Basic Obligations Owed by Landlords to California Tenants

California landlord-tenant laws specify the rules a landlord must follow when dealing with his or her tenant.  Here is an overview of the most common duties landlords owe to their tenants. 

Duty To Provide Safe and Habitable Premises

In California, landlords are legally obligated to ensure that a rental property is habitable under the ‘implied warranty of habitability’ regardless of the rent amount paid.

The scope of this obligation is delineated in California statutes and case law, and generally provides that the landlord is required to: (1) comply with all applicable requirements of building codes materially affecting health and safety; (2) make all repairs necessary keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition, (3) keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition, (4) maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances; and (5) supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times, reasonable heat and reasonable air-conditioning or cooling.

If the landlord breaches any of these duties, the tenant can make the repairs and deduct the amount from the rent owed.  The tenant may also sue the landlord for any damages caused by the violation. 

Duty To Comply with Anti-Discrimination Laws

Federal and state anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination of tenants based on race, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability. It is also illegal in California to discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, receipt of public assistance and personal characteristics or traits.

Conversely, landlords can legally reject a prospective tenant for legitimate business-related reasons, e.g., if they have a history of paying rent late, a negative report from a past landlord, or a poor credit score or history

One frequently occurring question here is whether a landlord can ask for criminal history during the screening process.  The answer is it depends on location of the rental unit.  Some counties and cities prohibit landlords from asking about an applicant’s criminal history and running a criminal background check.  Further, where landlords are allowed to consider an applicant’s criminal history, they must do so in a consistent, nondiscriminatory manner. If a landlord’s practice of considering criminal history has a discriminatory effect—for example, if the landlord asks only applicants of a certain color for criminal history information—the landlord is engaging in illegal discrimination and can be subject to liability and/or penalties. Further, landlords can reject applicants only for past convictions that are “directly-related” to the application—in other words, convictions that have a negative bearing on a legitimate business concern of the landlord.

Make sure you are familiar with all federal and state anti-discrimination laws, as they provide fertile grounds for many lawsuits against landlords throughout California and the nation.

Duty to Observe the Rent Rules in the California State Law

The state rental laws have provisions governing how to charge late-fee, what to charge for the bounced checks, how to increase rent and how to evict those tenants who failed to pay the rent. California’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (the Act) implemented statewide rent and eviction control laws that affect most residential tenancies in the state. The Act caps rent increases statewide for qualifying units at 5% plus inflation, or 10% of the lowest gross rental rate charged at any time during the 12 months prior to the increase-whichever is lower. Additionally, landlords can raise rent only once over any 12-month period.

California also allows cities and counties to enact local rent control laws. The Act does not override more restrictive local rent control laws, but does override those that are less restrictive. Also, local rent control laws might apply to rental properties that the Act does not cover.

Duty to Comply with California’s Security Deposit Rules

California’s laws comprehensively govern the terms of security deposits. The contentious issues include the deposit limit and how refunds of security deposits are issued.

California landlords can charge no more than two months’ rent as a security deposit for unfurnished rentals. For furnished rentals, the maximum security deposit increases to three months’ rent. If the tenant is an active service member, the landlord can charge no more than one month’s rent for an unfurnished rental and no more than two month’s rent for a furnished rental. If the tenant plans to have a waterbed in the rental, the landlord can add one-half month’s rent on to the security deposit.

California landlords have 21 calendar days after the tenant has vacated the premises to provide the tenant with an itemized statement indicating the amount of and use of the security deposit and to return any remaining portion of the security deposit.  A landlord who fails to comply with these rules is subject to liability and substantial monetary penalties for such non-compliance. 

Duty of Full Disclosure as Required by Law

California law requires the landlords to disclose to the prospective tenants (in the rental agreement or lease) information like ordnance locations, toxic mold, ongoing pest control, no smoking policy, whether the tenants’ utilities serve other areas and the manner of cost allocation. Failure to do this could result in substantial financial penalties.

Tenant’s Right to Privacy and “Quiet Enjoyment” of the Property

Landlords are required to give reasonable notice before entering a rental to inspect or make (non-emergency) repairs.  A 24-hour notice to the tenants prior to accessing rental property, except during the emergency situations is presumed reasonable. The notice must be in writing for non-emergency matters.  The landlord cannot gain entry during a tenant’s extended absence. Before showing the rental property to other prospective tenants, you are required to give a 48-hour notice. It is wise to specify your right of entry in the rental agreement or lease within the confines of the law.

In all states, even in the absence of a statute, landlords can enter a rental without giving notice in order to deal with a true emergency (an imminent and serious threat to health, safety, or property); and when the tenant has abandoned the property.

Duty to Avoid Retaliation against a Tenant for Exercising Their Legal Right

California prohibits retaliation against a tenant who has exercised a legal right; for example, lodged a complaint with a regulatory agency. Retaliation can be done by eviction, by increasing the rent or by decreasing services to the tenant.

It is important to know your landlord responsibilities and keep a paper trail on how you have interacted with the tenant to counter false retaliation claims.

Duty to Follow Eviction Procedures Required by Law

California state laws govern how to terminate a tenancy unconditionally or during a violation of lease. Notices must be issued to the tenant as a precursor to an eviction lawsuit.  The statutory scheme must be strictly followed, or you case may be thrown out of court, requiring that you start all over again.

Lynx Legal’s representatives have a vast amount of experience dealing with California eviction matters. Please contact us with any questions on the above issues, at 888-441-2355 or info@lynxlegal.com. Our experienced professionals are standing by to answer any questions you may have or if you’re ready to start a case.

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