Rents Blog: Rights and responsibilities

Rents Blog: Rights and responsibilities

Michele Ellson
Rents Blog

The City of Alameda doesn’t have any rules governing the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords – and specifically, no rules governing rents, terminations and evictions.

So what rules do govern rentals, and what rights and responsibilities do tenants and landlords have?

The California Department of Consumer Affairs has posted this guide detailing the state and some federal laws that govern tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities; here are some of the highlights.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice, only a summary of what appear to be some of the major points of interest outlined in the guide and not an exhaustive rundown of what it contains. If you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

If you’re seeking assistance on a landlord or tenant matter, places you can contact include:

DISCRIMINATION: Per the guide, landlords are prohibited from discriminating against potential tenants on the basis of a number of things, including race or ethnicity, religion, sex, marital or immigration status. Landlords are also prohibited from discriminating against potential tenants because they have children (landlords may ask about the number of people who will live in a rental unit and establish “reasonable standards” for the number of people per square foot, but they need to be equally applied to renters with kids and those without). An exception: Landlords renting to a single boarder who will live in the landlord’s own home (though that said, any advertisement of the rental can’t establish preferences save the sex of a potential renter). Landlords may also ask about a potential tenant’s income and employment, and conduct credit checks, including checks through tenant screening services that show whether a potential tenant paid rent on time, damaged a prior rental or was subject to an eviction lawsuit, the guide says.

FEES: Landlords may charge new and prospective tenants a host of fees, including an application fee. But application fees are limited to the landlord’s cost of processing a tenant’s application, and there are limits on the total amount a landlord can require a tenant to pay before they move in. The amount of a security deposit and fees combined cannot exceed two months’ rent for an unfurnished unit, three months’ rent for a furnished rental, or three and a half months rent if a tenant is bringing a water bed, the guide says. Security deposits, it says, may not be non-refundable, though a landlord may use some or all of a security deposit for lawful costs (effectively, restoring the unit to the state it was in before a tenant rented it). Tenants are entitled to the return of their security deposit within 21 days of moving out of a rental, or to an accounting of how the money was spent if the amount spent is more than $126, the guide says.

DISCLOSURES: A landlord is required to offer a list of disclosures to a tenant before they move in, including alerting the tenant to the presence of lead-based paint, asbestos, methamphetamine contamination, proximity to a closed military base where explosives or ammunition were used, and if there was a death in the unit. A complete list, along with forms for some of the disclosures, is available in the guide.

HABITABILITY AND REPAIRS: The guide says that landlords are required to keep their rental units habitable and that they are responsible for making any repairs needed to keep it habitable – unless the tenant, their pets or guests were responsible for causing the damage (in which case, the tenant is responsible for making fixes). According to the guide, rental units must “substantially comply” with local building codes, be free of structural hazards or other nuisances that endanger the health, life, safety, property or welfare of a tenant or the public. The unit must also have water, electricity, heat, trash service and a deadbolt lock.

If something breaks or falls into disrepair, a tenant can request repairs in writing, the guide says; if the landlord refuses to make the repairs, a tenant can make the repairs themselves, withhold rent or move, under very specific circumstances, it says – though it also notes that these remedies carry risks that could include eviction or a lawsuit, and that tenants should consider them carefully before moving forward.

RENTS AND RENT CONTROL: Alameda is not one of the 15 cities that have rent control, but landlords are required to provide a certain amount of notice before raising the rent (and of course, rents must be paid on time, and landlords have the right to issue three-day notices to renters who don’t pay their rent when it’s due). According to the guide, rents can’t be raised on tenants with a lease during the term of the lease unless it specifies that they can. Tenants with periodic rental agreements – commonly, month-to-month agreements – or those whose leases permit rent increases must be given at least 30 days’ notice of a rent increase of 10 percent of less and 60 days’ notice if the rent is being raised more than 10 percent. If notice of the rent increase is mailed, the mailing must be made 35 days and 65 days, respectively, before a rent increase is put in place.

