These guidelines are for tenants and landlords in the City of Los Angeles only. Future postings will deal with the other cities in LA County that have rent control i.e. Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood as well as areas of LA County like Marina del Rey that do not. In the meantime to reach a knowledgeable municipal employee who can answer your questions, call one of the following numbers:
Beverly Hills – Rent Control Hotline (310) 285-1031
Santa Monica – Rent Control Hotline (310) 458-8751
West Hollywood – Rent Control Hotline (323) 848-6450
Los Angeles tenants are governed by the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, known as LARSO. Residential rental units covered by the ordinance include apartments, condominiums, town houses or two or more dwellings on the same lot like duplexes; mobile homes and their pads, and rooms in a hotel occupied by the same roomer for 30 or more consecutive days. To be covered by LARSO, the two or more unit property must be within the city limits of LA with a certificate of occupancy issued on or before October 1, 1978. With mobile homes and pads, the park must have been issued a permit to operate prior to February 10, 1986. Properties that don’t meet these criteria like single family homes used by one family are exempt, as are government and non-profit owned units that meet certain qualifications, as well as luxury apartments with an exemption certificate.
If a tenant lives in a house where s/he rents a room, share kitchen facilities with others, and has access to the entire house, the tenant is probably not protected by rent control. For a tenant to verify coverage under LARSO, s/he should call the Los Angeles Rent Control Hotline at (213) 808-8888 staffed each business day from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. During the same hours, a tenant can also get advice from the Los Angeles Housing Department at the following addresses:
3550 Wilshire Boulevard, #1500
Los Angeles, CA 90010-2314
6640 Van Nuys Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91405-4617
3415 South Sepulveda Boulevard, #150
Los Angeles, CA 90034-6060
8475 South Vermont Avenue, 2nd Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90044-3424
690 Knox Street, #125
Los Angeles, CA 90502-1305
2215 North Broadway Street
Los Angeles, CA 90031
Housing Rights Protection
Most tenant protection is federal from the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 as amended. This law makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate in the sale or rental of dwellings, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (which covers children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people with custody of children under the age of 18), and those with a disability. California law also prohibits discrimination due to sexual orientation or source of income.
A rental agreement is a contract requiring capacity, offer, acceptance, and consideration. Rental agreements must specify how often the rent is to be paid. It can run as short as week. The duration of the tenancy and amount of rent due are also specified in a rental agreement. Most units in the city are rented month to month because in LA due to LARSO, leases protect landlords more than tenants. If the agreement runs longer than a month, it’s described as a lease. Even in areas without rent control, rent cannot be raised during the period of a lease. Every aspect of the rental agreement should be in writing. Illegal provisions are void. Oral agreements are binding, but notoriously difficult to enforce. As the founder of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, once said: “an oral agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
Prior to signing a rental agreement a tenant should inspect the unit to make sure that everything is in working condition. Ensure that any damages or defects are listed in the agreement. Note any repairs that the building manager or landlord agrees to fix. Leave no spaces blank and keep a copy.
The landlord can only raise a tenant’s rent a certain percentage each year topping out at the percentage set for that period. Under law it’s between 3% and 8% based on the consumer price index. For the most recent year as of this writing, ending in 6/30/11, despite a nearly flat inflation rate the maximum allowed rent increase in units covered by LARSO is 3%.
If utilities are included in the rent the landlord may raise the rent an additional 1% for gas and 1% more for electricity.
The tenant must get 30 days notice of the intended rent increase. If the rent is increased by more than 10% in a twelve month period, a 60 day written notice must be given.
If the landlord does a capital improvement such as roofing, or stuccoing a building past normal maintenance, a landlord my charge a temporary surcharge to the rent limited to 1/60th of 50% of the average rental cost topping out at $55 per month lasting no longer than six years.
A landlord may also pass on a few miscellaneous costs with 30 days notice such as half the cost of registering an apartment with the city. If a tenant gets hit with unexpected raises to the rent, s/he should call LAHD to discuss the legality of the bill.
