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Q&A on renter’s rights: What you need to know as a tenant in SLO County

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Q&A on renter’s rights: What you need to know as a tenant in SLO County

Picture of Lindsey Holden

This story is part of a larger project, "Standard of Living," by Lindsey Holden, a participant in the 2019 Data Fellowship who is focusing on the experiences of low-income renters living in poorly maintained housing in San Luis Obispo County.

Other stories in this project include:

Tribune investigation: What it’s like for SLO County renters stuck in bad housing

KENTWEAKLEY GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO
The Tribune
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

An investigation by The Tribune and the Promotores Collaborative of San Luis Obispo showed many renters throughout the county live in housing that’s old and in need of repairs.

Some tenants also struggle to make sure their landlords treat them fairly. This guide answers some commonly asked questions and provides information about tenants’ rights and resources for renters in need of help.

The information in this guide was provided by the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation (SLOLAF).

The COVID-19 pandemic means California’s rental housing laws are constantly changing as leaders enact policies to help families impacted by the virus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in August signed into law new protections to help renters struggling financially due to COVID-19.

SLOLAF attorneys are assisting renters facing evictions. For more information, visit their website at slolaf.org or call 805-543-5140.

WHAT DO I DO IF I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH SOMETHING IN MY APARTMENT (MOLD, BUGS, PLUMBING ISSUE, BROKEN WINDOW)?

Tell your landlord right away, on the phone or in person, and also in writing, either with a letter or an email. Save everything your landlord writes or emails you about repairs.

If your landlord calls you or talks to you about repairs in person, keep notes of what they say to you.

WHAT DO I DO IF MY LANDLORD IGNORES ME WHEN I ASK FOR HELP OR SAYS THEY WON’T FIX THE PROBLEM?

Contact a lawyer and ask for advice. Tenants with landlords who aren’t fixing things have the right to pay for repairs and take the money out of their rent. But renters shouldn’t do this without getting legal advice first, because landlords can use nonpayment of rent as a way to evict tenants.

WHAT DO I DO IF MY LANDLORD TELLS ME IT’S MY JOB TO FIX THE PROBLEM?

Landlords are legally required to pay for big repairs in rental housing. This doesn’t include damage caused by the tenant, the tenant’s family, guests or pets.

Landlords should also maintain their properties and make sure their housing doesn’t fall into disrepair. If landlords are refusing to fix important things, tenants should call a lawyer and seek advice.

HOW DO I REPORT A PROBLEM IN MY APARTMENT TO CODE ENFORCEMENT? WILL ANYTHING BAD HAPPEN IF I DO THIS?

Cities and San Luis Obispo County are required to enforce laws that protect renters from poor housing conditions. But some cities are better at making sure landlords follow these laws than others. Tenants should speak to a lawyer before calling code enforcement, as doing so could have unintended consequences.

The city or county will then send an inspector to look at conditions in the renter’s housing unit. The inspector can tell the landlord they must make repairs or pay fines. But, if conditions are too bad, the inspector can also declare the housing uninhabitable and force renters to move.

WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS IF I’M AN UNDOCUMENTED RENTER? WHAT IF I’M RENTING A ROOM OR PART OF AN APARTMENT OR HOUSE FROM ANOTHER TENANT?

Undocumented renters have the same rights as legal citizens.

People renting rooms or parts of houses or apartments have the same rights as tenants. However, renters sharing housing with other tenants should have a written agreement that’s approved by the landlord to avoid any problems. Leases usually require that tenants get landlord approval before renting parts of their apartment to others.

WHAT DO I DO IF I GET AN EVICTION NOTICE?

If you’ve received a three-day, 30-day, 60-day or 90-day notice to leave your rental, or you’ve been served with court paperwork, contact the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation for help.

RESOURCES

Legal support

Family support

Affordable housing

Home repair

  • CAPSLO Weatherization: 805-541-4122capslo.org/energy-services. Program for low-income people to make homes more energy efficient to save on utility bills. Repairs are free but must be approved by your landlord.

Questions?

Do you have questions about this guide? Call or text reporters Lindsey Holden and Cassandra Garibay at 805-242-3006 to learn more.

This guide was produced with support from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism and the Center’s engagement editor, Danielle Fox. Fernanda Lucas and Erica Ruvalcaba-Heredia translated and provided feedback that informed this guide.

[This was originally published by The Tribune.]