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Liz Kuball

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It’s always a good time to brush up on your rights

More than half of Los Angeles residents are renters (probably because of the high cost of homeownership)—at 54 percent, it’s the fourth-highest percentage of any major U.S. metro area at nearly 54 percent, according to a 2017 study by Abodo.

But how many of those renters are familiar with their basic rights as tenants?

There are online repositories of important tenant info, of course. There’s the comprehensive (sometimes overwhelmingly so) website for the city's Housing and Community Investment Department, for instance, as well as websites for fair housing and tenant advocacy groups, such as the Housing Rights Center. We spoke to the experts at both of those groups to put together a quick primer on 10 rights all tenants should know.

1. All tenants have a right to clean, habitable housing, and landlords are required to maintain livable units—ones in which doors and windows are not broken; the roof and walls keep out water; plumbing works and dispenses hot and cold water; and there are no vermin running free in the building and unit. There are more legal qualifications, but this is the gist. “Basically, tenants have a right not to live in slum housing,” a rep for the Housing Rights Center says.

2. If a unit is not habitable, the landlord is supposed to remedy it immediately, but technically the landlord is also forbidden from collecting rent for that unit. That does not mean that tenants should forego paying rent on their own initiative.

The Housing Rights Center says that, unfortunately, a tenant’s best move in a situation like this is to continue paying rent. Doing so allows the tenant to continue to have the upper hand: They can always point to the fact that in the landlord-tenant compact, they’re holding up their end of the bargain.

Tenants in rent-controlled units are entitled to interest on their deposit.
Liz Kuball

3. Got a problem with your apartment, and your landlord is not doing anything about it? Experts recommend that you first tell your landlord verbally. If the problem persists, graduate to a dated letter detailing the issue, taking timestamped pictures of the problem and other documentation that could later be used, if needed, to show that your landlord was aware of the issue. As a last recourse, the HCID has some information here about how to initiate the city inspection process. They'll issue the landlord a letter telling them to fix the issues fast.

4. But let’s say the problem doesn’t get fixed, even after a 60-day notice is issued to your landlord by the city. Unfortunately, both the HCID and HRC seem to agree that the best thing you can probably do is sue your landlord for the rent you paid while you were living in a gross place.

5. In Los Angeles, there a are lot of places that have been converted into living spaces without the proper residential permits—a garage that’s been turned into a one-bedroom, for instance. If you are living in one of those illegal apartments, you should know that you still have the same protections that any other tenant would have. If the unit is in a rent-controlled building, those rights and protections include reimbursement fees for no-fault evictions under the Ellis Act (see point No. 10 below).

The Housing Rights Center advises that renters always write checks for their rent, put a note in the memo along the lines of “rent for (address),” and get a receipt every time. That way, there’s a paper trail that can establish tenancy down the line, if necessary.

6. When can your landlord come into your unit? Unless it’s an emergency—in which case, the landlord can enter without any notice at all—your landlord has to give you 24 hours notice, whether it’s to give potential new tenants a tour, to come in to make repairs or improvements, or to let in the workers who are making those improvements. And even with proper notice, they’re only supposed to enter during normal business hours.

7. It’s pretty much a given that tenants pay a security deposit to their landlords. Tenants are entitled to get that money back, or to be given an itemized list explaining what was taken out of the security deposit (e.g. back rent, money for repairs to the unit) and a dollar amount for each item on the list. The security deposit should be back in your hands within 21 days of vacating the unit. If it’s not, HCID suggests you sue your landlord; the department doesn’t investigate these claims.

8. Tenants in rent-controlled units are also entitled to interest on their deposit. The interest begins to accrue after one year. The rate changes every year, and it’s not much (this year it was .07 percent), but it's something. Tenants of non-rent-controlled units are not entitled to interest.

9. How often can a landlord raise your rent, legally? If you live in a non-rent-controlled unit and you have a lease, your rent can't be increased until the lease is up (unless the lease includes provisions for rent increases). Non-rent-controlled units that are rented month-to-month can be increased whenever, provided that the landlord gives the appropriate written notice.

Rent-controlled housing can only have rent increases once a year, and the rent can only go up by a certain percentage, as decided by the city. In 2018, that rate was 3 percent.

2017 Christmas Father Long Pattern Christmas Sleeve Hoodie Series 10. One of the big advantages of living in an apartment that is rent-controlled is your protection against no-fault evictions (situations in which you, the tenant, didn't do anything wrong).

If you live in a rent-controlled apartment, there are a limited number of reasons, found here, for which you may be evicted. Rent-controlled tenants are also entitled to mandated relocation time and compensation if they are evicted via the Ellis ActDon't Dress Casual Ask Why Selling 8wxS4dqq (the amount increases according to how long a tenant has lived in the building). Head’s up: some landlords try to get tenants out quicker by offering them cash for less than what they are legally entitled.

If you do not live in a rent-controlled apartment, you can be evicted for any reason at all, whether or not you pissed off your landlord.

More information on the rights of tenants is available through the Housing and Community Investment Department's website. The Housing Rights Center is also an all-around excellent resource for renters. The nonprofit offers regular walk-in clinics at various locations throughout LA.

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