Understanding California Landlord-Tenant Law

If you are involved in a legal dispute with your landlord or tenant, attorney Chris Olsen can recommend the best course of action to protect and defend your rights. California landlord-tenant law stipulates that landlords must provide tenants with a habitable premises as well as disclose information pertinent to the rental. Tenants also have a responsibility to keep the space clean and safe. Despite these provisions, disputes sometimes arise over security deposits, maintenance, or habitability. Although leases typically contain a clause dictating how to resolve these issues, you may need to pursue legal action if a landlord or tenant refuses to abide by provisions and applicable laws. If you are involved in disagreement with a tenant or landlord, contact our San Diego, CA, law office to schedule a case evaluation. 

image of lease agreement

A comprehensive lease agreement can protect both tenant and landlord rights in the case of a dispute.

Purpose of Landlord-Tenant Laws

Landlord-tenant laws exist to protect the rights of both parties at the city, county, state, and federal levels. They can include noise ordinances, maintenance and safety clauses, fees, time frames for paying rent or returning security deposits, and prohibition of retaliation. While many of these items are typically outlined in the lease agreement, as a tenant, it is wise to check to ensure the provisions in the lease are in compliance with California laws. Doing so can protect you down the road should a problem arise. 

Although leases typically have a clause dictating how to resolve disputes, you may need to pursue legal action if a landlord or tenant refuses to abide by provisions and applicable laws.

Common Disputes between Landlords and Tenants

Disputes may arise between landlords and tenants when one party does not adhere to the provisions in the lease agreement, or to state and federal laws. The landlord may fail to return the tenant’s deposit within the timeframe dictated by California law, which is 21 days. Disputes may also arise if the landlord does not disclose important information regarding the safety of the residence, such as the existence of lead paint or toxic mold. California law also requires landlords to provide tenants with three days’ notice before filing for eviction. If the landlord fails to do so, a dispute is likely to result.

Most leases include instructions for how certain disputes should be handled. For example, if a maintenance issue arises, the tenant may have to submit a request in writing. If the problem is not resolved to the tenant’s satisfaction, he or she may take further action.

Required Disclosures

When signing a lease with a new tenant, landlords are required by California law to disclose relevant information, including:

  • Notice of registered sex offender database: Landlords must ensure tenants are aware of the existence of this database and how to use it.
  • Toxic mold: Written disclosure of any known dangerous mold must be supplied. 
  • Pest control services: The landlord must provide notice of any pest control services, including what type of pest, what pesticides were used, potential health risks, and the frequency of any ongoing treatments. 
  • Whether utilities are shared: If multiple tenants are sharing utilities, the lease must include a breakdown of how costs are apportioned. 
  • Smoking policy: The landlord must include any restrictions on smoking in certain areas in the lease agreement. 
  • Locations of ordinances: If there are any former federal or state ordnance locations within one mile of the rental unit, they must be disclosed in the agreement.
  • Intention to demolish: If there is an intention to demolish the unit, the landlord must disclose scheduling.

Having a comprehensive lease agreement protects both the landlord and tenant from potential legal issues.

Tenant Right to Livable Premises

In California, landlords are legally required to ensure their rental units are livable or habitable before renting, and they must maintain that condition throughout the rental term. State laws (Civil Code § 1941.1 and § 1941.3) dictate that, at a minimum, every rental must have:

  • Functioning plumbing, heating, and electrical facilities
  • Clean and sanitary buildings and grounds 
  • Adequate trash receptacles
  • Effective weather protection and waterproofing of exterior surfaces
  • No lead paint hazards
  • Well-maintained stairways, floors, and railings
  • Sufficient deadbolt locks on certain windows and doors

Rental properties must also be free from nuisances. A nuisance is anything that is dangerous to human life, detrimental to tenant health, or morally offensive. Local governments have their own set of requirements, which are often more thorough than the state’s general housing law. To find out the specific requirements your landlord must meet, contact your local building or housing authority. 

Legally Withholding Rent

In some cases, there is a legal precedent that allows tenants to withhold rent from their landlord until sufficient repairs are made. It is important to ensure that you are within your legal rights to do so. To legally withhold rent, you must have a serious repair or habitability problem that affects your health or safety. You cannot withhold rent if you or a guest causes the problem deliberately or through carelessness or neglect. 

Before withholding rent, inform your landlord of the issue and set a reasonable deadline for them to fix it. Be sure to notify your landlord that you intend to withhold rent if the deadline is not met. Under California law, landlords have 30 days to address a habitability problems, unless the circumstances demand more swift action. The amount of rent you withhold must be reasonable relative to the issue at hand, unless you have had to move out entirely.

Tenant Responsibilities

State housing laws do not only apply to landlords. There are certain requirements that tenants must meet while inhabiting a rental property. If you are renting a house or apartment, you are required to keep the rental as clean as possible. All garbage must be disposed of in a sanitary manner. California housing law also requires tenants to use and operate all electrical, gas, and plumbing fixtures responsibly and refrain from willfully destroying, defacing, damaging, or removing any part of the structure or its furnishings.

When Should You Take Legal Action?

Many tenant-landlord disputes can be resolved outside of court. If the landlord fails to return the security deposit within the 21-day timeframe, the tenant may simply need to call or write the landlord. Other disputes, such as landlord retaliation, failing to disclose safety information, or providing safe living conditions, may require legal action. Attorney Chris Olsen can meet with you and review your case to help determine if taking legal action is appropriate. With an attorney on your side, you can better negotiate with your tenant or landlord and potentially avoid going to court. Tenant-landlord disputes that go to court are settled in small claims court. 

Protect Your Landlord or Tenant Rights

Attorney Chris Olsen has represented both landlords and tenants in a variety of disputes. He has a thorough understanding of California’s landlord-tenant laws and can help protect your rights. If you are involved in a dispute with your landlord or a tenant, contact our law firm online or call (619) 550-9352 to schedule a free consultation. 

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