San Diego Renters Rights 101

I have included below a list of questions and answers to problems that renters often confront.  It is important to understand that the information provided here is made available to educate tenants about their legal rights, and applies to tenants living within the City limits of San Diego.  Every situation is unique, and what may be the right solution for some will not be right for others.   For this reason, I encourage every tenant that is struggling through a dispute with his or her landlord to seek out and speak with an attorney that specializes in landlord tenant law, and can give you the specific attention your case deserves.

Q: My landlord refuses to make repairs. What can I do?

A: Start by demanding repairs in writing from the property manager or landlord.  If the landlord does not fix the problem, contact the city’s Code Enforcement Division at (619) 236-5500.  An inspector should arrange for an inspection, after which the city should send a notice of violations to the landlord with a deadline for repairs to be completed.  Landlords who do not comply with the City’s notice are asking for trouble. Not only can the city fine these landlords, but tenants can sue for breach of the warranty of habitability.

There is also a state law, Civil Code 1942.4, which makes it illegal for the landlord to continue collecting rent where certain conditions remain unabated for more than 35 days after the landlord is cited by a city inspector.

Q: My landlord shows up and demands access to my home. What are my rights?

A: The landlord can only enter your home under certain circumstances. A landlord can enter to deal with an emergency (e.g., if a pipe bursts). The landlord can also enter, after providing 24 hours written notice, to make repairs or show the apartment. See Civil Code Section 1954 for more details. If your landlord insists on entering over your objection in violation of these rules, you can call the police.

Q: I’m a month-to-month tenant. My landlord is evicting me for no reason at all. Can he do this?

A: In San Diego, if you have lived within the City limits for more than 2 years at the same residence, then your landlord must provide a reason why he or she is terminating your tenancy.  Click here to see an explanation of the San Diego Tenants’ Right to Know City Ordinance. There are  number of reasons why a landlord is permitted to terminate a tenancy  under the statute, however, the notice must include one of these permitted reasons.

Most tenants that live outside of the City limits of San Diego can be terminated without a reason.  If a tenant has lived in a residence for more than one year, then they are still entitled to a written notice of 60 days, but it doesn’t have to include any reason for the termination.

The rules are different for Section 8 and other subsidized tenancies.  Most subsidized leases include protections against arbitrary terminations, but each program differs.

Q: My landlord verbally ordered me to move out of my place. Do I need to move?

A: No. Verbal eviction notice is invalid in California. Until you receive a written notice to terminate your tenancy that complies with California law, you do not need to move in response to the landlord’s verbal demands.

Q: The landlord is raising my rent. Can she do this?

A: Not if you are within the term of a fixed-term rental agreement. In other words, if you are six months into a one-year agreement that specifies a $700 rent, the landlord cannot raise the rent until the agreement expires. But if you are a month-to-month tenant, the landlord can raise your rent any amount, as long as the increase is not in retaliation for your exercise of your rights as a tenant. The landlord must provide 30 days’ written notice of the rent increase, or 60 days’ notice if the rent increase is more than 10%. The rules are different for Section 8 and other subsidized tenancies.

Q: My landlord lost the property in foreclosure. Can the bank that acquired the place at the foreclosure sale make me leave right away?

A: No. If the bank wants you to move out, it will need to serve a written notice telling you to move out. In most cases, the new owner has to give you a 90-day termination notice, and if you have a rental agreement for a fixed term, like a one-year lease, you may be able to stay until it expires. There are some exceptions.  If you entered into the lease knowing that the property was already in the process of being foreclosed, or if you pay a rate of rent that is substantially below what would be a normal market rate, then the bank may argue to the court that you are not a “bona fide” tenant under the federal statute and may try to terminate you with a notice that is less than 90 days.

Q: I moved, and my landlord won’t return my security deposit. What can I do?

A: The landlord is required to return the deposit, or document legitimate deductions, within 21 days after the tenant vacates. The landlord can deduct for unpaid rent, costs to repair damages caused by tenant or tenants’ guests, cleaning of the unit to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy and other limited bases. Click here for more info on security deposit law under Civil Code 1950.5. The landlord cannot deduct for ordinary wear and tear. If your landlord fails to return the deposit, write a letter to the landlord demanding the deposit back. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can sue. The landlord may be liable not just for the amount of the deposit but for up to two times the amount of the deposit as a penalty for withholding the deposit in bad faith. Usually, security deposit cases are filed in small claims court where you can seek up to $7,500.

Q: I want to know about my rights as a tenant. Where should I begin?

A: The California Department of Consumer Affairs has tenant rights information on its Web site, www.dca.ca.gov. Nolo Press puts out a book called California Tenants’ Rights. Tenants Together provides a free copy of the Nolo book to members who donate at least $25 to the organization. You can also look at Tenants Together’s Web site, www.tenantstogether.org, for more information about your rights as a tenant.

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