All landlords and tenants should have a written contract that controls their relationship called a “rental agreement,” “rental contract,” or a “landlord-tenant agreement”. This especially includes landlords who provide free rent to friends or family members or landlords who have unorthodox landlord-tenant relationships.
For landlords, having a well drafted, written agreement in place makes it easier and less expensive to evict a tenant in the event of a failure to pay rent or if the tenant refuses to leave. For tenants, a rental agreement can protect you from greedy or pushy landlords.
Here are the top five things to know about rental agreement provisions in California.
1) Anti-Marijuana Clauses
Many residential landlords in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties fall victim to renters who convert homes into illegal marijuana grow operations. We are not talking about a recreational puff or two, but the indoor and outdoor production of marijuana as a cottage industry. This is very prevalent in the Santa Cruz mountain communities of Boulder Creek, Bonny Doon, and Ben Lomond. Marijuana grow operations were the alleged source of recent house fires in Felton and a house explosion in Aptos.
Santa Cruz landlords are encouraged to include language in their rental agreements that expressly forbid the cultivation of marijuana indoors or outdoors. Landlords may also include a no-smoking clause in their rental agreements or language that forbids renters from committing crimes on the property. The breach of any of these agreements could support evicting a tenant by a 3-Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy.
2. No-Subletting Provisions
Subletting occurs when a tenant rents the property to a new tenant who temporarily takes over the rental space. The original tenant then becomes a quasi-landlord. From a landlord’s perspective, subletting is generally a bad idea because the tenant, rather than the property owner, will usually be in charge of the critical tenant selection process. Tenants have different priorities than landlords and should not be in charge of selecting tenants. Subletting is very prevalent in Santa Cruz among UCSC students and in Monterey among CSUMB students.
A well drafted rental agreement should include a clear no-subletting provision.
3. Customize the Rental Agreement for Your Property
While many landlords have written agreements in place with their tenants, very few of them actually customize those agreements for their tenant and the specific property. Customizing your rental agreement is an easy way to communicate your expectations as a landlord from the get-go.
Do you have a prized fruit tree at the rental property that needs regular water? Include a provision in your rental agreement requiring your tenant to water it. Have high-maintenance neighbors next to your rental property? Be sure to include a clause about parking and other “good neighbor” provisions.
4. Stick to Your Rental Agreement and Keep it in Writing
Landlords and tenants should stick to their rental agreements and document any changes with a written “amendment” to the rental agreement. If a landlord deviates from a rental agreement, a tenant may argue that the landlord has “waived” their right to enforce that provision of the rental agreement.
As an example, take the case of Eric the landlord. Eric’s written landlord-tenant agreement has a clear no-pet policy, which Eric’s new tenant, Justin, reads and signs. After a three months, Justin asks Eric for permission to get a “medium sized” dog. Eric agrees to the request. Unbeknownst to Eric, Justin brings home a pit bull. Many months later, neighbors start to complain that Justin’s dog is barking constantly. When Justin’s dog doesn’t stop barking, Eric attempts to evict Justin and his dog. However, Justin may successfully defeat the tenant eviction and argue that Eric voluntarily gave up any objection to Justin’s dog when he verbally agreed to him getting a dog.
Important changes, such as allowing a pet, should always be in writing.
5. No Alternative Dispute Resolutions
California landlords have very limited options when forced to evict a tenant who does not pay rent or who commits other serious breaches of the rental contract. For this reason, it is important that your rental agreement not modify or further limit the few protections left available to you as a California landlord. This includes “alternative dispute resolution” clauses that require mediation or arbitration, rather than filing an eviction or “unlawful detainer”. Freebie rental agreements available online are often times not geared for California law and will only muddy the waters if you need to evict.
Do you have a written landlord-tenant agreement in place with your tenant?
Ready to stand up for your rights? Call Brian Mathias Law for a consultation.