is tacked to the entrance of the rental unit and a copy is mailed to your rental unit's address).

Effective January 1, 2007, Civil Code Section 1946.1(f) now permits a landlord to send the notice to the tenant by certified or registered mail return receipt requested.

If the Notice was personally served, the notice period begins to run the day after the tenant receives the notice. If the Notice was served by substituted service, the notice period begins to run the day after the notice was both served and mailed. If the Notice was served by posting, the notice period begins to run the day after the notice was posted and mailed. Please note that the effective date is the date of mailing, not the date the Notice is actually received.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Eviction

When What is an Unlawful Detainer?
A.
An unlawful detainer is the legal process by which a landlord evicts a tenant. In other words, it’s a fancy word for eviction. If the tenant wins, the tenant gets to stay in the rental unit, and in some cases will be awarded attorney's fees. If the tenant does nothing, the tenant will lose by default and will be forced out of the rental unit typically in a little under 30 days from the filing of the eviction lawsuit. If the tenant fights the unlawful detainer, the tenant will typically be able to stay in the rental unit for two to three months (even if the tenant ultimately loses).

Q. How does the eviction process work?
A.
Well that would be awfully lengthy discussion, so we will do it in brief. The eviction process begins with a notice (3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit, 30-Day Notice To Vacate, or 60-Day Notice To Vacate). If the tenant does not move out by the end of the notice period, the landlord can file a lawsuit called an unlawful detainer ("UD").

After the UD is filed, the landlord must have the tenant served with the Summons and Complaint which takes anywhere from 1 to 10 days. Once the tenant is served the tenant has ONLY 5 DAYS to answer the complaint. If the tenant doesn't respond, the court will enter a default judgment in favor of the landlord and the tenant will be evicted by the Sherriff unless the tenant quickly files a Motion For Relief from Default.

If the tenant responds to the initial Summons and Complaint within the 5 day period with a motion to quash for improper service, a demurrer, or an answer (along with any demands for discovery), then either party may request a trial before a judge or jury and the trial must occur within 21 days of the demand. Upon the conclusion of the trial, the court will render its verdict.

If the court rules in favor of the tenant, the matter ends. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the court will order the tenant out by issuing a "writ of possession" and award the landlord monetary damages for such items as unpaid rent, damages, court costs and attorneys fees (if the rental agreement has an attorneys fees clause). The court clerk will then send the order to the Sheriff or Marshall. Within one to three days, a peace officer will deliver a 5 day notice to the tenant demanding the occupants of the rental unit vacate or be evicted. Upon expiration of the 5 days, the peace officer will physically remove the tenants and restore the landlord to possession. The peace officer will not, however, move or accept responsibility for any of the tenant's personal belongings which may remain on the premises. The evicted tenant(s) will then be given 15 days to reclaim their personal property.

Depending on what the landlord does and how the tenant responds, the whole process typically takes between one and three months. This is why landlord's are often advised to avoid the eviction process if at all possible.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Pets

Q. If the building I live in allowed pets, can the landlord now start a no-pet policy?
A.
Yes.
California law does not really address the issue of pets with respect to rental units. "No Pet" clauses and clauses that limit the number and/or type of pet a tenant may have in a lease or rental agreement are legal (absent a local rent control law to the contrary) and if a tenant violates such a clause it may be grounds for the landlord to evict the tenant.

However, tenants should check if their city has a local rent control ordinance addressing the issue of pets. For example, the West Hollywood Rent Stabilization Ordinance allows a tenant who at any time had a pet with the landlord's permission to replace the pet even if the landlord starts a "no pet policy." Thus if a tenant had two dogs with the landlords permission for one year, and lived pet free for 6 months during which time the landlord instituted a no pet policy, the tenant would still be allowed to get two more dogs of the same size as those that existed at the beginning of the tenant's tenancy. This replacement is allowed even if the landlord invokes an existing no-pet clause in the lease or has changed terms of tenancy, creating a no-pet policy in the meantime. However, a tenant may not replace one type of pet with another (e.g. a cat instead of a dog), or one size with another (e.g. large dog instead of a small dog).

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Roommates

Q. Can the landlord raise my rent if I get a roommate?
A.
Yes.
Under California law, if your apartment is subject to rent control the landlord has the right to add a 10% surcharge to your rent if you bring in a roommate. If the roommate later leaves, the landlord must decrease your rent by the amount she or he increased it when notified about the roommate. However, if you are replacing an old roommate with a new roommate, then the landlord cannot raise your rent.

Q. Can I charge my roommate any amount of rent I want?
A.
Yes in most cities in California.
No in San Francisco if you are subject to the rent stabilization code. San Francisco's rent stabilization code prohibits a tenant from charging a roommate more than a proportionate share of the rent.

To determine a roommate’s proportionate share, divide the legal rent by the number of occupants (excluding spouses and dependent children) and make adjustments for the size of the bedrooms being occupied. Charging a roommate more than a proportionate share of the rent violates San Francisco's Rent Stabilization Code and can lead to eviction.

Q. Do I need a written roommate agreement?
A.
Are you legally required to have a roommate agreement? No. Should you have a roommate agreement? Absolutely, even if the roommate is your best friend in the world. A written roommate agreement can prevent and settle arguments when problems arise. At the very least your roommate agreement should state:

  1. the amount of rent, when its due, to whom it's paid, and how it's paid;
  2. the term (month-to-month, 6 months, 1 year);
  3. the space rented (the address and which room);
  4. how utilities are to be shared and paid, and restrictions on the number of telephone lines;
  5. the amount of a security deposit, and how it will be returned;
  6. the penalty for late payment of the rent;
  7. restrictions on house guests and other house rules;
  8. the penalty for failing to abide by the house rules;
  9. a statement of your mutual responsibilities to each other in the event one roommate wants to terminate the roommate relationship before the end of the agreed-upon term; and most importantly;
  10. that the roommate is to pay you directly, not the landlord. This will enable you to evict the roommate in the event the roommate fails to pay his or her share of the rent.

If you want to maintain the best chance of being able to evict a roommate in the future, make sure you enter into a written roommate agreement that instructs the roommate to pay you the rent, not the landlord.

If you would like the assistance of a California landlord tenant attorney, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 by completing Ms. Marsh’s Telephone Consultation Request Form and Melissa Marsh will call you back at the time you select. If you merely want to inquire about Ms. Marsh’s services, please call 818-849-5206.

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Disclaimer: The information presented on this web site was prepared by Melissa C. Marsh for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The information provided in my articles and alerts should not be relied upon, or used as a substitute for professional legal advice from an attorney you retain to advise or represent you. Your use of this Internet site does not create an attorney- client relationship. Transmission of this article is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. All uses of the contents of this site, other than personal uses, are prohibited. You may print or email a copy of any information posted on this web site for your own personal, non-commercial, use, but you may not publish any of the articles or posts on this web site without the Express Written Permission of Melissa C. Marsh.


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Located in Los Angeles, California, the Law Office of Melissa C. Marsh handles business law and corporation law matters as a lawyer for clients throughout Los Angeles including Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Valley Village, North Hollywood, Woodland Hills, Hollywood, West LA as well as Riverside County, San Fernando, Ventura County, and Santa Clarita. Attorney Melissa C. Marsh has considerable experience handling business matters both nationally and internationally. We routinely assist our clients with incorporation, forming a California corporation, forming a California llc, partnership, annual minutes, shareholder meetings, director meetings, getting a taxpayer ID number (EIN), buying a business, selling a business, commercial lease review, employee disputes, independent contractors, construction, and personal matters such as preparing a will, living trust, power of attorney, health care directive, and more.