Five Tips for California Residential Tenants

Due to the terrific feedback and popularity of my post on tips for Minnesota tenants, I’ve decided to write a post for California renters since I also practice real estate law there.

Although landlord/tenant law tends to be pretty similar, it’s rarely identical due to not only how the laws are worded, but also how they are interpreted by local courts. Because of that, California tenants can’t simply use the tips for Minnesota renters and vice versa. So here are five tips specific to the Golden State:

  • You can get a refund from prepaid rental listing services. Did you use a prepaid rental listing service when looking for an apartment? These are licensed businesses that provide you with a list of available rentals in exchange for money. If they provide you with fewer than three options and you don’t rent any of those choices, you’re entitled to a full refund as long as you demand it in writing within 15 days of signing a contract with them. Be sure to send the demand either certified or registered mail.

Even if they provided a complete list but you ended up renting from another source (or didn’t move at all), they can only keep $50 of your fee and must refund the rest. If that’s the case, you must request a refund within 10 days after the contract ends and provide documentation that you didn’t move or found an apartment without their services. (Again, this should be sent either certified or registered mail.)

  • Your application can’t be refused because you have children living with you. Some landlords try to avoid renting to tenants with children (people under 18). However, California law specifically prohibits this, referring to it as discrimination of “familial status.” If the landlord tries justifying it by saying it’d prevent overcrowding, look at whether the landlord already rents to the same number of adults in a unit. If so, it’s a pretext and suggests illegal discrimination.
  • If you were denied based on your credit report, the landlord has to tell you. Landlords normally don’t have to tell you why they are refusing to rent to you. But where it involves your credit report or a tenant screening report, they have to give you written notice that their decision was partly or wholly based on it and how to get a copy of your credit report.
  • You cannot be charged an unreasonable security deposit. Sure, security deposits in most places seem unreasonable, but there are limits on what the landlord can require from you. If the unit is unfurnished, the security deposit cannot be more than two months’ worth of rent; if furnished, three months’ worth. Like to rock yourself to sleep in your waterbed? The landlord can tack on another half-month’s worth (for the waterbed, not the rocking). These are all in addition to your first month of rent, so a furnished apartment with a waterbed could set you back four-and-a-half months’ worth of rent before you even get the keys. (Fortunately, you’re entitled to a refund for any security deposit amounts not used at the end of the lease term.)
  • Your rent cannot be increased unless the lease allows rent increases. If your lease term is more than 30 days, the landlord cannot raise your rent at anytime during the lease period unless the lease specifically allows it. If the lease allows it, the landlord must give you at least 30 days’ written notice before raising it if the increase is 10% or less, and must give you at least 60 days’ written notice if it’s an increase of more than 10%.

Having a problem with your California landlord or tenants? Call Stephen for a free consultation.

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