As of mid-2013, the state legislature is considering changes to the laws regarding tenant rights and security deposits. The San Francisco Chronicle is looking for tenants who have been treated unfairly, especially groups of tenants dealing with an unfair company. Details are available in this article. The proposed bill, SB-603, is described by Senator Mark Leno here, and by the non-profit group Tenants Together here.
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Tenants Together - A non-profit advocacy group for California renters.
Residential Tenant Online Handbook of Rights and Responsibilities - A handbook from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
California Apartments Association Web Site - Renters Rights information: New Renters should consider watching this video and read the brochure it is full of great information.
Habitability and Repairs
Uninhabitable Conditions: Free online legal advice.
Eviction advice from a free legal advice website.
Learn about Eviction from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
Davis Model Lease: The Davis Model is a standardized Landlord-Tenant lease agreement for rental property. You may use it to substitute the property company or landlord's lease.
Under 1950.5, the landlord can charge no more than 2 months' rent for an unfurnished apartment as a security deposit, and 3 months for a fully furnished unit.
This is explained further by the Department of Consumer Affairs. Even if the deposit is broken down into separate types, ie. "Pet Deposit" and "Security Deposit", the total amount may not exceed the amounts listed above. This can be a crucial detail when paying pet deposits per animal on top of the usual security deposit. $500 per pet can quickly add up to be well in excess of the 2x or 3x monthly rent rule.
Within 21 days after you leave the unit, the landlord must refund your full deposit, except for limited deductions which must be itemized in a accompanying notice. The landlord may only deduct from your security deposit the amounts that are reasonably necessary to clean the premises for the next tenant, repair damages that you caused beyond normal wear and tear, and pay any rent you owed but did not pay. Painting the unit is not a legitimate deduction, unless inherent in repairs of damage you caused, such as replacing the walls. Also, even if you rented the place in unclean condition, you have to return it in clean condition, or your security deposit can be used to clean it up. Hopefully you've documented the move-in condition of the apartment, preferably with photos that you can prove were taken at the time of move in, e.g., by giving the landlord prints.
The law expressly prohibits any money paid to secure the tenant's performance under the lease from being non-refundable. Sometimes landlords try to circumvent that law by labeling the money under another name, like rental fee or preparation charge or cleaning fee. Many leases still include such non-refundability terms, even though void. Landlords get to keep thousands of dollars for every few hundred they have to return to a tenant who catches them. There is no criminal punishment under the law for landlords who commit such embezzlement, or attempt to so defraud their tenants by keeping the non-refundable language in.
If the landlord fails to return the security deposit, your remedy is to sue him or her in small claims court. Make your demand letter clear, explaining which deductions were improper and why, and keep a copy for court. Sue not only for the amount that you paid, but for statutory damages and interest for the landlord's bad faith retention of the security deposit. You can get your money back and then some, if the judge agrees, up to twice the amount of the deposit for "bad faith" retention. The non-refundable provision is strong evidence of the landlord's bad faith.
Late fees are illegal. The law regarding residential late fees is almost 30 years old. In 1978, Civil Code 1671 was amended to outlaw virtually all late fees in residential rental agreements. The problem is that it did not use the word "late fees," but instead used the technical legal generic term "liquidated damages," which would functionally include a late fee by its meaning. In the case of Orozco v. Casimiro [(2004) 121 Cal.App.4th Supp. 7] it was decided for the first time, by an appellate court which identified late fees as "liquidated damages" within the meaning of Civil Code 1671, and declared them to be illegal and void, absent extraordinary circumstances. If the landlord puts them in, your signing the agreement does not waive your rights to not pay them, get them back if you did, or sue the landlord for trying to get them.
§1671. Validity of Liquidated Damages Provisions
(a) This section does not apply in any case where another statute expressly applicable to the contract prescribes the rules or standard for determining the validity of a provision in the contract liquidating the damages for the breach of the contract.
(b) Except as provided in subdivision (c), a provision in a contract liquidating the damages for the breach of the contract is valid unless the party seeking to invalidate the provision establishes that the provision was unreasonable under the circumstances existing at the time the contract was made.
(c) The validity of a liquidated damages provision shall be determined under subdivision (d) and not under subdivision (b) where the liquidated damages are sought to be recovered from either:
(1) A party to a contract for the retail purchase, or rental, by such party of personal property or services, primarily for the party's personal, family, or household purposes; or
(2) A party to a lease of real property for use as a dwelling by the party or those dependent upon the party for support.
(d) In the cases described in subdivision (c), a provision in a contract liquidating damages for the breach of the contract is void except that the parties to such a contract may agree therein upon an amount which shall be presumed to be the amount of damage sustained by a breach thereof, when, from the nature of the case, it would be impracticable or extremely difficult to fix the actual damage.
Taking your case to Small Claims Court?
Check out the Renter Small Claims Stories for some general information. Don't forget to share your experience there if you've already gone through the process!
Relevant information you will need: the name of the property owner (different from property manager) which you can find at the Yolo County Assessor's office. You will also need all paperwork from your rental agreement such as, lease, receipts for repairs, correspondence letters...etc.
