Landlord and tenants: both have rights, responsibilities

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Recently, the National Training Center and Fort Irwin legal assistance office hosted a workshop covering several landlord/tenant issues that are commonly seen in California. The intent of the workshop was to educate our community on what their rights and responsibilities are as both a landlord and a tenant. As always, if you have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this article, contact the Fort Irwin legal assistance office at 380-5321.

Tenant Rights

Tenants have several rights under California laws with regard to rental property. Some of the most applicable include: limits on the amount a landlord can require for a security deposit; the right to a refund of a security deposit or a written account of how it was used; the right to sue for violation of law or rental agreement; right to a warranty of habitability, and protection against retaliatory eviction.

The refund of a security deposit is probably the most common issue that people face in dealing with rental property. Under California law, landlords must give notice of intent to withhold a security deposit as well as an accounting of how that deposit is used within 21 days of the end of a lease. If a landlord fails to refund or provide an accounting within 21 days, the deposit must be refunded. Further, a landlord may not withhold a security deposit to repair the normal wear and tear associated with use of the rental unit. Examples of normal wear and tear are faded paint or worn (but not significantly damaged) carpets. Lastly, the landlord may not withhold any portion of a security deposit to repair defects that existed prior to the tenancy. When conducting move in and move out inspections, make sure that you document any issues with the property to protect yourself at a later date.

Tenant Responsibilities

Tenants also have a responsibility to maintain the property. As a tenant, you must take reasonable care of all common areas, repair any damage caused by the tenant or their guest’s neglect or abuse, and not remove any part of the dwelling. Simply put, a tenant must treat the property with respect and avoid causing any intentional harm to it. Beyond this general responsibility, you should always make sure you check your lease for any specific responsibilities with regard to the property that you may be agreeing to.

Landlord Rights

The landlord’s rights regarding the property during the lease are most often rights that a landlord can exercise in response to a tenant’s failure to comply with a lease. The most common right that people may encounter is the right to evict a tenant. The landlord has the right to evict tenants when the tenants act unlawfully, fail to pay rent, violate the rental agreement, or materially damage the property, among other reasons. A landlord acting to evict a tenant must comply with all notice and service procedure outlined in California law. During the eviction process, a tenant has a right to respond to the eviction notice as well as appear in court. If you are a landlord trying to evict a tenant, or a tenant facing eviction, you may schedule an appointment with legal assistance to discuss your rights and responsibilities in this process.

Landlord Responsibilities

A landlord has the responsibility to ensure that they comply with all of the tenant’s rights. The most common issues we see when discussing a landlord’s responsibility is the responsibility to repair. A landlord must make the unit fit to live in, must repair any conditions that make the unit unfit for habitation, and must do continual maintenance work to keep the unit habitable. There are several remedies available to tenants whose landlords fail to meet their responsibilities. In some situations, tenants may even have the right to withhold rent or repair a defect themselves and deduct it from required rent. Before you consider withholding rent from your landlord for any reason, contact an attorney and discuss the situation. If you feel your landlord is neglecting their responsibility, do not hesitate to contact the legal assistance office to seek advice about your options.

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The SCRA offers protections for military members. Particularly within the realm of landlord/tenant relationships, the SCRA prevents a landlord from evicting a tenant performing military service without first receiving a court order. The SCRA also allows a military tenant to terminate a lease early upon receipt of permanent change of duty station or deployment orders if the tenant gives proper notice.

The vast majority of landlords know and understand the SCRA, and many states even require that landlords provide notice of SCRA provisions to military members, who sign leases. As with any other issues, if you feel that your rights under the SCRA are being violated, do not hesitate to seek assistance from the legal assistance office.