- How do I read and negotiate a lease...?
- The two most common kinds of rental agreements are "lease" and "month-to-month".
- A lease is for a definite period of time - generally one year. Unless you break the terms of the lease, the owner of your apartment or house cannot raise your rent - unless the lease says otherwise. The owner should not ask you to move unless the lease is up. Always read your contract.
- A month-to-month rental agreement is not for a set period of time. It continues until you decide to move or the owner asks you to leave. If you pay your rent monthly, you must give the owner 30 days written notice that you are moving. An owner who wants you to leave or decides to raise your rent must inform you in writing 30 days ahead of time. However, you and the owner can agree in writing to a shorter notice. Moreover, if you break the rules, perhaps by using the apartment for illegal purposes or creating a nuisance, the owner can give you a three day notice to vacate.
- Must rental agreements be in writing...?
- No. Both lease and month to month agreements may be oral or written. However, a lease for more than one year must be in writing to be binding.
- ORAL AGREEMENT - With an oral agreement, nothing is written down. You and the owner talk things over and come to an understanding. Some people like oral agreements because they have fewer rules than other agreements. On the other hand, several months later, you and the owner might remember the agreement differently so it is generally better to put the agreement in writing.
- WRITTEN AGREEMENT - If you have a written agreement, read it carefully and make sure that you understand everything it says. Sometimes a lease or a month-to-month agreement mentions another paper such as "House Rules". Do not sign the agreement unless you read the extra rules. Also, make sure any blank spaces in the agreement are filled in or crossed out before you sign it and ask for a copy.
- Whether you have an oral agreement or a written agreement, be sure to get the name, address, and telephone number of the owner. California law says that the names and addresses of the owner and manager must be on the rental agreement if the building has three or more apartments.
- Can I change a written agreement...?
- You can make changes before you sign - as long as the owner agrees. Just cross out whatever the two of you agree to take out. Write in any additions. For instance, if you want a longer notice in your agreement, you can ask the owner to change it to 30 days or cross it out. Be sure you both initial the changes. Many rental agreements are on a printed form available at stationary stores. Sometimes these forms are out of date because the guidelines have changed. You will not be bound by any illegal or outdated rules in the agreement you sign.
- Do I owe any money besides the rent...?
- You might. The owner has the right to ask for a number of fees and deposits, and you have the right to a receipt and written agreement that tells what the money is for and if and when you can get it back. Although the law considers all deposits to be "security deposits", here are some of the payments that the owner might ask you to make:
- Last month's rent in advance. The owner can ask you to pay the last month's rent before you move in. Then, if you give proper notice when you want to move out, you will not have to pay rent for the last month.
- Security Deposit. This deposit can be used for such things as replacing a window that you broke before moving out. But if you do not cause any damage, the security deposit will usually be given back to you.
- Cleaning fee or deposit. Some owners want a cleaning deposit or fee. Your lease might say that such fee is non refundable, however, that is illegal. Whether it is called a fee or a deposit, you usually can get the money back if you keep the place clean and in the same condition as when you took possession.
- The owner either must refund the security deposit no later than three
weeks after you move or must tell you in writing why you will not get
back some or all of the money including an itemized description of how
the money was spent.
- California law puts a limit on the deposits that the owner can ask for, no matter what they are called. All of the deposits/fees cannot add up to more than the cost of two months' rent for an unfurnished apartment or three months' rent for a furnished apartment.
- Also, keep in mind that you are not covered by the owner's insurance policies. If you wish, you can purchase renter's insurance which covers your belongings against fire or theft.
- What happens when my lease runs out...?
- Read your lease carefully. It may say that what you must do. For example, the lease may have an "automatic renewal" clause. This means that, before the lease runs out, you must tell the owner if you plan to move. And the owner must ask you to move before the lease ends. Otherwise, the lease will be renewed for the same period of time as the original agreement.
- What if you have a six-month or one-year lease, but no automatic-renewal clause? If you pay rent monthly and the owner accepts your rent after the lease is up, the agreement is automatically renewed - but only on a month-to-month basis.
- Can the owner sue to evict me...?
- Yes - in some cases the owner can sue whether your rental agreement is a lease or a month-to-month.
- If you have a lease, the owner can possibly to evict you for such reasons as not paying your rent or creating a nuisance by having noisy parties. In this case the owner must give you a three day written notice before suing to evict you. The owner might also sue to evict you if you break part of the agreement, or if you are asked to leave when your lease runs out and you refuse to do so.
- If you have a month-to-month agreement the owner can ask you to vacate
with proper notice for any reason or no reason at all. If you have
lived in the rental less than 1 year your landlord is required to give
you a 30-day notice, If you have lived in the rental longer than 1 year
your landlord must give you a 60-day notice. However, if you are in
violation of your rental agreement the landlord may ask you to leave
with a 3-day notice. If you do not move out within the time stated in
your notice, the owner can sue to evict you.
For more information, or a complete guide to Tenant and Landlord Rights, you may contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210.