ASUCD and the GSA both have free legal council available to students. To make an appointment go to either the ASUCD or GSA student services offices and bring your registration card for proof of enrollment.
And of course, you can always check out the Legal Services page.
Proposed Tenant Rights bill by Heystek
The following is a proposal from Davis City Council candidate Lamar Heystek on the floor of the ASUCD Senate on Thursday, April 6, 2006. He wants anyone who has suggestions to offer them, or even add them to the bill — this is supposed to be a fluid document.
The City Council of the City of Davis hereby ordains the following:
BASIC RIGHTS. The City of Davis shall protect and defend the rights of renters as provided by local, state and federal law. These rights include, but are not limited to, the following:
The right to be treated fairly and equitably when applying for, living in, and vacating a rental residence;
The right to be given notice prior to any entrance into a rental residence by a rental property owner or manager, except in an emergency;
The right, upon written request to the rental property owner or manager, to a prompt response to requests for repairs;
The right to a written notice from the rental property owner or manager prior to any rent adjustment;
The rental property owners or his/her agent(s) shall post for tenants' public viewing or otherwise make available to all tenants paper-based copies of California Tenants - A Guide to Residential Tenants and Landlords Rights and Responsibilities.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH. The rental property owner and/or his/her agent(s) shall not prohibit a tenant from posting or displaying in the window or on the door of the premises leased by the tenant in a multifamily dwelling, or from the yard, window, door, balcony, or outside wall of the premises leased by a tenant of a single-family dwelling noncommercial signs, posters, flags, or banners, unless the posting or display would violate a local, state or federal law.
CODE COMPLIANCE. Rental property owners and/or their agent(s) shall post for public viewing or otherwise make available to all tenants the Web address for accessing the City of Davis Municipal Code, information on reporting a code compliance violation, and information on initiating an investigation thereof.
The City of Davis shall, within one (1) year of adoption of this ordinance, assess existing code compliance measures and determine whether additional resources should be allocated for the purposes of code compliance.
TIMELY RETURN OF SECURITY DEPOSIT WITH INTEREST. A tenant shall be entitled to the return of any security deposit that may have been collected by the rental property owner and/or his/her agent(s), plus interest in the amount of five (5) percent per annum, and a good faith accounting of any charges against that deposit within 21 days after the rental residence has been vacated. The bad-faith retention of the security deposit may subject the rental property owner to liability, per California Civil Code 1950.5, for the amount of the improperly withheld deposit, plus up to twice the amount of the security deposit, as a bad faith penalty, in addition to any actual damages.
LEASE RENEWAL PERIOD. The rental property owner is not required to renew an existing lease at the end of the term. After furnishing the renter with the terms of the new lease, the owner and or his/her agent(s) may request the renter to sign an Option to Lease at any time. The owner or his/her agent(s) may not, however, require the renter to sign a renewal lease prior to one hundred (100) days before commencement of the lease.
TAXES, BONDS AND OTHER ASSESSMENTS. The rental property owner shall inform tenants in writing of any parcel taxes, bonds and any other assessments imposed on the rental property or its residents by government jurisdictions, even though tenants are not directly liable for payment.
PERIODIC REVIEW OF RIGHTS. The City of Davis shall direct the City-UCD Student Liaison Commission to review the aforementioned rights on a yearly basis, proposing appropriate additions and other changes as necessary.
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2006-08-23 18:46:28 So, the pdf under the General Information link at the top, on page 28, says that landlords *can* charge late fees. Which is right? —AaGg
In theory, the fee could be low enough where it would be enforceable in court. Most often it's not. Liquidated damages clauses of contracts are generally seen as unenforceable. This is because the landlord's recourse is to sue you for the amount they think you owe, and in order to win that amount in court they would need to demonstrate actual damages equal to that amount. That's how the logic goes, at least. I am not a lawyer, but I have in the past been given advice, by two lawyers, to not pay a $150 late fine for rent that was a single day late. —PhilipNeustrom
2007-09-28 01:04:17 What ever happened with Haystek's proposal last year? —Graham.Freeman
2007-09-28 09:59:09 I believe he did not have majority support. —JamesSchwab
2008-08-21 23:30:02 That's unfortunate. I'd probably support that proposal... Also, the Yolo County Assessor's link is broken. —AmyChow
2009-12-15 10:56:13 Anyone know when most apartments in Davis start sending out renewal forms? I swear every other complex last year started around February or March. Adobe is now having us sign renewal forms in the first two weeks of January. They cite the demand for apartments, which is ridiculous because they had rooms available almost all of Fall Quarter since increasing their rates. —hankim
2009-12-15 14:05:36 In my expereince, most apartments do start sending them out anywhere from January to March. I suspect it's not because apartments are in demand, but rather the opposite. If they scare you into either committing now even if you're not sure you want to, or else your rent goes up, they more or less win no matter what. They either have you staying, paying more next year if you commit later rather than sooner, or you leave entirely which you would have done if that was your plan anyways. It's an easy way for them to raise the rent if you are happy there. What I'm curious about, is if there are any laws or tenant rights regarding how soon they can demand you renew a lease without adding penalties (i.e. increased rent)? —AmLin
I believe the proposal described above had something about that but it did pass. —hankim