Rent Increases: Basic Information for Tenants: Legal Guide LT-2

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RENT INCREASES :
BASIC INFORMATION FOR TENANTS
May 2012

Whether your landlord can raise your rent depends on whether you have a lease or a rental agreement, and what it says.

Some tenants have leases. If you have a lease, your rent cannot be increased during the term of the lease, unless the lease allows rent increases.1

Many tenants have periodic rental agreements – for example, a week-to-week or a month-to-month rental agreement. If you have a periodic rental agreement, your landlord can increase your rent, unless the agreement does not allow rent increases. The landlord must give you proper advance written notice of the rent increase. The written notice tells you how much the increased rent is and when the increase takes effect.

How much advance notice must the landlord give the tenant?

If you have a month-to-month (or shorter) periodic rental agreement, the landlord must give you at least 30 days' advance written notice of a rent increase.

  • The landlord must give you at least 30 days' advance notice if the rent increase is 10 percent (or less) of the rent charged at any time during the 12 months before the rent increase takes effect.
  • The landlord must give you at least 60 days' advance notice if the rent increase is greater than 10 percent of the rent charged at any time during the 12 months before the rent increase takes effect. 2

The amount of notice required depends on the percentage of the rent increase. In order to calculate the percentage of the rent increase, you need to know the lowest rent that your landlord charged you during the preceding 12 months, and the total of the new increase and all other increases during that period.

EXAMPLES: 1. Assume that your rent is $500 per month due on the first of the month. You have been paying this rent for over a year. Your landlord wants to increase the rent $50 to $550. How much advance notice are you entitled to?

First, calculate the percentage increase in the rent. It is:
50
500 = 10%
The current rent increase ($50) does not exceed 10 percent of the lowest rent charged in the past 12 months ($500). Therefore, your landlord must give you at least 30 days' advance written notice of the rent increase.

2. Assume that your rent is $500 per month due on the first of each month. You have paid this rent for over a year. Your landlord wants to increase your rent $60 to $560. How much advanced notice are you entitled to?

First, calculate the percentage increase in the rent. It is:
60
500 = 12%
The current rent increase ($60) equals 12 percent of the lowest rent charged in the past 12 months ($500). Therefore, your landlord must give you at least 60 days' advance written notice of the rent increase.

3. On January 1, 2008, you started paying monthly rent of $475. In November 2008, the rent was increased $25 to $500. Effective January 1, 2009, your landlord wants to increase the rent another $50 to $550. How much notice is required?

The percentage increase in the rent must be calculated by adding all the rental increases made in the 12 months previous to January 1, 2009. Combined rent increase is:
$ 25
+ 50
$ 75
The percentage of increase is calculated using the lowest rent charged during the preceding 12 months. The lowest rent charged was $475. The percentage of increase equals:
75
475 = 15.7%
Since the increase is greater than 10%, the landlord must give you at least 60 days' notice.

How may a landlord deliver a notice of rent increase?

A landlord's notice of rent increase must be in writing. The landlord may deliver a copy of the notice to you personally.3 In this case, the rent increase takes effect in 30 or 60 days from the date the notice is delivered.

Alternately, the landlord may mail the notice to you, with proper postage and addressed to you at the rental unit. If the landlord mails the notice, he or she must give you an additional five days' notice. That means the landlord would have to give you 35 days' notice from the date of mailing if the rent increase is 10 percent or less. If it is more than 10 percent, 65 days' notice is required.4

Timing of the Notice

Most notices of rent increase state that the increase will go into effect at the beginning of the rental period. For example, if you have a month-to-month rental agreement and your landlord wishes to increase your rent by 10 percent effective on October 1, the landlord must make sure that the notice of increase is delivered to you personally by September 1. (If the landlord mails the notice to you, the landlord must give you an additional 5 days' notice, so the notice must be mailed to you by August 27.)

A landlord may make the increase effective at any time in the month if proper advance notice is given. If the rent increase becomes effective in the middle of a rental period, the landlord is entitled to receive the increased rent for only a prorated portion of the period. For example:

Rental period -- Month-to-month, from the first to the last day of the month

Rent -- $500 per month

Rent increase -- $50 (from $500 to $550) per month (a 10 percent increase)

Date that the notice of rent increase is delivered to the tenant personally -- April 15

Earliest date that the rent increase can take effect -- May 15

Because the landlord delivered the notice on April 15, the increase cannot become effective until May 15 or 30 days later. The rent payment for May would be calculated as follows:

First period: May 1 - May 14 -- During this period the old rental rate of $500 is in effect.

Second period: May 15 - May 31 -- During this period the new rental rate of $550 is in effect.