Termination of Tenancy
A landlord may legally evict a tenant for the reasons outlined below. Even on a month to month tenancy in the City of LA, a landlord can’t ask a tenant to leave without legal justification.
Usually the notice required by law for a tenant to give a landlord notice coincides with the rent period, unless the agreement is a lease.
A tenant may legally break a lease or rental agreement without penalty if the landlord violates the unit’s warranty of habitability. Several conditions have to be met to employ this remedy.
• The problems must seriously and directly impact a tenant’s health and safety.
• No one in the tenant’s family, guests, or pets can have caused the defects that require repair.
• The tenant must inform the landlord, either orally or in writing, of the repairs that are needed. Writing is always better, sent via certified mail with a return receipt requested.
• The tenant must give the landlord a reasonable period of time to make the needed repairs usually considered 30 days
• The tenant must give the landlord a reasonable period of time to make the needed repairs usually considered 30 days
Otherwise, a tenant who breaks a lease or rental agreement could be subject to paying the balance of the money due under terms of the contract.
A landlord can require a security deposit when a tenant moves in as security for cleaning fees, keys, and the last month’s rent. Non refundable security deposits are illegal. It can be no more than two months’ rent for an unfurnished unit, nor more than three for a furnished unit.
Since 1990, landlords have to pay Los Angeles interest on security deposits to tenants who have stayed for at least a year. The percentage is determined in two ways: either the simple interest rate established by the Rent Adjustment Commission or the actual amount earned by the security deposit. If the second method is used, the landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of a bank statement indicating the interest earned on their deposit for the year. This interest must be paid yearly, or credited against your rent. For the final year of tenancy any accrued interest has to be returned to the tenant with the deposit itself less appropriate deductions.
Here’s a look at the interest as set by the Rent Adjustment Commission
For 2010 it’s 0.55 %.
For 2009 it’s 1.76 %.
For 2008 it’s 3.22 %
For 2007 it’s 2.39 %.
Contact LAHD for the percentaget in prior years.
Tenants are required by law to take reasonable care of their rental units, common areas and hallways, maintaining them in a clean, sanitary and undamaged condition. Tenants are responsible for repairing any damage and abuse caused by them or family, guests and pets. Tenants are responsible to give landlords notice of needed repairs, like a leaky roof, that have the potential of further damaging the landlord’s property.
Under California law, landlords must maintain apartments in a habitable condition.
The Los Angeles Municipal Code requires all owners of rental units who are subject to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance to register the units on a yearly basis before the owners can legally demand or accept rent. Tenants can determine whether or not a unit is registered by contact the LAHD Billings and Collections Section by telephone at (877) 614-6873 or (213) 808-8900, or by e-mail at Billing@lahd.lacity.org
Landlords, who rent properties subject to LARSO must post a conspicuous notice in a common area providing information about the Rent Stabilization Ordinance as well as contact information for the Los Angeles Housing Department. The notice must be written in at least English and Spanish. LAHD will inspect properties and notify landlords who fail to post the required notice. Landlords have 7 days to comply by posting the notice. Violators may be subject to fine of $250 per day
Upkeep and Repairs
A landlord is not responsible for damage caused by a tenant, his guests or pets. Under California law, a landlord must maintain a rented living unit according to the implied warranty of habitability. The following conditions must be repaired because the have the potential for endangering a Los Angeles apartment tenant’s health or safety:
• A lead hazard, like paint
• A construction defect such as one caused by earthquake damage
• A leaky roof or exterior walls
• Broken doors or windows that don’t offer weather protection. Apartment exits must have working deadbolts. Windows must be lockable.
• Plumbing has to work. Units must have hot and cold running water. Bathrooms must have a working toilet, sink and shower that allow privacy.
• Heat has to work.
• A stove must work and gas pipelines can’t leak
• Kitchens can’t have sinks made of absorbent material like wood.
• The electrical system must be safe and functional, although there is no set mark in Los Angeles for what’s considered adequate electric capacity in an apartment. (For years my landlord lived upstairs. We had to take turns in using our microwave ovens, or we’d trip the common circuit breaker.)
• Landlord supplied appliances, like a refrigerator, must work.
