Real estate law in Los Angeles and throughout California is strictly regulated, and tenants can become confused regarding their rights when sifting through the vast amount of information that covers the guidelines regarding landlord-tenant regulations.
In 2020, Los Angeles had a higher ratio of renters, topping over sixty percent of city dwellers compared to those who own. As a prospective renter, it is crucial to review the lease agreement carefully and consult with a lawyer if necessary. This is applicable whether you are considering renting an apartment, condominium, office space, or a single-unit dwelling.
Lease agreements can be daunting, with a lot of fine print, and if you have already signed on the dotted line, you are bound to your contract and the duties as outlined. However, you have legal rights that protect you as a tenant that can be lawfully acted upon, regardless of your immigration status, should the need arise. As an overview of your tenant rights, let’s break it down a bit.
What Policies and Disclosures Are Found in a California Rental Agreement?
In California, general policies cover rent control, limitations, and restrictions, in addition to various other miscellaneous policies. Several cities add their own regulations to the state’s general rental agreement. Both landlords and tenants agree to the duties and rights of each party.
Lease agreements can be oral or written and define that a tenant agrees to pay rent in exchange for inhabiting a property owned by the landlord. Within the agreement, landlords must disclose all information that pertains to the property being rented and usually includes:
- Names of all parties involved in the agreement. This consists of the dwellers, landlord, rental management company, or condominium owner/company.
- The rental amount, due date, and acceptable payment methods. Security deposits are sometimes required and must be explained and listed in the lease agreement.
- A description of the rental property, meaning the actual dwelling space, and possibly policies regarding access to and use of other areas such as fitness facilities, tennis courts, pools, gardens, and parking.
- Policies for rent increases, late fees, lease termination, and eviction. This section is significant to review. New protections regarding rent increases and eviction are due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, in Los Angeles through May 31, 2022, there is a rent increase freeze for rent stabilized units and mobile home spaces. There is also eviction protections enacted for no-fault eviction reasons, nuisance, unauthorized occupants or pets, and for denying entry to your landlord. Beginning in April, 2022, there are eviction protections for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-related hardship. (see graph below)
- Shared utilities such as water, heating, and electricity.
- Miscellaneous issues such as pest control challenges and health or safety concerns like mold, asbestos, or toxic paints.
Los Angeles County
Updated COVID-19 Tenant Protections Resolution*
* Applies to residential tenants, commercial tenants and mobilehome space renters in unincorporated Los Angeles County, as well as incorporated cities in the County that do not have a moratorium in place.
1 Landlords can evict a tenant and members of their household in order to move into a single-family home, mobilehome space, condominium unit, and/or two unit(s) in a duplex, or triplex home under certain conditions. Visit https://dcba.lacounty.gov/noevictions/ for more information.
2 Commercial tenants will have the following time to repay past due rent from March 2020-January 2021: Twelve (12) months those with 0-9 employees; Six (6) months for those with 10-100 employees
3 Income limits established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): https://www.hcd.ca.gov/grants-funding/income-limits/state-and-federal-income-limits/docs/income-limits-2021.pdf
What You Have a Right to Expect Legal Landlords to Provide
Now that we know what to expect in the rental agreement, what should tenants expect from our landlords? According to LA real estate laws, landlords must provide the following:
- A structurally safe, clean, and habitable space, free of prejudice, with utilities that are in good repair. Landlords must maintain units and attend promptly to complaints of broken doors, windows, plumbing issues, water leaks, pest problems, and any health and safety hazards.
- A legal dwelling. Some landlords have converted areas into illegal living spaces within Los Angeles without the proper permits, such as a basement or garage. As a tenant, you have the same legal protections as renters in legal spaces; however you may not have the same safety measures in place, like fire alarms or sprinkler systems.
- Notices for rent increases, building repairs, and maintenance, including projected duration, that may affect the comfort or convenience of the renter.
- Security locks on particular doors and windows. Security should include anything deemed an endangerment to health and life, including protection against felony offenses such as drug dealing.
- Proportionate and sufficient garbage receptacles in addition to adequate sanitation within the buildings and grounds.
California Tenant Rights
The Nolo book, California Tenants’ Rights, outlines current and lawful rights for renters in detail. Here are some key areas.
Repairs and Maintenance
Tenants request repairs to the landlord, who must respond and attend to the request within a reasonable amount of time, usually within thirty days.
Should a landlord refuse or fail to make the necessary repair, tenants may exercise their statutory right to withhold rent or apply the ‘Repair and Deduct Remedy’. This right allows the tenant to legally make the repairs themselves or hire an outside contractor and deduct all the expenses from their rent.
Depending on circumstances, other options include contacting the local or state building inspectors, suing the landlord, or vacating without notice.
Termination of Lease Agreement
With or without an early release clause, a tenant has the right to break a lease early; however, they may still be required to pay the remainder of the term. Other reasons tenants may legally break their lease include:
- Poor property upkeep that makes the rental unit uninhabitable.
- Harassment of the tenant by the landlord.
- Relocation due to active military duty.
Suing for Retaliation
When tenants exercise their legal right to break a lease, repair a problem or report illegal or unsafe practices, they have the right to sue the landlord for retaliation of harassment that has resulted in the tenant suffering emotional, physical, and financial losses.
Renters are within their rights to withhold rents from landlords who are not providing essential services.
Landlord and tenant rights are complicated and confusing for many. As a result, many renters do not fully appreciate the full extent of their rights under California state law, especially in busy cities like Los Angeles, where the ratio of renters to property owners is high.
The search for reasonable rents and suitable rental properties can make renters quickly overlook their rights and not understand that landlords are not allowed by law to retaliate against tenants who exercise these rights.