It’s no secret that California can be an expensive place to live, especially in the bigger, more popular cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Golden State has plenty to recommend it, with a place for every taste and lifestyle, but it comes at a cost. Real estate prices in California are notoriously out of control, and the state has certain laws and rules that may not apply everywhere else. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the most important things you should know about renting in California.
The Rent Prices
It would be easy to say that you’ll pay more for rent in California than most anywhere else, but the truth is more complex. Certainly, an apartment in Los Angeles or San Jose is going to cost you a bundle — housing in those cities is in high demand and there’s plenty of competition. But rent prices vary a great deal, and there are more affordable rentals in areas such as Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield.
You should also know rent control plays a big part in how California’s rental market works. Rent control laws are in place to protect tenants from arbitrary or unreasonable rent increases, and the city has the authority to enforce those ordinances. Before you find a place to live in California, make sure you’re familiar with the rent control laws in that area.
The Importance of a Lease Agreement
Having a lease agreement is something you should have in place wherever you rent, not just in California. Without a lease agreement, there could be confusion between tenants and landlords about responsibilities and details like rental duration, the rental amount, security deposit requirements, and more. A lease agreement clarifies and codifies these points so they’re crystal clear for both tenant and landlord, and will help avoid disagreements, misunderstandings, and (worst of all) legal disputes.
Your Rights as a Tenant
As a tenant in California, you have certain legal rights that protect you from unfair practices, and you should know what they are. Some of the most important tenant rights include:
- The right to a habitable living space. This means having essential utilities available such as plumbing and electricity, and having the property in a livable condition.
- A right to privacy, requiring proper notice before a landlord or property manager may set foot in your unit.
- The right to withhold rent under certain circumstances (more on that below)
- A right to freedom from discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and other criteria. Refusing to rent to an individual or family based on these criteria is illegal, as tenants have the right to equal treatment in housing.
The Value of Renters Insurance
Insurance isn’t just for homeowners — having renters insurance is just another part of responsible renting in California. Not only does renters insurance cover your personal belongings from theft and disaster, but can also help provide you with temporary living space in case your rental unit becomes unlivable for whatever reason. And best of all, it’s inexpensive — as Kristine Lee at insurance comparison website The Zebra points out, it’s only about $223 annually.
Security deposits tend to be a fact of life for renters everywhere. A security deposit is a form of financial protection for landlords, in case the unit is damaged or altered (accidentally or deliberately) by the tenant. A security is usually, but not always, equal to one or two months rent. If you want the security deposit back, it’s important to keep meticulous track of the condition of the unit, in order to help endure the return of that deposit when you move out.
By law, California tenants have the right to withold rent under certain circumstances. Many of these circumstances are tied to the criteria listed above; for example, if the rental unit has been rendered uninhabitable due to maintenance issues and the landlord cannot (or will not) make the appropriate repairs, the tenant is entitled — legally — to withold rent until that issue has been dealt with. As with most things on this list, you should consult your local regulations and seek out an attorney before you take any action such as witholding rent.
Late Fees in Lease Agreements
Most lease agreements will include a provision for charging late fees should the tenant not pay their rent on time. The standard practice is to charge around 5% of the rent for a late fee, though this may vary. It’s best not to assume that number and, once again, make sure you fully understand your lease agreement before you sign, so there aren’t any misunderstandings about late fees (or anything else).
California can be a vibrant, exciting place to live, but like anywhere else, it comes with its own unique requirements and considerations. Renting in the Golden State might be a little more expensive, but with a little foresight and learning, it doesn’t have to be any more difficult.
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