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The apartment, house, or room that you rent is your home and you have the right to treat it as such. The law imposes specific obligations on landlords to avoid disrupting tenants’ use of their rentals in certain ways. In some cases, the law also requires landlords to remove or lessen disruptions. Read ahead to find out how California law protects a tenant’s basic right to privacy and peaceful use of their home.
Tenants in California have a right to the “quiet possession” of their rentals. (CA Civil Code 1927); Guntert v. City of Stockton, 126 Cal. Rptr. 690 (Ct. App. 1976). This means that landlords can be required to decrease or remove disruptions that interfere with tenants’ use of their rentals. The landlord can also be prohibited from causing such disruptions.
First, remember that – as a tenant – you can always ask your landlord to deal with any condition or situation that interferes with your use of the rental. Regardless of whether or not the landlord is legally required to respond, the landlord can’t penalize you for asking. The law prohibits the landlord from retaliating against you for asking them to address conditions that may violate your rights as a tenant. Cal. Civ. § 1942.5(d).
The covenant of quiet enjoyment becomes involved in situations where the landlord is legally required to address a condition that interferes with your tenancy. The covenant of quiet enjoyment applies where
- the issue is reasonably under the landlord’s control and
- the interference is frequent or severe enough to amount to a violation.
How severe is “severe enough?”
This will depend on the facts and circumstances of the situation. In general, the more often or intense the disturbance, the more likely it is that your right has been violated. Some examples of issues that may constitute violations of your right to quiet enjoyment or possession, are listed below. Again, these issues are covered by your right to quiet enjoyment dependent on the severity and the extent of the landlord’s control over them.
- Loud construction at unreasonable hours, if the construction is under the landlord’s control
- Outside lighting that interferes with your sleep
- Unwelcome texts, phone calls, visits, or other communication from the landlord or property manager
- Disruptive behavior from other tenants, from the landlord, or from people who work for the landlord
A note on conflict with other tenants – Tenant Sanctuary recommends that you seek mediation in a dispute with another tenant where possible. One tool a property owner will likely use to address your dispute is to evict one of you. In order to avoid this dangerous and destabilizing outcome, we suggest that you contact the Santa Cruz Conflict Resolution Center at 831-475-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, the covenant of quiet enjoyment is just one way, but not the only way, to require the landlord to take actions they are required to take, or to refrain from or prevent disruptions. Other sources of leverage that might be available are:
- the explicit provisions of the lease agreement, which may (and normally do) require landlords to take certain actions, such as making repairs, and
- other terms that are implied in the lease agreement, even if not specifically written there, such as that the landlord must provide you with accommodations that are fit for habitation.
In addition to the general protections that the “Quiet Enjoyment” rule provides, there are also specific limitations on a landlord’s ability to enter your rental. If the landlord wants to come in, they have to give you written notice at least 24 hours before entering your home. The notice has to be personally delivered to you or to someone who will give it to you, or left near or under the main door to the rental. (Cal Civ. §1954(d)(1)). The notice must state the date, the approximate time, and the reason for entering. The reason for entering has to be one of the following:
- To make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements,
- Supply necessary or agreed services
- To show the home to buyers, other renters, workers, or contractors
- To inspect the home with you to agree on necessary repairs and cleaning before you move out
- You’ve abandoned or surrendered the home
- Pursuant to court order
- For reasons related to a water submeter in your home
- To inspect waterproofing and structural strength of an outdoor balcony or similar structure
You are allowed to agree verbally (e.g., over the phone or by text message) with the landlord about the date and time of entry to make repairs or provide services. If you do that, the notice described above is not required. Verbal notice is also enough in case the landlord has told you in writing that your home is listed for sale. For 120 days after the listing notice, the landlord can give you verbal notice of entry.
If the landlord does not provide you with appropriate notice, you do not have to let them in!
As a cautionary note, the above requirements may apply differently if you are renting only a room or portion of a house or apartment rather than the house or apartment as a whole. And remember, you can contact Tenant Sanctuary (email@example.com) for specific guidance on your situation.
Emergencies, Abandonment, and Consent Entry
The owner does not have to give you advance notice under the following circumstances
- If they have to enter your home to address an emergency. For example, if water is leaking from your downstairs neighbor’s ceiling because your sink is overflowing, the owner can come into your apartment without notice.
- If they see smoke coming from your window and believe there is a fire in your home, they can also come in without notice;
- If you are present at the rental and you agree to let the landlord enter at the time of entry;
- If you have moved out.
What if the owner is not respecting your rights around quiet enjoyment and entry to your home? Move to Part 2 for more information.