Tenant Representation

Tips for California Tenants

Landlord-tenant relationships can often become strained and lead to anything from minor nuisances and withheld rent to evictions and lawsuits. While there is no way to guarantee a perfect relationship with your landlord, these tips can minimize issues and help you protect your rights as a tenant.

Get everything in writing

All communications with your landlord should be done via certified mail or email so there is a record of what has been said. This can help avoid disputes and misunderstandings down the road. Be sure you keep copies of correspondence and follow up any oral agreements in writing. For example, if your lease says you cannot have pets but your landlord later agrees orally to allowing a dog, be sure you confirm it in writing.

Demand necessary repairs

You have the right to a habitable rental property. This means your landlord is required to offer livable premises with sufficient weatherproofing, water, heat, electricity, sanitation, and a safe structure. If your unit is not in good repair, don’t surrender your rights and accept the conditions. California law offers several legal solutions to make your rental property livable, including using a portion of rent and paying for repairs yourself, withholding a portion of the rent, calling a building inspector who can order the landlord to make repairs, and moving out without notice if your landlord refuses to make repairs.

Protect your deposit

Landlords generally don’t like giving security deposits back when a tenant moves out. Be sure your lease is very clear on how your deposit can be used and how it will be refunded. Do a walk-through with your landlord when you move in and document any existing damage with photos and a checklist or move-in statement. Another walk-through should be done when you move out. Be sure you take photos of the unit’s condition when you move in and move out. Be sure to have a copy of the day’s newspaper in the frame to show the date as some small claims court judges do not accept camera data stamps because they can be tampered with.

Note that California law caps a security deposit at three times the monthly rent for a furnished unit and two times the monthly rent for an unfurnished unit. If you have a waterbed, the landlord can increase the security deposit.

Get receipts for all money paid to the landlord

California law requires landlords to give tenants receipts for cash payments. If your landlord refuses to give a receipt, you can use a payment option that offers proof of payment, such as a money order that includes a receipt or a check. You can also document rent payments by making photocopies of checks or money orders before they’re sent or sending them by certified mail.

Get renters’ insurance

Your landlord has their own insurance policy but it does not cover your losses to your property due to theft or damage. A renters’ insurance policy will protect you against losses and cover you if you are sued by someone who gets hurt on the property due to your carelessness.

Be clear on privacy issues

Make sure the lease or rental agreement is clear on privacy issues, which are one of the most common landlord-tenant issues. A landlord only has the right to enter your unit under certain circumstances and only during normal business hours. A landlord must give you at least 24 hours notice unless there is an emergency, and landlords are allowed to enter (with notice) for the initial move-in inspection, to make necessary repairs, to show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers, when the unit is vacated, or by court order.

Your rent can’t be increased unless the lease allows it

If you have a lease for more than 30 days, your landlord cannot increase your rent at any time during the lease period unless the lease specifically allows rent increases. If the lease does allow increases, the landlord must give you written notice at least 30 days before the increase if it is 10% or less and you must have 60 days’ written notice if the rent increase is more than 10%.

Be considerate and choose battles wisely

As a tenant, do your best to be considerate of neighbors and avoid being a nuisance. Pick your battles wisely with your landlord to avoid creating huge and potentially expensive disputes out of minor inconveniences or nuisances.

Consult a landlord tenant attorney when necessary

It’s important to try to handle disputes with your landlord before escalating the issue, but sometimes you need to pursue legal options. It’s a good idea to consult with a landlord tenant attorney before writing to your landlord about an ongoing dispute such as an eviction.