|Starting out the tenancy
Finding a good place to live
- Where do you want to live?
- Can you afford it? Meaning, can you afford the monthly rent and utilities, and do you have the required deposits.
- Do you want a long-term lease, or a month-to-month rental agreement?
- Do you need covered parking?
- Do you have special needs – wheelchair access, elevator? For safety considerations, do you want to be on an upper floor?
- Talk to the other tenants. Does the LL make needed repairs quickly? What is the building/neighborhood like at night and on weekends
- Inspecting the apartment before you rent it. You might want to look for the following:
- Are there any signs of bugs or rodents? Are there any holes? Look under the sinks.
- Does it look as though the landlord takes care of the common areas?
- Is there adequate ventilation?
- Is there any sign of rust in the water from the faucets?
- Is there any sign of water damage on the ceiling, walls, or around the windows?
- Are there any cracks in the floor, walls, or ceiling?
- Does everything work? – air conditioning, stove, heat, etc.
- Make sure you are not rushed through the inspection. Take your time and take notes.
Make sure to get straight with the landlord who will be paying for each utility (gas, electric, water, garbage).
- Who will take care of the yard and common areas?
- Take pictures before you move in
- Renters insurance
- What date is the rent due
Questions to ask
- Does the LL make repairs in a timely manner
- What is the building/neighborhood like at night and on Weekends
- Take pictures before you move in
- Renters insurance
To increase your chances of being accepted by the landlord – Bring references, current copy of your credit report. You get a credit report by… This also saves you paying $35 each time you apply to a new landlord to rent an apartment.
What can the landlord charge me to move in? The landlord can charge a $35.00fee to do a credit check on you. The landlord can also charge certain deposits. See the section on DEPOSITS in this web page.
- Is it better to have a rental agreement? There may be local and state laws giving you protections as a tenant, and technically, you do not need a written rental agreement to be considered a tenant. However, a written rental agreement may give you additional protections, or at least spell out the terms and conditions of the agreement between you and the landlord. You need to make sure and read your rental agreement. If you don’t understand what it says, take it home and read it, or ask an attorney or tenant’s rights group to help you out.
- What should be in the rental agreement? The rental agreement determines the length of the tenancy, if you can have pets, how many people may be able to live with you, who pays for utilities, when the rent is due, security deposits, “house rules” which prohibit activities at certain hours, restrictions on home businesses or auto repair, late fees – if any, whether your landlord insists on having a key, whether you can paint or make other alterations. The agreement also covers who pays attorney fees in the event of a lawsuit. If there is anything in particular that you want to ensure is part of the agreement, get it in writing.
- What if the landlord promises to decorate or make changes before I move in? Did the landlord promise to paint? Change the locks? Put it in writing. You don’t need a formal agreement. Just write on a piece of paper “Larry Landlord agrees to paint the bedroom and bathroom and repair the oven before Terry Tenant moves in.” Then date it, sign it, and you and the landlord each keep a copy.
- What’s the difference between a rental agreement and a lease? Usually the length of time they last. Usually, a rental agreement is used for short rental period – month-to-month or week-to-week tenancies. Leases are usually used for longer periods of time – 6 months or one year. For the monthly rental agreements, the landlord can change the terms of the tenancy, raise the rent, or end the tenancy on 30 day’s notice. In a long-term lease, the landlord cannot end the tenancy or change the terms of the agreement during the lease period. The problems occur when a tenant wants to break the lease, or gets evicted. The tenant is still liable for the balance of the rent, until the landlord gets a new tenant.
- Discrimination in Renting. It is illegal under federal law for a landlord to discriminate in choosing tenants based on race, religion, sex, age, ethnic background, physical or mental disability and family composition – for example, whether the tenant has children. The only exception to this last restriction are some kinds of senior-only housing. This means it is illegal to advertise for a particular group, falsely denying that a unit is for rent, having different rules for different groups of tenants.
Usually, the landlord will ask you to fill out a rental application. This is more like a job application or application for credit. The landlord may use this to decide whether to rent to you or not. The landlord may ask you for employment and income information, references from your past landlord or other people, your driver’s license number, your social security number and bank references. You may also be asked to pay for and authorize a credit check. It is illegal for the landlord to ask you about your race, age, national origin, religion, marital status, disability or number of children. It is legal for the landlord to ask you how many people will be living in the rental unit. This is because there are laws governing the number of people per square feet in a rental unit.
