Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a lease?
- What is a month-to-month rental agreement?
- What other money do I owe besides rent?
- How and when do I get my security deposit back?
- Will I receive interest on my security deposit?
- How much can rent be raised?
- Is there any rent control in my city?
- Can my landlord raise my rent if I ask him/her to make repairs in my unit?
- Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs?
- Can a landlord or owner enter the unit at any time?
- What is a 3-day notice?
- Does my landlord have to have a reason to evict me?
1.- What is a lease?
A lease is a legal agreement between a landlord and tenant for a defined period of time to be agreed upon by landlord and tenant and should be in writing. The tenant cannot be asked to leave unless he/she breaks the terms of the lease and the rent cannot be raised during the term of the lease unless it is permitted in the agreement. It is required that the tenant receive a copy of the lease within 15 days after signing the lease.
2.- What is a month-to-month rental agreement?
This rental agreement is not for a set period of time and may be an oral agreement. If it's an oral agreement, there should be a written statement summarizing specific terms of the agreement provided to the tenant within 15 days. The tenant may decide to move or the landlord may ask the tenant to leave. If the tenant decides to move, the tenant must give the landlord 30 days written notice that he/she is moving. If the landlord wants the tenant to leave, he/she must give the tenant 60-day advance written notice (if the tenant has lived in the unit for one year or more) or 30-day advance written notice (if the tenant has lived in the unit for less than one year).
The landlord must provide written notice if he/she wants to raise the rent (see FAQ #6: How much can rent be raised? ) If the rent is going to be increased over 10%, then the landlord must give 60 days written notice in a month-to-month tenancy. If it is less than 10%, then 30 days is fine. If it is a fixed-term lease, the landlord must wait until the end of the lease term. If the tenant breaks the rules of the rental agreement, the landlord may have to give a 3 Day Notice to Cure or Quit. For example, if the tenant has a cat, and the landlord does not allow cats, the landlord can issue the tenant a notice telling the tenant to get rid of the cat or leave. This gives the tenant an opportunity to cure the breach. (see FAQ #11: What is a 3-day notice? ).
3.- What other money do I owe besides rent?
The landlord can legally ask for a number of fees, such as a fee to check credit (not to exceed $30) and deposits such as a security deposit, a cleaning deposit, and a key deposit. Tenants should get a written receipt that clearly states the amount and purpose of each deposit and/or fee.
In addition, tenants should check the condition of the unit very carefully and record any existing damage and ask the landlord to sign and date the inventory. Even if he/she will not sign it, the tenant can mail one copy to the landlord and one copy to the tenant. This copy should be saved in the unopened envelope. If possible, the tenant can take pictures or videos of the condition of the unit at the time of move in. The total of all deposits, not including fees, cannot be more than 2 months rent for an unfurnished unit or 3 months rent for a furnished unit. When the tenant moves out, he/she can request a walk through with the landlord. The walk through must take place no earlier than 2 weeks prior to the end of the tenancy. Once the landlord has performed an inspection of the unit, he/she gives the tenant an itemized statement of needed repairs and cleaning that are the basis for deductions from the security deposit. The landlord can use the deposits only for the purpose indicated in the lease or rental agreement.
Landlords sometimes require tenants to pay last month's rent at the time of move in. If last month's rent is clearly stated in the lease or rental agreement, it is not a security deposit. Rather, when the tenant moves out, the landlord must apply it to rent for the last 30 days (or 1 month) of the tenancy. The last month's rent paid at move-in is applicable to the last month in the unit, even if the landlord has raised the rent since move-in. The tenant is not responsible to pay any rent increases for the last month. Remember, if the tenant has a month-to-month agreement, he/she must still give the landlord a 30-day written notice.
A security or cleaning deposit may only be used for four (4) things:
- Unpaid rent
- Cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, if the unit is not as clean as when it was rented
- Repairing damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by tenants or their guests; and
- If specified by the lease or agreement, for the restoration or replacement cost of items of personal property other than normal wear and tear.
"Last month's rent in advance"
|If the landlord asked for the last month's rent before move in, the tenant will not have to pay rent for his/her last month there if the tenant has given proper written notice of the plan to move.
|If the tenant has not caused any damage to the unit, the landlord must return the security deposit within 21 days after move out.
|This fee is refundable. The landlord must return it if the unit is left clean at move out.
4.- How and when do I get my security deposit back?
When the tenant moves out, he/she can request a walk through with the landlord. The walk through must take place no earlier than 2 weeks prior to the end of the tenancy. Once the landlord has performed an inspection of the unit, he/she gives the tenant an itemized statement of needed repairs and cleaning that are the basis for deductions from the security deposit. The landlord can use the deposits only for the purpose indicated in the lease or rental agreement and must provide an itemized statement of any money withheld. The security deposit must be returned to the tenant within 21 days of vacating the unit. Disputes concerning security deposits can be taken to Small Claims Court in San Mateo County.
5.- Will I receive interest on my security deposit?
