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The basics of renting in California

When you choose to rent in California, you have rights and the landlord has certain responsibilities that both must adhere to under the law. The tenant's rights will always be there even if the landlord does not acknowledge them in the lease agreement.

A lease is a document that describes the number of months you will be renting, the amount you will pay each month and the rules you must abide by. While most leases are in writing, they are not required to be unless the leasing period is for more than one year. However, prior to signing or agreeing to the lease, you should thoroughly review the terms to make sure you understand everything.

Rights and responsibilities

When a lease is used, the landlord will not be able to raise rent during that rental period. However, if you need to move prior to the end of the lease, it may be difficult to get out of without continuing to be responsible for rent during the lease period. Despite being bound to a certain timeline, the tenant is entitled to the following basic rights while renting:

  • A limit on what the landlord can charge for a security deposit.
  • Limits to when the landlord can enter the property or unit.
  • Security deposit refund or written details about how the funds were distributed.
  • A right to sue the landlord if he or she violates the law or the lease.
  • A right to make repairs to serious defects in the unit and to deduct the repair costs from rent.
  • To withhold rent under certain lawful circumstances.
  • A right to a habitable unit.
  • Protection from retaliatory eviction, discrimination or other actions.

When you move in, you and your landlord should complete a move-in checklist. The checklist is a record of the unit's condition prior to move in. When you move out, you should complete the checklist again to make a good comparison.

The purpose for this document is two-fold: (1) the landlord will have a record of any damages that must be repaired for which the security deposit can be withheld and (2) you have a record of the condition the unit was in before you moved in to prove, if need be, that certain damages or conditions were there prior and therefore not your responsibility.

What is a retaliatory eviction?

In California, your landlord cannot retaliate against you for certain actions you take through eviction or discrimination. For example, your landlord cannot evict you because you reported him or her for violating the law or the lease.

Typically, the law considers action taken against you as retaliatory if it is done within 6 months of you exercising the following:

  • The repair and deduct method or informing the landlord you will.
  • Complaining about the unit's condition to the landlord or a public authority after giving notice.
  • Suing or seeking arbitration regarding the unit's condition.
  • When the public authority inspects the property or issues a citation based on your complaint.

If you receive an eviction notice, speak to an attorney experienced with landlord and tenant issues even if you are unsure whether or not the notice is retaliatory in nature. California landlords must follow other rules and procedures that guide the eviction process. Gaining the proper information prior to vacating the premises will be beneficial to you. 

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