Renters: Know Your Rights

It’s important for renters to know about rights when interacting with landlords. The CA Department of Real Estate recently introduced a guide outlining residential tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities. Here are some of your rights as a renter:

Refundable security deposits

A landlord cannot require a nonrefundable security deposit. However, when a tenant moves out of a rental, the law allows the landlord to keep all or part of the security deposit for the following reasons: 1. Rent owed, 2. unit is less clean than when you moved in, 3. damage is beyond normal wear and tear, 4. unit was not returned to its original condition, or 5. tenant failed to restore personal property (such as keys or furniture), other than due to normal wear and tear.

Unless one of these circumstances applies, the landlord must return the security deposit.

Rental unit legally uninhabitable

Landlords are required to maintain rental units in conditions fit for the “occupation of human beings.”

This implied warranty of habitability applies to every California residential tenancy. A dwelling also may be considered uninhabitable (unlivable) if it substantially lacks any of the following:

Waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls (including unbroken windows and doors); plumbing, gas, heating facilities, trash receptacles, floor, stairways, railings, and an electric system must all be in good working order. It must also have clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and equipment, free from debris.

Rental units must have the following:

A working toilet (toilet and shower must be in a ventilated room that allows privacy), natural lighting in every room (windows must be able to be opened halfway for ventilation unless a fan for ventilation is provided), safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway, operable dead bolt locks on main entry doors of unit along with operable locking windows, and a locking mailbox for each unit (mailbox must meet USPS standards for apartment housing), and working smoke detectors must be in all bedrooms and other designated areas, except for manufactured housing such as a mobile home. Apartments must have a smoke detector in common stairwells. Also, any unit that has appliances that use fossil fuels must have a carbon monoxide detector.

The implied warranty of habitability is not violated due to the unit not being in aesthetically pleasing condition. Nor is the implied warranty violated if there are minor housing code violations, which, standing alone, do not affect habitability.

The right to withhold rent or “repair and deduct” when a landlord doesn’t make repairs

By law, a tenant is allowed to withhold (stop paying) some or all the rent if the landlord does not fix serious defects that violate the implied warranty of habitability. The defects must be substantial; they must be serious ones that threaten the tenant’s health or safety.

A legal example is Green v. Superior Court, which found the following defects serious enough to justify withholding rent: collapse and non-repair of the bathroom ceiling, continued presence of rats, mice, and cockroaches, lack of any heat in four of the apartment’s rooms, plumbing blockages, exposed and faulty wiring, and an illegally installed and dangerous stove.

There are some requirements that need to be met before withholding rent such as the defects must impact the tenant’s health, the defects must not be made by the tenant, the tenant must tell the landlord about the defects, and the tenant must give the landlord reasonable time to repair the defects before withholding rent.

The right to privacy; written notice if your landlord is to enter your property for non-emergency matters

California law states that landlords cannot enter the unit for a general inspection but only for specific reasons such as an emergency, when the tenant has abandoned the rental unit, or to make repairs or agreed-upon services.

To inspect or maintain elevated balconies/decks, an area where the resident is cultivating plants, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, read the submetering of water service, to show the rental unit to prospective tenants or purchasers, to provide entry to contractors or workers who are to perform work on the unit, and/or if a court order permits the landlord to enter.

The landlord must give the tenant reasonable advance notice in writing before entering the unit and can enter only during normal business hours (generally, 8am to 5pm seven days per week). The notice must state the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry.

Protection from landlord retaliation

A landlord, managing agent, real estate broker, or salesperson violates California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the federal Fair Housing Act by harassing, evicting, or otherwise discriminating against a person in the sale or rental of housing when the “dominant purpose” is to retaliate against a person who has done any of the following:

Opposed practices that are discriminatory and unlawful under either Act, told the police about a landlord’s discriminatory or unlawful behavior, and/or aided or encouraged a person to exercise rights protected by California laws prohibiting housing discrimination.

The right to protest

The most under-utilized renter right is the right to protest. If a renter believes that a rent increase is too high and that the property isn’t worth the higher asking price, then they can get together with fellow tenants and try to compromise with the landlord.

The renter/s may also talk to their City Council Members. They have the power to create and repeal ordinances such as the inclusionary housing ordinance that was spoken about recently in a City of

Fullerton council meeting. Tenants can create rent control/stabilization ordinances in their city by contacting their district representatives.

For the full guide go to

If you believe a landlord is violating your tenant rights, go to for legal aid.

1 reply »

  1. People may disagree with my opinion: I feel renters in single family homes have a little too many rights. Smaller single family homes are becoming stuffed with larger families who own more than 3 cars, with some parked on front lawns or over another neighbor’s lawn. They think they can have noisy parties late into the night almost every weekday when next door neighbors are trying to sleep. Renters may also hoard lots of junk and garbage on their property, both indoor and outdoor, which attracts roaches and rats.