• A working phone jack must be available.
• Grounds and garage must be free from garbage, debris and vermin.
• Floors, stairways, and railings must be in good repair. For escape during a fire, exits can’t be blocked and have to lead outside or to a hallway.
• Basements and garages must be free of combustible material.
• In an apartment building, working smoke detectors must be installed in any room where tenants sleep with smoke detectors in common stairwells for apartment complexes.
• Trash containers must be of adequate capacity and in good repair.
• Natural light must be available in each room. For ventilation, windows have to open at least halfway unless a fan provides an air flow assist.
• Each unit must have an assigned working, lockable mailbox consistent with US Postal Service regulations.
• Multi-family dwellings with swimming or wading pools must have ground fault circuit interrupters and anti-suction protection.
The conditions listed are the threshold that must be met for habitability. Failure to do so could result in a visit from a building inspector and a fine. A tenant who finds an apartment uninhabitable also has the right to skip out of any lease or rental agreement, as outlined here, causing a revenue loss as the apartment manager scrambles to find a replacement to live in an apartment that is not up to livable standards.
Withholding Rent for Repairs
If a landlord doesn’t fix any defect that will affect habitability after sufficient notice from the tenant, usually deemed 30 days, a California tenant can get the repairs done herself and deduct the cost from her rent. Tenant authorized repairs can’t exceed the cost of single month’s rent.
There is no state mandated requirement for renters insurance in California. However if a tenant’s apartment is damaged by a natural disaster, s/he cannot collect for damages under the landlord’s insurance policy.
Under state law, water beds can’t be prohibited in any building built after 1972, but under California Civil Code Section 1940.5, tenants who sleep on waterbeds must have insurance policies to cover potential damages up to $100,000. Landlords can ask to see proof of insurance before allowing a tenant to fill a waterbed.
Landlords may refuse to rent to any tenant with a pet or exclude a tenant from owning a pet unless it’s a properly trained pet that helps a tenant cope with a disability like a seeing eye dog.
Right of Entry
Tenants have the right to refuse entry to the landlord unless it is to repair an apartment or for the landlord to show it to government inspectors, insurers, lenders, prospective tenants or buyers.
Under LARSO a tenant may be evicted under the following conditions:
The tenant does pay rent
Tenant violates a rule or requirement in the rental agreement
The tenant is creating or allowing a nuisance that is harmful to the health or safety of others.
The tenant is using the unit for an illegal purpose such as prostitution or drug use. Medical marijuana use with a note from a physician is not grounds for eviction.
The tenant had a written rental agreement and then refused to sign a new agreement which is similar to the old contract.
The tenant refused access to the landlord to make repairs or show the unit to prospective buyers, renters or lenders.
The tenant is subleasing illegally.
The landlord intends to rent the unit for his/her child, spouse, parent or a resident manager.
The landlord wants to demolish or do high cost remodeling work on the building which would require the tenant to leave for 45 days.
The landlord wants to remove the rental from housing use
The landlord is trying to comply with an agency’s order to vacate the building.
If the landlord tries to evict a tenant or a reason that has nothing to do with the tenant’s behavior the tenant may qualify for relocation compensation of either $2,000 or $5,000. Those entitled to the larger amount are tenants 62 or older, disabled, or there are children under 18 at home.
Unless specified above, all other evictions in units covered by LARSO are prohibited.
Settlement of Disputes
Every attempt should be made to resolve landlord tenant disputes amicably. If the dispute is about property damage of less than $7500 the issue can be handled by the parties themselves in Small Claims Court.
In cases of non payment of rent, a landlord serves tenants with a three day pay rent or quit notice, a 30 day eviction notice, a 60 day notice, or the 120-day notice for evictions due to demolition or removal from the rental market. If a tenant fails to respond appropriately to the reason for the eviction within the time frame specified by the notice, a landlord can bring an unlawful detainer suit in Los Angeles Superior Court to have the tenant physically evicted from the premises by the sheriff.
A tenant faced with eviction should hire an attorney. Low cost, competent legal help is available from the Eviction Defense Network http://www.evictiondefensenetwork.org/.