The landlord may give your information to a credit check bureau or tenant screening service, such as the Unlawful Detainer Registry. These companies keep information on your credit, or collect information on tenants. The landlord
may want to know if you pay your rent or other bills. The bills on time and if you have ever been evicted. The landlord can decide whether or not to rent to you based on this information. If the landlord tells you that s/he is not going to rent to you based on the credit information, you may want to get a copy of the report yourself, to check and make sure that all the information is accurate. The landlord may charge up to $30.00 to complete the check. CC§1950.6
Before you pay for the credit check, ask how long it is going to take for the landlord to complete the check and get back to you. If the check takes longer than a day or two, but you find another place to rent, can you get your money back? If you and the landlord agree that the credit check fee is going to be refundable, make sure to get that agreement in writing, or get a receipt that says the money is refundable.
Illegal Discrimination in Renting
It is against the law for a landlord to refuse to rent a dwelling to a tenant on the basis of certain characteristics that do not have anything to do with the business of being a landlord or renting apartments. These characteristics include
race, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, color, national origin, disability or ancestry. It is also illegal for a landlord to discriminate against families with children. The only exception to this rule is certain “housing for senior citizens”.
If a landlord in a single family residence rents a single room in the home to a roommate or boarder, the landlord is not subject to the restrictions listed under the above examples of illegal discrimination.
If you are using a real estate agent, listing service or other service to help you find an apartment, it is illegal to a broker or salesperson to discriminate against someone because of his/her race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or disability in renting, selling, leasing property. It is also illegal to tell a tenant is not available for sale or rent when the property is actually for rent.
If you believe you have been a victim of housing discrimination, you may be able to file a suit for damages. There are several organizations who can assist you with this problem. You can call your local Fair Housing Council. You can call the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. You can also call the Los Angeles County Bar Referral Service for names of private attorneys who specialize in housing discrimination cases. There are also bar referral organizations. Since the time limits for filing complaints is short, you need to act quickly if you feel you are a victim of housing discrimination.
Rental Agreements and Leases
When you rent a house or apartment, you enter into an agreement with the landlord. You agree to pay rent in order to live in the dwelling for a certain period of time. You can have a periodic tenancy from week to week or month to month. You can also have a lease for a specific longer-term period of time, usually six months or one year. Longer lease agreements are usually reserved for commercial tenancies. The time between rental payments determines what the periodic tenancy is. If you pay your rent once a week, you have a “week to week” tenancy. If you pay your rent once a month, you have a “month to month” tenancy. This is important because it has to do with how much advance notice the parties have to give before changing the agreement. If the landlord wants to raise the rent, and you have a “week to week” tenancy, the landlord must only give you a week’s notice of the increase. If you have a “month to month” tenancy, you must have at least 30 day’s notice of any change in the terms of the tenancy.
Oral agreements. If there is nothing in writing, but you move into an apartment and agree to pay $500 the first of each month, you have a “month to month” tenancy at $500 per month. Even though there is nothing in writing, the agreement is enforceable in court. However, if you and your landlord have a disagreement, say, as to the date the rent is due, there is nothing in writing to back up your claim that your rent was never due until the 5th of the month.
A written agreement. This is important if you want to make sure who has to pay certain utilities, if you want your rent paid on other than the first of the month, have pets, roommates, or if there are certain rights and responsibilities that need to be set out. If a rental period is for more than a year, it must be in writing. The good thing about a year’s written lease, especially in a non-rent controlled area is that your rent is “locked in” for a year. However, you are also responsible to perform all your obligations, including paying the rent, for the year. Technically, if you have a year’s lease but are evicted for any reason, say, after 3 months, you still owe the landlord the balance of the lease rent. The advantage of the lease is the peace of mind of having a known quantity for a year. The disadvantage is it is difficult to break a lease.
May landlord and I negotiated the lease in Spanish, but the paper is in English! If the landlord negotiates the terms of a rental agreement primarily in Spanish, s/he must give the tenant a Spanish-language translation of the proposed rental agreement before the tenant signs it. This applies whether or not the negotiations were oral or written. It is not acceptable for the landlord to give the tenant the translation. There are other exceptions, but you should remember not to sign anything unless you understand the terms of what you are signing.
What information and terms should be in the rental agreement?
You can go to an office supply or stationary story and buy a number of different “Standard Rental Agreements”. Or you can write out your own agreement. There are no format requirements under California law. Some agreements refer to “Apartment Rules” or “Tenant Regulations” . You should not sign a written agreement unless you have also had a chance to review and approve these rules or regulations.