Number of days in first period -- 15

Number of days in second period -- 16

Prorated Rent Due for the Month of May

   $ 500 x 15/31 = $ 241.94
+ $ 550 x 16/31 = $ 283.87
$ 525.81

Can the landlord require the tenant to pay the increased rent in cash?

The landlord normally cannot require the tenant to pay the rent (or the increased rent) in cash. However, the landlord can require the tenant to pay the rent in cash if, within the last three months, the tenant has paid the landlord with a check that was dishonored by the bank. (A dishonored check is one that the bank returns without paying because the tenant stopped payment on it or because the tenant's account did not have enough money in it.)

In order to require the tenant pay the rent in cash, the landlord must first give the tenant a written notice stating that the tenant's check was dishonored and that the tenant must pay cash for the period of time stated by the landlord. This period cannot be more than three months after the tenant:

  • Ordered the bank to stop payment on the check, or

  • Attempted to pay with a check that the bank returned to the landlord because of insufficient funds in the tenant's account.

The landlord must attach a copy of the dishonored check to the notice.5 The landlord can personally deliver the notice to the tenant, or serve the notice on the tenant using "substitute" service.6

The requirement that the tenant pay rent in cash may change the terms of the tenant's rental agreement. If so, the landlord must give the tenant proper advance written notice of this change.7

Additional Considerations

Normally in the case of a periodic rental agreement, the landlord can increase the rent as often as the landlord likes. However, the landlord must give proper advance written notice of the increase. The rent increase cannot discriminate against you or retaliate against you for exercising a right as a tenant.8

Increases in rent for government-financed housing are usually restricted. If you live in government-financed housing, check with your local public housing authority to find out whether there are any restrictions on rent increases.

Local rent control ordinances may also limit rent increases, or impose additional requirements on landlords. If you live in an area with rent control, check with your local rent control board or your local elected representative to find out whether there are any restrictions on rent increases.

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NOTICE: We attempt to make our legal guides accurate as of the date of publication, but they are only guidelines and not definitive statements of the law. Questions about the law's application to particular cases should be directed to a specialist.

This publication is available on the Internet. See the Department of Consumer Affairs' homepage at www.dca.ca.gov.

This document may be copied, if all of the following conditions are met: the meaning of the copied text is not changed; credit is given to the Department of Consumer Affairs; and all copies are distributed free of charge.

Prepared by Marla L. Scharf, Staff Counsel, and Albert Y. Balingit, Staff Counsel, Legal Services Unit. Last updated May 2012 by Claire Yazigi.


ENDNOTES

1Colyear v. Tobriner (1936) 7 Cal.2d 735, 742 [62 P.2d 741, 745]; Friedman et al., California Practice Guide: Landlord-Tenant (The Rutter Group 2004) ¶ 4:37.
2Civil Code Section 827(b). Longer notice periods apply if required, for example, by statute, regulation or contract. (Civil Code Section 827(c).) See generally, Friedman et al., California Practice Guide: Landlord-Tenant (The Rutter Group 2004) ¶¶ 4:42.5 - 4:44.4.
3Civil Code Section 827(b)(1)(A)
4Civil Code Sections 827(b)(1)(B),(2),(3); Code of Civil Procedure Section 1013.
5Civil Code Section 1947.3 Waiver of these provisions is void and unenforceable.
6Civil Code Sections 827(a), 1947.3(a)(2), Code of Civil Procedure Section 1162. If the tenant is absent from home or work, the landlord can give notice by (1) leaving a copy of the notice with "a person of suitable age" and discretion at the tenant's home or work, and (2) mailing a copy to tenant's home. If the landlord can't give the tenant notice personally or as described immediately above, the landlord can (1) attach a copy of the notice in a conspicuous place on the rental property (such as the front door of the rental unit), and (2) leave a copy with any person living there, and (3) mail a copy to the tenant at the rental property address. (See Friedman, California Practice Guide: Landlord-Tenant ¶¶ 7:157, 7:171-7:174 (The Rutter Group 2004).)
7When rent is paid monthly, the landlord can change the terms of the rental agreement by giving the tenant 30 days' advance written notice. When rent is paid weekly, the landlord can give the tenant 7 days' advance written notice of the change in terms. However, even if the rent is paid monthly, the landlord can give the tenant just seven days' advance written notice of the change if the landlord and tenant have agreed in writing to a seven-day notice period. (Civil Code Section 827(a).).
8Civil Code Section 1942.5. Brown, Warner and Portman, The California Landlord's Law Book: Rights and Responsibilities, pages 15/2-15/3 (Nolo Press 2005).