The increase calculation (and therefore, the notice) is based the lowest rent charged over the preceding 12 months, the guide says. So if a tenant is paying $1,000 a month and receives a pair of $100 increases, the landlord must give the tenant 60 (or 65) days’ notice of the second planned increase, since it exceeds a 10 percent increase in the course of the 12-month period.

Two other notes: Rent increases may be made mid-month (meaning a renter could pay the increase on a pro-rated basis), and landlords are prohibited from increasing rent as a retaliatory measure (more on retaliatory measures below).

TERMINATIONS AND EVICTIONS: Generally, landlords must give renters living in a unit on a month-to-month basis 30 days’ notice if the landlord plans to end their tenancy, and 60 days’ notice if everyone living in the unit has been there for a year or more. No notice is required for tenants with leases (since the end of the lease is effectively the end of the contract term), though the guide says it’s a good idea for both tenant and landlord to touch base on terminating or renewing a lease well in advance of its end date.

Landlords aren’t required to give tenants a reason for terminating their tenancy, it says.

If a landlord plans to convert rental units to condominiums, they have to notify tenants 180 days before their tenancy ends, and tenants get the first option to purchase the property on the same terms it’s being offered to the public. Tenants have 90 days to exercise their purchase right after the California Department of Real Estate has issued a public report on the condominium conversion. If the property a renter lives in is sold as the result of a foreclosure, a 2009 federal law requires the buyer to honor your lease if you have or to provide 90 days’ notice to move out if you don’t have a lease or if the buyer plans to move in, the guide says. Different rules apply to renters who are on active military duty and those receiving Section 8 rental assistance.

Renters who violate the terms of their lease or fail to pay their rent on time could receive a three-day notice to vacate their unit, which a landlord could rescind if the problem is remedied.

If a renter stays in a unit beyond the date set by a lawful termination notice, a landlord can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in the county courthouse seeking permission to evict the tenant. If the landlord wins, they (or the sheriff, if needed) can evict the tenant; if the tenant wins, they may be able to stay, and to recover the cost of fighting the suit. The guide offers more detail on this process.

Landlords are not permitted to issue “retaliatory” termination notices or file retaliatory eviction lawsuits, the guide says; it says the law assumes that such an action is retaliatory if it’s taken within six months of a tenant exercising a legal right, and that a similar claim hasn’t been made within 12 months. The guide recommends that anyone who feels they are the victim of a retaliatory termination notice or rent increase speak to an attorney or legal aid organization.

HANDLING DISPUTES: First and foremost, the guide recommends landlords and tenants who have a dispute try to talk to each other to work things out. Sending a letter or e-mail detailing concerns is another avenue for addressing disputes, it says. A third avenue listed in the guide involves going to a neutral third party for help, like a mediator or arbitrator.


Submitted by Michelle R. (not verified) on Thu, Oct 23, 2014

Did you know that Alameda landlords can give you 30 days notice to vacate, with no reason provided (like Berkeley, SF, Oakland etc). If you've ever had this happen - especially when you pay rent early, it is quite shocking. If you have rented the unit more than 4 years, you are entitled to 60 days --- but landlord or their lawyer won't share that with you, (I had to look up the details of the notice served on line) We need to change this in Alameda.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Thu, Oct 23, 2014

DId you know a tenant can give a landlord that has kept their tenants rent low for the past 20 years can give a landlord 30 days notice no matter how long they have lived there? And if you have lived there more then 1 year the landlord needs to give you 60 days.

Submitted by Jimmy T. (not verified) on Thu, Oct 23, 2014

There are only at the most 15 cities in the state of California that have rent control. So literally any city other then those 15, not just Alameda can give a tenant a 30 day notice if they have lived there less then a year, just as the tenant can also terminate the rental. SO we are not talking about just Alameda when you bring up California state requirements for landlords. It is every city.

Submitted by Sam (not verified) on Fri, May 8, 2015

My landlord just increased my rent 47.6%. Shocking! How is that legal?