Q: My rent has been going up every few months; it’s now 25 percent higher than last year. What can I do to stop the increases? Can the landlord raise it as often as he wants?
A: Rents have been steadily rising, giving landlords in non-rent-controlled areas free reign to raise rents. When you have a lease in effect, a specific rental amount is usually listed and protected by the life of the contract. For tenants without a lease, the best way to level the playing field is to request a written lease.
One-year leases may be your best bet, although two-year leases are not unheard of. Many landlords prefer the security of knowing a tenant is going to stay put and not move out, which can lead to high turnover expenses.
A simple letter requesting a new lease needs to be persuasive. Assuming you’re a reliable tenant with a low complaint history, you may have a chance of nailing down a set rental amount. If you are offered a lease, watch for leases that offer a “discount” that may end during the lease period. Surcharges may be snuck in, too, so watch that all expenses, fees and costs are defined.
Another overlooked tenant right involves rent control. Of course, tenant protection from rent increases vary widely. While local laws in some locales are silent on the subject, several cities have plenty to say about rent control. Many tenants are downright surprised they fall under rent-control rules.
Across the nation rent-control rules are as varied as the landscape. In New York state, the site for information is offered via www.dhcr.state.ny.us. Some cities within the state have additional laws, too.
In California, The Department of Consumer Affairs site, found at www.dca.ca.gov/legal/landlordbook, lists 15 cities currently affected by rent-control ordinances, as well as other vital tenant information. The appendix also provides a list of tenant resources to help a tenant track down a particular rent-control application.
Rent-controlled cities in California include Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Campbell, East Palo Alto, Fremont, Hayward, Los Angeles, Los Gatos, Oakland, Palm Springs, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and West Hollywood.
Scattered across California, rent control is highly diverse and specialized. For example, in the city of Los Angeles the law currently applies only to “dwellings, one family, except where two or more dwelling units are located on the same lot. This exception shall not apply to duplexes or condominiums.”
Besides defining the building type, the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, written as municipal code in the late 1970s, mainly applies only to properties built during or before October 1978. At this time, post-1978 properties are not affected by the law. Not sure when the place was built? Public records, which are part of county tax rolls, contain year-built information.
Like any rule, there are exceptions, including some luxury units and renovated rentals. For details, many cities have specific departments to handle the details. In Los Angeles, rent-control questions can be answered by calling the Los Angeles Department of Housing at 1-866-557-7368 (RENT) or online at www.lacity.org/lahd.
One of the hallmarks of rent control is just what the name implies — controlling the amount of rent and intervals between rent increases. Mainly enacted to safeguard affordable housing, regulations strive to limit the dollar amount of annual rent increases, usually as a percentage of current rental amounts. Increases are allowed once a year, usually on a fiscal basis of when you moved in or were last raised. Besides controlling the how and when of rent increases, rent-control laws cover a myriad of rental details, such as eviction rules and habitability. Check with your locale for details.
Not sure who owns the place and need to contact the owner? In most states across the nation, you may visit the county assessor’s office and obtain owner and information. In Los Angeles County, for example, check out www.assessor.lacounty.gov and tap Office Locations for the addresses and telephone numbers of their central and regional public service counters.
Not under rent control? There are several factors that shape a landlord’s ability to raise rents, which are usually covered by state and local laws. How often varies by state, from Colorado that had no notice requirement to 60 days in Georgia. Most states have a Department of Consumers Affairs or attorney general who may provide guidance.
If you think you’ve been treated unfairly or are unsure of your rights, you may want to contact an attorney for more details.