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How Do California Laws Protect Tenants in Rent-Controlled Apartments?

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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_561396721-min.jpgA little less than half of California residents rent their homes or apartments. Although many people choose to rent due to the costs of owning a home, renting can also be expensive. In fact, California has some of the highest rents in the country, responsible for seven out of the top ten expensive cities to rent in the United States. Many residents are considered rent-burdened, with 30 percent or more of their monthly income going to pay their rent. California does have a rent control law that some renters are fortunate enough to benefit from, but as a recent lawsuit shows, the law can frustrate landlords required to obey the law, and this can cause a great many landlord/tenant disputes.

San Francisco Lawsuit

The lawsuit involved a couple renting an apartment in San Francisco. The city has some of the highest rents in the state, with the rent for a two-bedroom apartment averaging $3,500. The couple filed the lawsuit in May 2015, accusing their landlord of subjecting them to months of harassment and erratic behavior. The landlord had purchased the property about a year before the lawsuit was filed.

According to the details of the lawsuit, the husband originally moved into the building in 1994. The two-bedroom apartment was under rent control, so this meant the rent could only be raised 1.5 percent each year. While the husband’s rent had only increased about 30 percent over the past 25 years, San Francisco’s rental average for a two-bedroom has increased more than 250 percent.

After the landlord purchased the building, there was a decline in the quality and maintenance. According to the lawsuit, some of the couple’s complaints included:

  • Building utilities shut off due to unpaid bills

  • Access to laundry room blocked

  • Unrepaired leaky hot water heater

  • Recycling bins removed

Despite multiple attempts by the tenants to communicate with the landlord, the condition of the building continued to deteriorate. About a month before filing the lawsuit, the landlord served the couple with a 60-day eviction notice, claiming she wanted to move into their apartment, even though there was at least one other vacant apartment in the five-unit building, which stayed vacant for at least a year following filing of the lawsuit, and she lived in a home she owned nearby. An owner move in is one of the only valid reasons to evict tenants in rent-controlled apartments if there are no other issues with tenants, such as non-payment of rent or illegal activity.

In 2017, a jury ruled in favor of the couple, awarding them damages in the amount of 3.5 million, agreeing the landlord had harassed the couple and violated the owner-move in law. A trial court later reduced that amount to $2.7 million. Earlier this month, the appeals court affirmed that ruling.  

Contact a Los Angeles County Civil Litigation Lawyer

The landlord involved in this lawsuit has a persistent pattern of harassing tenants in rent-controlled apartments that she has purchased and has been named in a number of other lawsuits and has been issued more than 1,600 violations. While the amount of money awarded to the injured tenants in this case was very large, it is a good example of how seriously the courts take complaints of harassment by landlords against tenants, especially in rent-controlled buildings.

If you are involved in any type of landlord/tenant dispute, consider speaking with an experienced Glendale, CA civil litigation attorney to find out what your rights are and what protection the law provides. Call Tahmazian Law Firm, P.C. at 818-242-8201 to schedule a free consultation and find out how we can help.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/S-F-couple-awarded-2-7-million-after-being-16431314.php

https://calmatters.org/explainers/housing-costs-high-california/

 

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