When renting a home or apartment in California, tenants have certain basic legal rights that are in place to protect them from unfair rental practices. It is important as a tenant to be aware of these rights and how they affect your relationship with your landlord and your current and future living arrangements.
The tenant has the right to privacy within the unit that he is renting. If a landlord must enter the unit, notice must be given directly or in writing at least 24 hours in advance. The notice must state the purpose of entering the unit, the exact date and the anticipated time of arrival. The landlord may only enter the building within normal weekday business hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and must leave behind a business card or some other notification that he was in the unit. At no time does the landlord have the right to freely enter the property.
Security Deposit Refund Right
A landlord may not at any time legally claim security deposits as nonrefundable. Upon leaving the rental unit, tenants are entitled to a refund of the deposit if the unit is in the same condition as it was when the tenant first moved in. Landlords may however, legally deduct necessary repairs to damage that has been made to the unit. California law also states that tenants are entitled to either the full refund or an itemized statement of deductions within 21 days of moving out. Tenants must also be given a receipt of any repair charges.
The Right to Sue
If a landlord violates the legal rights of the tenant, it is that tenant's right to sue under California law. For example, if a landlord repeatedly enters a rental, despite a letter asking him to respect the tenants rights, the landlord may be sued in small claims court.
The Right to Repairs
While living in the unit, if there are defects that are serious in nature and pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the tenant, the tenant has the right to make the needed repairs and to deduct the cost from their rent. This can be done only under certain circumstances and the cost of the repair must not exceed one month's rent. In addition, this right cannot be exercised more than twice during a period of 12 months, and it must not be repairs that are caused by the tenant, his family or pets. The landlord must be given notice that the repairs are needed and a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. According to the DCA, 30 days is considered a reasonable amount of time unless the situation is of an urgent or time-sensitive nature.
The Right to a Habitable Unit
Tenants have a right to live in a unit that is habitable and safe. Under the warranty of habitability, the landlord is legally responsible to make repairs to conditions that threaten the habitability of the unit and must comply with certain state and local health and building codes.
The Right to Withhold Rent
Under certain circumstances a tenant has the right to withhold rental payment. This may occur, for example, if a landlord does not make repairs that affect the safety and habitability of the rental unit. This right can be exercised if the lack of repairs are of a serious nature that threatens the tenant's health and safety. For example, the ongoing presence of rats in a rental are serious enough to warrant withholding rent.