California tenant's rights are numerous and substantial under California landlord tenant law. Lawsuits against California landlords include numerous legal actions authorizing courts to award money damages and up to three times a tenant's damages. California Civil Code 1940 et. al. These California state laws are in addition to federal housing laws prohibiting landlord discrimination against tenants(ADA, FHEA) as well as local city laws providing renters with relocation fees, rent control, and eviction protection. California Proposition 10 recently expanded these renters rights by overturning California Supreme Court case Costa Hawkins.
Tenants should first ask their landlord about the security deposit since most landlords almost always violate the crystal clear language requiring landlords to return deposits or provide an accounting within 21 days of the tenant moving out("21-day rule"). California Civil Code 1950.5. Courts can order landlords to pay a tenant money damages up to twice the amount of the security deposit amount in addition to returning the original deposit amount.
Landlords in California are also bound by the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment and the Implied Warranty of Habitability which are included in every California lease. Cal. Civ. Code 1927, 1940.1, 1941. Where an apartment, condominium or another rental unit becomes unfit for the purpose for which it was leased, a landlord may be liable for the difference between the fair market value of the rental unit and the value of the unit with the condition(s). California Civil Code 1940.1. Bed Bug and Cockroaches (vermin infestation) and inadequate weatherproofing are among many of the per se violations which can entitle tenants to certain rights. Tenants may bring also bring a nuisance action where there is a reasonably offensive condition(high-voltage security lights in a bedroom window, noxious fumes filling home living areas) which interferes with use and enjoyment of the property. Cal. Civ. Code 731; Stoiber v. Honeychuck, 10 Cal.App.3d 903, (1980)
Landlords may also be liable for retaliation by evicting tenants with a 3-day notice to pay or quit or raising a tenant's rent after tenant exercises a legal right respecting his home. These renters rights include contacting the city housing authority or other building and safety department about the rental, using the repair and deduct method to fix an uninhabitable condition in the apartment or home Cal. Civ. Code 1942.5. Landlords can be liable up to $2000 in punitive damages for each retaliatory act against a tenant. A Landlord harassment lawsuit may also be included in a tenant's complaint, especially when the harassing behavior was done with the intent to get the tenant to vacate. California courts may order landlords to pay tenants up to an additional $2,000 per incident of landlord harassment. Cal. Civ. Code 1940.2.
State and Federal law also protect tenants from landlord discrimination based on race, gender, familial or another protected status by holding property owners liable for up to $4,000 per discriminatory act. Federal Housing and Employment Act ("FHEA");
In addition to these federal and California landlord tenant law, local laws such as the Los Angeles Municipal Ordinance provide additional tenants rights and remedies. Apartments, homes and other rental units in Los Angeles, for example, are governed strictly by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). In addition to providing statutory tenant relocation monies to qualified and eligible tenants and restricting legal causes for eviction, the RSO provides grounds to sue like a legal action for a bad faith landlord eviction. With public policy strongly against slumlords and landlords who illegally try to remove their rental unit(s) from rent control, courts may award treble damages. LAMC
Other actions available to tenants under the Civil Code include Failure to disclose allocation of utilities (Cal. Civ Code 1940.9), Failure to correct building code and other municipal violations within 35 days (1942.4), Unlawful entry (no 24 hours notice)(1954) and failure to install deadbolt locks (1941.3).
A constructive eviction results when a landlord consistently violates one or more of these tenant protection laws and the apartment, home or other rental property is unfit for the purpose for which it was rented. If the tenant vacates the affected unit within a reasonable time of first discovering the condition(s) or issue(s), a tenant is relieved of future obligations to pay rent and be awarded damages related to being evicted. Pierce v. Nash, 126 Cal.App.2d 606 (1954).
Before filing a lawsuit against your landlord, consult with an experienced California landlord tenant attorney or eviction lawyer to get legal advice and possibly a free lawyer consultation about your rights.