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This page focuses on residential leases.  Some of these rules apply for commercial leases, but many do not. 
See
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COMMERCIAL AND RESIDENTIAL LEASES

There are many forms of agreements to rent real property. 
They are called RENTAL AGREEMENTS or LEASES. 

MONTH TO MONTH LEASES/RENTAL AGREEMENTS
Month to month agreements may be made in writing, orally or may be created with the simple act of paying a months rent. These agreements, however,  may be terminated on a 30 or 60 days notice or terms may be changed on a 30 (or 60 for a large rent increase) day notice.   

LEASES FOR A TERM
Leases for a term may be created orally if they do not exceed one year.  Leases for a term exceeding one year must be in writing and signed by the parties.  These Lease agreements need to contain certain terms like the address or description of the property, the rent or other charges, the length of the contract and an identity of the parties.   Most of the other provisions that are found in landlord prepared documents are not necessary but are only there to protect
the landlord and limit the rights of the tenant.

Regardless of the term, the dwelling must be a lawfully rentable unit.  Certain provisions in some landlord prepared Leases are void even though both parties signed the Lease or agreed to them orally.  Oral agreements are generally favorable to the tenant since there are no standard written Lease restrictions.

MOBILE HOMES
California Leases in Mobile Home Parks are generally governed by the  MOBILE HOME RESIDENCY LAWS.  Some tenants renting a mobile home from a Mobile Home Park park may also be covered by these rules.  The laws for Mobile Home situations are unique and can be very complex.  If you are living in a Mobile Home park, you should seek legal advice to protect your rights, especially with any legal notice, dispute or other issue. 

BREAKING A LEASE
If you need to move before the end of your lease, you should take action to break the lease BEFORE you vacate.  There are many ways to break a lease with little or no liability.  At the Tenants Legal Center, we have assisted hundreds of tenants in successfully breaking their leases reserving the rights to receive the return of the deposit.  In many of our cases when the landlord is at fault, our clients not only broke their lease but they received compensation including moving costs and other damages.  
 Military Servicemembers get special protections regarding breaking leases.  Also, Civil Code 1946.7 provides special protections for breaking leases by victims of defined abuses.

Many tenants who try and terminate their lease on their own are tricked into signing "lease break" documents given to them by the landlord.  These documents will rarely break any lease.  In fact, they usually create
more liability than the lease did!  If you need to break your lease, seek legal advice before vacating or signing any documents. With proper legal advice, you can best utilize the various legal opportunities to terminate lease obligations.

LEASE MAY BE BROKEN FOR VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Under certain conditions where a tenant of a household was the victim an act of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, the tenant may terminate the tenancy by written notice to the landlord.. (The remaining tenants who were not victims of this conduct may still be held responsible under the rental agreement)  To prove such acts, the tenant must first obtain a Restraining Order or have made a Police Report.  Other conditions and restrictions apply.  (If a tenant has committed any of these acts, that tenant may be given a 3 day notice to vacate the premises by the landlord.)
 (See Civil Code 1946.7)

ILLEGAL DWELLINGS
State Law says that it is illegal for a landlord to rent out an illegal,
unpermitted or unapproved dwelling.  Some examples:

--  illegally converted garage,
--  illegal additional unit built without permits
--  illegally rented guest house
--  excessive boarders in an owner occupied home
--  illegally added room

When renting an illegal unit, the tenant may legally not owe any rent and actually be able to claim and receive a refund of part or all the rent they paid to live there!  At The Tenants Legal Center we have been successful in obtaining rent refunds for our clients who lived in illegal units.

CHECK YOUR LEASE OVER BEFORE SIGNING
A Lease is a legal document which should not be signed without some careful thought.  Read it over carefully.  Be prepared with a list of points you are concerned about so you may bring them up to the landlord.  For example:

--What is the rent?  Does it change?
--Is the lease for a term or is it Month-to Month?
--Who will be living there?  Are they named?
--What about adding family members later?
--Are there late charges?  If so, are they excessive?  When are they charged?
--Are there any restrictions on having guests?
--Can you get out of the Lease if you need to move early?
    (job change, family emergency, military clause etc.)
--Are there unreasonable rules and regulations?
--Can you sublease?  How about adding a roommate?
--How about operating a home business?
--Is there an option to renew at the end of the lease?
--If there is an option to renew, is it valid and what you wanted?
--Is this a "rent to own" lease?
--Is there an option to buy?  If so, are the terms for it's exercise clear?
--Does the Landlord shift any duty of maintenance to the tenant?
-- Does the lease have the required disclosures (i.e lead paint, asbestos etc.)
-- Are pets allowed?  What kind are O.K.?
-- Are there promises not contained in the lease?
--Do you have to notify the landlord of anything before the lease ends?

You should not be intimidated to negotiate any term in a Lease.  It is doubtful any change will be made without your effort to at least ask for one.  If the landlord refuses to negotiate a term you deem very important, it may be a warning sign to look elsewhere. 

If you are not sure of any Lease term, or have doubts about the matter, have an Attorney review it before signing.   Remember, get a copy of whatever you sign.

RENTERS INSURANCE

Some leases require that the tenant purchase renter's insurance.  This is generally a valid lease requirement.  Renter's Insurance protects tenants against liability losses and losses to their personal property.  It may also protect the tenant against claims by the landlord for damage done to the property even if it was caused by an "accident."   This insurance is generally not costly and usually is to the tenants benefit to have it.  We recommend buying this insurance whether the lease requires it or not.  Read more.

PET LAW
In California, a mobile home park may not refuse permission to a tenant to have "at least one pet within the park, subject to reasonable rules and regulations of the park".  Also, a condominium or "common interest development" project may not refuse an owner the right to have "at least one pet within the development, subject to the reasonable rules and regulations of the association.."  These new rules only apply, however, to leases or common interest documents (e.g. C.C.& R.'s) executed, modified or amended after 1/1/01)  Also, if an animal is a service or medically necessary "companion" animal, it is not a "pet" and is therefore exempt from "no pet" lease restrictions.

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California law for San Diego is applied in these pages.  Such laws may or may not be applicable in other jurisdictions.  The information provided herein is of a general nature and is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice.  For legal advice in a particular situation, promptly consult with an appropriate attorney.