A Reminder: Santa Rosa Renters, Like All California Tenants, Have Rights Regardless of Housing Shortages

For quite some time, the local and national press has been bringing attention to the San Francisco housing shortage. It is important to remember, however, that this is not a problem limited to San Francisco. The problem stretches across Northern California and includes a shortage of affordable housing in Santa Rosa. It is important that renters remember that, shortage aside, they do have rights and should not be afraid to speak up about an abusive landlord or unfit dwelling. Our Santa Rosa tenants’ lawyer is committed to protecting renters and ensuring units are both affordable and fit to be called “home.”

keys.jpgProspective Renters Camp Out to Apply for New Santa Rosa Apartment Building
A story in this week’s Press Democrat brings attention to the Sonoma County affordable housing shortage. The piece reported on would-be tenants camping out for up to two nights in hopes of applying to live in a new complex set to open in May at the intersection of Petaluma Hill and Kawana Springs roads in southeast Santa Rosa. Management personnel said they’d never seen anything like the campers before with a prospective renter reporting that people can spend years on waiting lists to get into an affordable rental property.

As of the close of 2014, a whopping 97.2% of Sonoma County apartments were occupied, a figure industry personnel consider equivalent to full occupancy. Rents have increased nearly 30% on light of the intense demand. Real Answers, a research firm, placed Santa Rosa fifth on a listing of areas with the biggest rent hikes.

Protecting Renters in a Tight Housing Market Some unsavory landlords are taking advantage of this unprecedented demand, but tenants have rights regardless of how high occupancy rates have risen. Both state and local laws exist to protect tenants and ensure they are treated fairly; units must not only be affordable, but livable. This area of law is a complex network of legislative and judicial mandates and no single post could capture all facets of tenant protection. Although far from a comprehensive catalog of tenants’ rights, three crucial elements, which roughly break down to protection for renters looking for units, renters living in those units, and renters forced out of those units, of California’s landlord/tenant law are:

  • Discrimination – As detailed in the Unlawful Discrimination section of a California Department of Consumer Affairs rental handbook, landlords cannot refuse to rent to a prospective tenant or otherwise discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other protected status. Landlords must also apply the same income rules to roommates as they apply to married couples. There are very limited exceptions that apply to a single rental in an owner-occupied dwelling, such as a woman looking to rent a room in her home to another female.
  • Habitability – Habitability is a broad, overarching term that essentially means a unit must be fit for use as a dwelling. It is a requirement read into every rental agreement. The “Dealing with Problems” section of the above-referenced handbook includes a list of some of the elements of the warranty of habitability including: Effective weather protection; Working plumbing, heat, and gas; Clean, sanitary grounds free from vermin and related hazards; and Adequate trash facilities.
  • Eviction – In a tight market, renters may reluctant to speak up due to fear of eviction. However, the law provides in depth rules on evictions including a detailed eviction process. Retaliatory evictions are illegal, meaning a landlord violates the law if the primary purpose of an eviction is retaliating against a tenant who exercised his/her legal rights.

The protections against discrimination, the warranty of habitability, and the rules regarding eviction are the backbone of California tenant protection law. Regardless of how tight the market is, tenants can and should speak up if their rights are being violated. Do not allow unscrupulous landlords to take advantage of the market and, in doing so, take advantage of you. If you believe your landlord has violated your rights, call our Santa Rosa renters’ law firm. Do not assume your case is too small or stay silent out of fear. We can help.

See Related Blog Posts:
What Does “Habitability” Mean in California?
Bay Area’s Spike in Rents Presents Incentive for Landlords to Turn Over Units
Understanding Ellis Act Evictions

(Image by George Redgrave)