Landlord-Tenant Law

Other Practice Areas:

Civil Litigation

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Alamere Law focuses on representing tenants throughout the Bay Area, no matter what their income level, in disputes with landlords. We assist with:

  • Eviction defense
  • Habitability and failure to repair issues
  • Rent ordinance and just cause for eviction violations by landlords
  • Retaliation by landlords 
  • Tenant injuries due to a landlord's negligence or intentional behavior
  • Housing discrimination under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
  • Public housing and Section 8 matters
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Habitability, Repairs, and Tenant Injuries

Landlords possess a significant amount of control over tenants' lives, peace of mind, comfort, and daily routines. When a landlord acts negligently, recklessly, or fails to act when required, or engages in intentional harassment, such behavior greatly disrupts and interferes with a tenant's day-to-day life. It also causes immense amounts of undue hardship and stress.

Recognizing this fact, the law places certain responsibilities on residential landlords. For example, a landlord has a duty to maintain the rental unit in a habitable condition, a duty to make requested repairs in a timely manner, and a duty to respect the tenant's quiet enjoyment of the premises. When a landlord breaches these duties, the landlord may be liable for damages to the tenant's property and for the tenant's bodily and emotional injuries.  

For example, a landlord's failure to repair can cause fires, water damage and floods, and illnesses from toxic mold, asbestos, lead, and carbon monoxide. Similarly, a landlord fails to maintain habitability when pests and vermin such as cockroaches, bedbugs, mice, rats, among others, are present in the rental unit. Also, a landlord can be liable for the criminal conduct of third parties, including trespassers and other tenants, for acts such as assault, battery, sexual assault and battery, and burglaries. Whether a landlord is liable for property damage or personal injuries depends on the specific facts of each case.

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Evictions

Being evicted in the Bay Area is a particularly devastating experience given the extremely limited number of rental units available and the high rental rate for units actually on the market. For many low-income tenants, eviction translates into homelessness or living out of one's car.

Evictions are known by landlords and attorneys by their more technical name, "unlawful detainers" or "UDs." In law, unlawful detainers are called "summary proceedings" because they move much more quickly than other types of civil cases. For example, a civil case dealing with personal injury or a contract dispute can take months or years to resolve; however, an unlawful detainer can go from the landlord filing a complaint against a tenant to a jury verdict in as little as thirty days. Therefore, it is imperative that tenants seek help as quickly as possible to avoid harming their case or, even worse, receiving a default judgment for failing to respond to a landlord's complaint or other court actions.

An unlawful detainer is poised to begin when the landlord serves the tenant with a notice to quit, which will usually give the tenant three, thirty, or sixty days to comply with the notice. A three-day notice to quit is almost always based on "bad behavior" by the tenant, such as breaching a provision in the lease; non-payment or habitual late payment of rent; a nuisance caused by the tenant; waste, such as damaging the rental unit or making unauthorized changes to the unit; or using the rental unit for an illegal purpose. Based on the circumstances, a three-day notice may allow the tenant to cure the problem, such as paying late rent that is due, ousting an unauthorized subtenant, or ceasing a nuisance. 

If a tenant does not abide by the demands of a notice to quit (including a three-day notice to quit) the landlord will file a compliant against the tenant for repossession of the unit. Here, the unlawful detainer process begins. There are multiple ways to defend against an unlawful detainer action and, depending on the city or county where the tenant lives, special defenses may be available. Common defenses available to all unlawful detainer actions include:

  • Defect in the notice (some notices, particularly three-day notices, require intricate technicalities to be valid and any mistake in drafting the notice can be grounds for invalidating the notice) 
  • Defect in the manner the unlawful detainer complaint was served upon the tenant
  • Waiver of tenant's "bad behavior" such that the landlord knew about the issue or breach and allowed it to continue, often accepting the tenant's rent during this time
  • Landlord's breach of the implied warrant of habitability or breach of landlord's duty to repair
  • Retaliating against a tenant based on the tenant's assertion of a legal right, such as a repair request or complaining about a code violation (there is a presumption of retaliation where the tenant receives an eviction notice or a raise in rent within six months of asserting such a right)
  • Discrimination or harassment on the basis or race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, martial status, familial status, national origin, ancestry, disability, or source of income

Below are some differences and similarities that exist in landlord-tenant laws in counties and cities around the Bay Area.