California State law does not require landlords to pay interest on security deposits. Some cities have their own ordinances regarding interest. In San Mateo County, East Palo Alto landlords must place security deposits in an interest bearing account. In December of every year, landlords are supposed to provide tenants with an accounting and either a refund check or the option to offset the next month's rent accordingly.
6.- How much can rent be raised?
If the tenant is renting on a month-to-month basis in a city with no rent control, the rent can be raised at any time to any amount with the proper notice. If the tenant has a lease for more than 30 days, the rent cannot be raised during the term of the lease, unless the lease allows rent increases. If the increase will amount to 10% or less than the current rent, the landlord must give 30-day written notice. This increase is not effective until the 30 days has passed and is not retroactive. If the increase will amount to over 10% of the current annual rent, the landlord must give 60-day written notice. This increase is not effective until the 60 days have passed and it is not retroactive. When the total of all rent increases in the past 12 months is more than 10% of the rent charged at any time during that period, the tenant must also receive 60 days written notice. The only city in San Mateo County to have a rent control ordinance at this time is East Palo Alto. This rent control ordinance applies to landlords who own 5 or more rental units in East Palo Alto. The landlord can only raise the rent once a year by the amount allowed by the East Palo Alto Rent Stabilization Board. If the rental is covered by a rent control ordinance in another county, check with the local government to determine how much and when the rent can be raised.
7.- Is there any rent control in my city?
East Palo Alto is currently the only city in San Mateo County with any rent control or rent stabilization ordinances.
8.- Can my landlord raise my rent if I ask him/her to make repairs in my unit?
The landlord cannot raise your rent because you have complained about problems in your unit such as broken plumbing or heating. You must be able to prove that the landlord raised your rent in retaliation for your complaint if you choose not to pay the increase. This may be difficult to prove without placing your tenancy at risk. You will want to consult an attorney prior to withholding rent. If the landlord has not responded to your request for repairs, you may have several strategies available to you. Withholding rent may put you at risk of eviction. Again, consult an attorney to best advise you of your options. To help determine if the condition of your unit is safe and meets all applicable codes, you may contact your city's Code Enforcement Division, Fire Prevention Bureau, or the San Mateo County Office of Environmental Health. Depending on your type of residence and where in the County you live, different agencies will have jurisdiction. Regardless of the circumstances, your rent cannot be raised while you are renting under the terms of a lease unless it is written into the lease agreement.
9.- Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs?
If the tenant or someone the tenants knows is responsible for damaging the unit, the tenant is responsible for the repair. Otherwise, the landlord is responsible. Before signing the lease or rental agreement, tenants should check over the unit carefully and ask the landlord or manager to repair things. Tenants can take photos of existing damage and date them so that they will have a record. If the landlord promises to make a repair and does not, tenants can send him/her a reminder note in the mail and keep a copy for their records.
10.- Can a landlord or owner enter the unit at any time?
Yes, but only in emergencies. The landlord must give 24 hours written notice if he/she plans to enter at any other time during normal business hours, but only in order to make repairs or show the property to prospective tenants or buyers. He/she may not enter just to check up on the tenant.
11.- What is a 3-day notice?
There are several kinds of 3-day notices:
- If the tenant has not paid the rent, the landlord may send a 3-day notice to "pay or quit". The tenant must pay the full amount of rent owed within the 3 days (including weekends) or move out.
- If the landlord accuses the tenant of violating the lease agreement, the tenant has 3 days to stop the conduct or move out.
- The landlord can give a 3-day notice to vacate if the tenant is committing serious damage to the property, creating a "nuisance" or using the property to perform illegal acts. In these cases, the landlord does not have to give the tenant a chance to cure the problem.
The landlord must serve the tenant with the written notice to quit by 1) giving it to the tenant personally, or 2) serving a copy with another person at the unit and mailing a copy, or 3) posting a copy on the property and mailing a copy to the tenant. If the tenant does not comply with the 3-day notice, the landlord may start eviction procedures on the 4th day. The tenant has 5 days (including weekends) after receiving the eviction notice to respond by filing an "Answer" along with a copy of the eviction notice with the court. If the tenant does not file these papers, he/she automatically lose the case and do not go to court. At this point, the Sheriff will post a notice to move out within 5 days. If the tenant does not move, the Sheriff can physically evict him/her and lock the premises. If the tenant's possessions are inside, the tenant will have to pay storage fees to have them returned.
12.- Does my landlord have to have a reason to evict me?
Just as tenants do not have to provide a reason for a 30-day notice to end the rental agreement, landlords in San Mateo County do not have to provide a reason for providing a reason for their 30-day or 60-day notices. Tenants who have lived in the rental for one year or more receive a 60-day advance written notice and tenants who have lived in the unit for less than one year receive a 30-day advance written notice. (The only exception is in East Palo Alto. There, landlords are required to provide a "just cause" for eviction.) If the tenant signed a lease, the owner must serve the tenant with an Unlawful Detainer in order to evict or wait until the lease has expired.
All landlords must follow the appropriate legal steps to terminate a tenancy. For more information on the correct procedures, see the guides and web sites below.