Online Tenant's Guide: Life as a Tenant

Paying Rent and Utilities

Rent Increases
Unfortunately, your landlord can probably increase your rent. The good news is that, in certain types of rentals, such as in an apartment building or other building that you share with other tenants and DO NOT share with your landlord; your landlord can only increase your rent by a certain amount every year. Figuring out what amount more they’re allowed to charge you can be complicated. However, there are easy-to-use calculators online that should do most of the work for you, and we’ve included a link to one for you here.

Remember to keep any paperwork that your landlord gives you in a safe place. It will have the date on it, which will be very important for making sure that they aren’t increasing your rent too much in a year. For example, if your landlord increases your rent by the maximum amount in March, they can’t increase your rent again in January. The year starts when they increase your rent, not on January 1st.

Legalese: Subsequent increases after that initial rental rate has been established are limited, over the course of any 12-month period, to increase no more than 5 percent plus the percentage change in the cost of living, or 10 percent, whichever is lower, of the lowest gross rental rate charged for that dwelling or unit at any time during the 12 months prior to the effective date of the increase. (Civil Code Section 1947.12) [Restrictions apply; in effect until January 1, 2030]

Repairs and Maintenance

Major or Minor?
Under California law, you have the right to live in a home that keeps you healthy and safe. It is not your responsibility to fix everything that breaks, and fixing things yourself can actually make the situation more complicated. Your landlord owns the property - it’s their job to make sure it’s a safe place to live.

However, landlords are not required to keep the premises looking like new - ordinary wear and tear does not have to be repaired during your tenancy. Also, not every “minor” problem is your landlord’s legal responsibility. If you or one of your guests caused it, carelessly or intentionally, you are responsible for repairing it (or, if your lease requires it, paying the landlord to do it).

Your first step is to decide whether the problem is major or minor. Major problems affect the habilitating or your rental unit. However, don’t assume inexpensive repairs are always “minor” repairs. Sometimes an extremely important repair costs very little, especially if it involves basic legal requirements for structural, health, and safety standards (see below for a partial list).

Be careful: Many landlords use their failure to make repairs as a way to evict tenants. When tenants complain to their landlords about the lack of repairs, or about the quality of repair, many landlords tell tenants to move out if they are unhappy. That is illegal.

Here is a list of some of the most common things your landlord is legally required to repair or address:
  • Water dripping from ceilings or walls (leaking pipes, bathtubs, or sinks)
  • Mildew or mold
  • Broken/non-opening windows
  • Large gaps behind kitchen drawers or cupboards where insects can enter
  • Unsecure/improper doorknobs
  • Holes in walls or floors
  • Damaged heaters
  • Missing window screens
  • Inadequate garbage collection
  • Faulty electrical wiring
  • Plaster/paint shedding
  • Bad plumbing (or sewage backup)
  • Broken smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
  • Unsafe stairs/handrails
  • Rats, roaches, and other vermin

For a comprehensive list of a landlord’s legal responsibilities, reference Civil Code Sections 1941.1 and 1941.3, and Health and Safety Code Sections 17920.3 and 17920.10.

These things are (or can become) dangerous and your landlord must fix them. Additionally, there are lots of things that can go wrong that aren’t listed here; if you think you’ve found something wrong with your home that isn’t on this list, your landlord may have to fix it! To see a more complete list follow this link. Use your best judgment and make sure your home is safe for you, your friends, and your family. Remember that there are people who can help you, even if things get complicated.
Reporting a Code Violation (AKA Major Repairs)
In a more perfect world, landlords would take it upon themselves to fix problems in apartments, and renters wouldn’t ever have to deal with living in an apartment that doesn’t keep them safe. When an apartment doesn’t meet the standard set by the California Civil Code it’s called a “Code Violation.” Most of the issues we described in the section above are code violations.

Just like making minor repairs, fixing a code violation is not your job, it is your landlord’s responsibility. Reporting a code violation is something that you should take seriously, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to contact SLOLAF or another housing expert to see if it’s the correct step to take. If there are enough violations in a building, the building may be closed until the required repairs can be made and you might end up having to move. In this situation the judge will order your landlord to pay to help you move; however, in SLO county good housing is hard to find and you still have to go through all the trouble of finding a new place to live and moving there. It is rare that a building is closed in this way but it is a risk and it would be irresponsible to tell you to report code violations without this information.

A lot of people feel like they will get in trouble for asking their landlord to make needed repairs to their apartment; we cover this in more detail in the Repairs and Maintenance section, but it bears repeating; you will not get in trouble, KEEP YOURSELF SAFE. If your landlord doesn't follow through with the responsibility of keeping your building up to code, here are the people you should reach out to:
For Pests
SLO County Environmental Health Services
ehs@co.slo.ca.us | (805) 781-5544
2156 Sierra Way Suite B, San Luis Obispo, CA, 93401

Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services
phdehsweb@sbcphd.org | (805) 346-8460
2125 Centerpointe Parkway, Rm. 333, Santa Maria, CA 93455

For Mold
SLO County currently has a problem where there is nowhere to report problems with mold. If you find mold, try your best to get your landlord to deal with it ASAP. Mold is very dangerous. If your landlord still isn’t willing to deal with the problem, you should claim that the mold is a “structural issue” and report it to the normal code enforcement contact for your city.

Privacy

Your landlord may not enter your unit without your permission unless they give you 24 hours notice in writing. To put it simply, they aren’t allowed to surprise you. If they do, you can turn them away.

This continues to be true if you live in the same apartment or house as your landlord. If you live in a room in your landlord's house, your room is protected by the same laws that would protect an entire apartment or house. If you’re considering renting a room in a house or apartment, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your lease clearly defines which rooms are your private space (this is called your “dwelling”) and which are shared or common spaces.

If your landlord is invading your privacy by entering your private space without permission, the first step is to try to have a conversation with them and let them know that you know your rights! Make sure you document in some way that this conversation took place. Additionally, make sure to keep track of each time that your landlord invades your privacy; the more documentation you have, the better. There are three forms of harm that non-criminal invasion of privacy can cause.
  • Economic (financial damages). If your next door neighbor calls you and lets you know that your landlord is entering your apartment without your permission and you have to rush home from work and then you only get paid for half a day, that would be an example of economic damages. 
  • Non-economic damages (emotional distress). If your landlord invading your privacy  causes reactions like anxiety, worry, and embarrassment, or more severe reactions such as sleeplessness, nausea, and headaches, those would be an example of non-economic damages. 
  • Statutory penalties and punitive damages. If a judge decides that your landlord was invading your privacy to try to “influence the tenant to vacate,” you would be entitled to statutory damages that could be as much as $2,000 per incident. (CC 1940.2(b).)
Damages are important because the next step is to file a civil lawsuit against your landlord. It's probably best to talk to an expert before you take this step, the wonderful people at SLOLAF give great advice on these kinds of issues.

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