 

County of Marin

Unlike San Francisco County and parts of Alameda County (among others) that have rent control laws and/or "just cause" ordinances, Marin County's laws contain no special protections for tenants in single-family homes and apartments. As such, Marin County landlords and tenants are primarily governed by California state law found in the California Civil Code (the "CA Civil Code") and the common law. As a consequence, under the CA Civil Code in Marin County, a landlord can serve a tenant in a month-to-month tenancy with a 30-day or 60-day notice to quit (depending on how long the tenant has lived in the unit) for no reason whatsoever even if the tenant is current on rent and not in violation of the lease. 

Even though rent control and "just cause" ordinances are virtually absent in Marin, Marin County landlords are still held to state-law standards of habitability and duty to repair, prohibitions on retaliatory evictions and discrimination, and liability for injuries caused by a landlord's negligence.  

 

San Francisco City and County

The City and County of San Francisco enacted special laws protecting tenants from rent increases and not-to-reason-why notices to vacate. The San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance, Chapter 37 of the San Francisco Administrative Code (the "SF Rent Ordinance"), limits the amount by which a landlord can raise rent. The SF Rent Ordinance also limits eviction to sixteen "just cause" reasons and provides tenants with some special defenses to eviction. Importantly, the SF Rent Ordinance applies to a rental unit even if there is no valid permit of occupancy (e.g., in-law units or tenants living in commercial spaces) and regardless of whether the unit complies with building, health, or safety codes. 

The main exceptions to the SF Rent Ordinance are housing units built after June 13, 1979; hotels where the occupant has stayed less than 32 continuous days; and rental units controlled by a government agency, such as public housing for Section 8 tenants. Also, the California Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which went into effect January 1, 1999, exempts single family dwellings and condominiums from the SF Rent Ordinance unless the tenant has been living in the unit prior to January 1, 1996 or the previous tenancy was terminated by thirty-day notice. However, the Costa-Hawkins Act does not exempt rental units from "just cause" evictions in the SF Rent Ordinance

 

City of Berkeley

Boasting of the strictest rent control laws in the nation, the City of Berkeley imposes rent ceilings, "just cause" eviction, and landlord reimbursement of accrued interest on a tenant's security deposit. The Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance, found in the Berkeley Municipal Code, Chapter 13.76 ("Berkeley Rent Ordinance"), limits eviction to twelve "just cause" reasons. For rent ceiling increases, the Berkeley Rent Ordinance only allows for annual increases within limits based on the Consumer Price Index. These annual increases, known as Annual General Adjustments ("AGAs"), are calculated, published, and enforced by the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. A landlord can raise rent beyond AGAs only by special petition to the Rent Stabilization Board, known as Individual Rent Adjustments, and only if other special requirements are also met. Not to be outdone, tenants are allowed to petition the Rent Stabilization Board for rent ceiling decreases based on housing code violations, habitability issues, or a decrease in living space, among other reasons. 

Exemptions from the rent control provision of the Berkeley Rent Ordinance--but not "just cause" evictions--include the following: New rental units built after June 30, 1980, but not those that were created by rehabilitation or conversion; University housing and other non-profit owned housing; units leased by the Berkeley Housing Authority and Section 8 tenants; and single-family residences and condominiums  (with a few exceptions).

 

City of Oakland

The City of Oakland contains rent control laws though the Residential Rent Adjustment Program, Oakland Municipal Code Section 8.22 ("Oakland Rent Adjustment") and "just cause" eviction through the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance ("Just Cause Ordinance"). The Just Cause Ordinance limits eviction to eleven "just cause" reasons. However, some rental units are exempt from the Just Cause Ordinance such as newly constructed units completed and first offered for rent after October 1980; owner-occupied units sharing a kitchen or bath with tenants; and parcels with three units or less if one unit is owner occupied.

Like Berkeley and San Francisco, the Oakland Rent Adjustment only allows for annual rent increases based on the Consumer Price Index. The Oakland Rent Board calculates the percentage of these increases, which can range from 0.6% to 3.6%, and publishes the percentage in July of each year. Tenants are allowed to challenge a landlord's rent increase through a petition with the Oakland Rent Board. However, exemptions from the Oakland Rent Adjustment--but not "just cause" eviction--include units which were newly constructed and received a certificate of occupancy on or after January 1, 1983.; units rehabilitated after January 1, 1983; and Section 8 and government-provided housing, among others. 

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