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Learn the ABCs of Apartment Renting

Going away to college in another city?

Maybe you're staying in town and going to the local community college or university. Either way, you may be moving out of the family home and into your own "place" for the first time.

There are a few things you should know about renting an apartment or house.

Many renters are not aware that they have basic legal rights that are always in force, regardless of what the rental agreement or lease specifies. These basic rights include:

  • A limit on how much of a security deposit a landlord can require. That's usually no more than two months rent for an unfurnished rental;
  • An implied "warranty of habitability" that requires a rental have certain basic amenities that make it fit to be occupied by people. These can include working plumbing and heating, for example;
  • The right of the renter to deduct certain repair costs from the rent, and to withhold rent under appropriate circumstances (at the same time, the renter has a general duty to take reasonable care of the rental unit);
  • Restrictions on the landlord's right to enter the property;
  • The right to a refund of the security deposit or a written accounting of how the landlord spent it at the end of the tenancy;
  • The ability to sue the landlord to enforce your rights as a tenant, if the dispute can't be resolved informally;
  • Protection against retaliatory eviction and discrimination.

For more detail on these subjects and others, consult the Department of Consumer Affairs' booklet, "California Tenants: A Guide to Residential Tenants' and Landlords' Rights and Responsibilities," available on the Department's Web site at. The publication also includes information on rent increases and termination of leases. It also contains a handy inventory checklist to help you detail the condition of the apartment when you move in and again when you move out. It will help you avoid possible problems later on.

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