Tenants’ Rights & Responsibilities

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities have two sources: law and contract. Federal, state, and local laws assign legal rights and responsibilities in general, while the rental contract (whether written or verbal) specifies the landlord’s and tenant’s rights in particular. There are also different laws that apply in subsidized housing, mobile home and RV parks, roommate situations, residential hotels, etc.

GBLA has a nearly 50-year history of advising and assisting low-income residents of Kern County with housing problems and disputes. These problems and disputes can be grouped into five general areas:

  • Rental Agreements and Changes.
  • Maintenance, Repairs, and Damages.
  • Terminations and Evictions (“Unlawful Detainers”).
  • Security Deposits.
  • Neighbor and Tenant Disputes.

We cannot answer questions about any of these issues on a website.

What All Tenants Should Know

Since most landlord-tenant questions cannot fully be answered without reviewing your rental agreement, various laws, and court decisions, you need to take responsibility for learning as much as possible about your rights and responsibilities. The best place to start is the California Department of Consumer Affairs . The DCA’s publication, California Tenants: A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities, is the best free online resource for renters in California.

“Just One Quick Question…”

GBLA housing advocates hear that phrase dozens of times every day, but there is no such thing—especially in the legal realm. Nearly all landlord-tenant issues could involve an interplay between landlord-tenant law and your rental agreement. As a result, the most appropriate and accurate answer to the legal question that brought you here is: “Maybe” or “It depends.”

  • “Does the landlord have to repair my clogged toilet?” “It depends.” California law requires a landlord to rent and maintain rental housing in a habitable condition, but it also requires a tenant to repair damages s/he causes.
  • “Can my landlord evict me without giving me a notice?” “Maybe.” In California, a landlord is required to issue a termination in almost all, but not all, situations. For example, a notice might not be required at the end of a fixed-term lease (a rental agreement with a clear starting date and ending date). If you have a one-year lease that ends on September 30, and if you are still there without the landlord’s permission on October 1, the landlord could go straight to the courthouse and file an eviction lawsuit—because the lease itself gives written notice of the deadline for you to move.
  • “Is it legal for my landlord to use my apartment’s electricity to power lighting for the parking lot of my apartment complex?” “It depends.” California law allows a tenant to be responsible for utility charges that benefit the landlord or other tenants, but only if the tenant gives written consent in the rental agreement (or other document).
  • “Can my landlord require me to declaw my cat?” “No.” Once in awhile, there is a state law that is so specific that it removes any doubt. California Civil Code section 1942.7 is clear and makes no exceptions. However, if your next question is, “What can I do about it?,” the answer is, “It depends.” You could use this law defensively to prevent a landlord from evicting you for refusing to declaw your cat, but enforcement of the law offensively is left to local authorities—not to individual rental applicants or tenants.

Links to Laws, Court Rules & Local Ordinances