At minimum, you want the agreement to have:
- The name, address and telephone number of the owner or management company including the address where you pay your rent. You should also know the name of the owner and the address at which they are entitled to receive legal notices.
- Your name and the names of anyone else who will live with you and whether you can sublet the apartment.
- The amount of the rent and the date the rent is due. If the rent has to be paid in a certain form, that should be made clear.
- The amount of late fee, if any, and the number of days grace period to pay the rent, if any.
- Whether pets are allowed.
- What utilities each party pays, and if tenant shares utilities with any other rental units.
- Whether the prevailing party in a lawsuit to enforce the agreement is entitled to attorney fees.
- If the unit needs repairs before you move in, or if the landlord has promised to repaint or re-carpet the unit, this should be in writing.
After you and the landlord sign the agreement, make sure you get a copy. It might be a good idea to have 2 copies of the agreement and you each sign both copies.
I’m disabled and need special accommodations or alterations to the unit.
The landlord must allow a disabled tenant to make reasonable adjustments or modifications to the rental unit to allow he tenant to have the full use of the premises. The tenant has to pay for the modifications. The landlord is entitled to
make the tenant return the unit to its original conditions when the tenant moves out. The landlord is not allowed to raise or add to the security deposit to accomplish this.
You and the landlord need to walk through the apartment together. Note any problems, holes, tears, cracks, etc. and write them down. Then, when you move out, you will not be charge for a condition that was there when you moved in.
I have a master electric meter that goes to my apartment and my neighbor’s apartment.
If there is a utility meter for your apartment unit and it is shared with another unit or part of the building, the landlord must disclose this fact up front, and you should have an agreement in writing as to who is going to pay for the utilities. There are several possible options:
- You pay for the utility and the other party reimburses you
- You and the other unit divide the costs
- The landlord has the utilities in the unit outside of yours put in his/her name
- The landlord has the utilities put in his/her name and pays for them.
The fact is that it’s going to be cheaper to pay renter’s insurance than to replace your possession. Renter’s insurance protects you against property losses from floods, fire, theft, etc. The landlord has insurance for his/her building, but it
does not pay you if your possessions are stolen or burned.
- How often can the LL raise the rent? That depends on whether there are controls on the rent imposed by a government housing agency, or a rent control ordinance. There are also some restrictions on rents in mobile home courts. Finally, if you have a lease for a set time, such as 6 months or a year, the landlord cannot raise the rent during the terms of the lease. Most rent control ordinances limit the amount landlords can raise the rents each year. For example, in Los Angeles, the landlord can only raise the rent 3% in 1999. If there are NO limits on rent increases, the landlord can raise the rent as much as the market will bear, as long as the landlord is not increasing the rent in retaliation for the tenant exercising his/her legal rights.
- Does the landlord have to give the tenant notice of a rent increase? Yes. Before the landlord can increase the tenant’s rent s/he must give written notice. The amount of advance notice must be at least as long as the tenant’s rental period. If the tenant rents an apartment from week to week, the landlord must give the tenant at least a week’s written notice. If the tenancy is from month to month, the tenant must have at least a month’s advance written notice.
- Can the landlord increase the rent with a notice that ends in the middle of a month? Yes. Usually, the rent is due on the first of the month, and the landlord gives notice of a rent increase a month in advance. However, the landlord can also give a 30-day notice of rent increase on, say May 15 and have it be effective June 30. If that happens, the landlord is entitled to receive the increased rent for only the second half of the rental period since the notice of rent increase would become effective in the middle of the month.
- Does the landlord have to serve this written notice to me personally? No. The landlord can serve the written notice of an increase in rent by:
- Handing the notice to the tenant; or
- Leaving a copy of the notice with “a person of suitable age and discretion” (at least 16) at the tenant’s home or work AND mailing a copy to the tenant’s house; or
- Attaching a copy of the notice in a conspicuous place on the apartment or house and leaving a copy with any person living there and mailing a copy to the tenant at his/her property address.
Most of the time, the landlord will just mail the tenant a written notice. In fact, if the tenant admits s/he received the notice, or the landlord can prove the tenant received it, most courts will consider the notice adequately served to enforce the rent increase.
Payment of rent
- Amount of rent
- method of rent
- Late fees
Who can live on the premises
- People on the rental agreement
Pets, Plants, Waterbeds, and other dependents