One of the most fundamental concepts in residential landlord-tenant law is the “implied warranty of habitability.” California law gives every tenant the right to a habitable rental unit. This warranty includes the right to a unit that provides protection from the weather, includes working plumbing and electricity, is free from rodents and other vermin, and has appropriate garbage receptacles. Tenants have a range of options available to them when a landlord breaches the warranty, from withholding rent to abandoning the property. However, the law is specific on when each remedy is appropriate, making consulting an experienced San Francisco/Oakland tenants’ lawyer essential.
Tenants have many other rights guaranteed by law, which may be provided by state law, national law or by local ordinance. Landlords may not discriminate against tenants on the basis of race, sex, religion, or nationality. Additionally, landlords may not discriminate against tenants with children, unless the property is a designated senior citizens complex. Tenants have a right to privacy, including working locks and written notice before the landlord enters the unit. For more on renters’ rights, see the handbook on California Tenants produced by the Department of Consumer Affairs. Tenants also have rights based on their rental agreement or lease. In some cases, rental agreements contain attorney’s fees provisions, which can allow a tenant to recover attorney’s fees and other legal costs incurred when suing the landlord for violations of the lease agreement.
In addition to representing tenants in other disputes, Willoughby Brod, LLP has specific experience in two fast-developing areas of law: lead and lead-based paint exposure and bedbug infestation. While not as common as they once were, lead poisoning cases are still a serious problem and health hazard in California, especially for children. Landlords must notify prospective tenants in writing if they know or have reason to believe lead or lead-based paint exists on the premises. As a general matter, either lead and lead-based paint or bedbug infestation can render a unit uninhabitable. The right to a vermin-free unit is an established part of the warranty of habitability. Tenants impacted by either health threat should call to discuss our special experience in bringing suit against landlords for these dangers.Special Protections for Renters of Rent-Control Jurisdictions
In addition to California statutory law, some cities have enacted legislation to protect the rights of their citizens who are tenants. The City and County of San Francisco’s Rent Ordinance created a Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board in order to protect people who rent their homes from excessive increases. The Rent Ordinance does not apply to every residential dwelling, but does apply to approximately 170,000 rental units in San Francisco, and limits the amount of annual rent increases allowed for those housing units, and limits the reasons in which a landlord can evict a tenant. Rent control, one key element of the Ordinance, prevents landlords from raising rents to unreasonable levels. Under rent control, rent on an existing lease may only be raised once a year and an increase requires a 30 day notice. The Rent Ordinance includes a formula for limiting rent increases. In recent history, the formula has limited rent increases to between 0.5% to 2.9%. For March 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014, the allowable increase amount is 1.9%, the same amount that applied in the prior twelve month period.
While rent control is a major part of the Rent Ordinance, it is not the only protection contained in its provisions. The Ordinance includes a specific rule requiring units have heating capable of maintaining a temperature of at least 68⁰F. It also lays forth rules concerning repairs and noise problems. Additionally, the Ordinance protects renters from losing their tenancy by limiting evictions. Landlords may only evict current tenants if they can cite one of fifteen listed reasons.
The Rent Ordinance also prohibits a landlord from harassing their tenants. Section 37.10B of the Rent Ordinance provides a list of conduct that a landlord cannot do in bad faith. The conduct includes: influencing a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion; threatening a tenant with physical harm; interfering with a tenant’s right to privacy; interrupting or terminating housing services; failing to perform repairs; and interfering with a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment. Every Tenant is entitled to “Quiet Enjoyment” to the premises they lease, and the landlord must refrain from taking any action that interrupts the tenant’s beneficial enjoyment of the premises. California Civil Code Section 1927 also provides that a landlord must provide for quiet enjoyment of a leased premises.
The San Francisco Rent Ordinance allows tenants to bring a civil lawsuit when a landlord violates the rent control limitations, harasses a tenant, retaliates against a renter for exercising any rights granted by the Ordinance, or prevents the tenant from acquiring any of those rights. A tenant who brings a successful suit under the Ordinance can recover attorney’s fees and costs in addition to other money damages. Certain claims under the Ordinance allow for treble damages, meaning the court can award three times the actual damages incurred.Protecting Tenants in Northern California
If you are a renter and believe your landlord is in violation of the law, call our office. Greg Brod has successfully fought for the rights of tenants for many years, and has helped people who have been victim of wrongful evictions, constructive evictions, wrongful owner move-in evictions, tenant harassment, and habitability issues. Call Willoughby Brod, LLP today for a free case evaluation.