Ethan Stan was nearly evicted when he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley.
His landlord put pressure on him and his girlfriend, suggesting they had lived in their apartment a while and should leave so the landlord could complete repairs. Eventually his girlfriend, now wife, said “hell no,” Stan said. His girlfriend at the time emailed the city of Berkeley, which ended up having a rent stabilization board that helped resolve the issue.
This moment inspired Stan to join San Luis Obispo’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) years later, where he realized that some cities did not have codified renters’ protections – including San Luis Obispo, Stan said.
Stan is the former co-chair of the DSA’s Housing Justice Committee. The group holds monthly “canvassing” events, where they distribute flyers to educate tenants on their rights.
Around 10 people show up to canvass, where the group decides on a location or neighborhood to go to beforehand. On one given day, the group knocked on a “couple thousand” doors, Stan said.
The fact that people have continuously shown up to help confirmed to Stan that “this is the right thing to work on.” Stan said his group is focusing on on-the-ground work that directly affects people.
“It’s a matter of learning our communities,” Stan said. “It’s really easy for, sometimes, activism to kind of float off into the ether.”
Julien Powell, co-chair of the Housing Justice Committee and DSA volunteer said group tries to canvas once a month, determining where to go during meetings held the second Tuesday of every month.
The DSA in San Luis Obispo published an Online Tenant’s Guide for renting in California, outlining the rights and procedures involved in the renting process. As part of a campaign to increase transparency on housing, the guide offers an explanation of what renters can expect.
Isla Vista’s tenants influenced the guide DSA first made in 2019, Stan said. The guide was most recently launched in April of this year.
The DSA website contains various resources under its guide for renting in each of the subsections listed. The website also walks renters through the renting process, from filling out an application to moving out.
Signing a lease
Cited in the California Tenants Guide, a landlord should disclose if the property has been contaminated with materials such as asbestos or other carcinogenic materials.
If a tenant is recognized to have any disabilities, they are able to make adjustments to the lease upon agreement between the landlord and tenant.
The guide also warns against oral agreements and unwritten leases. While these are legal, the website states that “it is probably safer to get your lease in writing.”
The website emphasizes that renters, when in the process of deciding on a place to live, “document everything, take photos, get it in writing.”
It is also recommended to complete an inventory checklist of the unit upon move in so that the condition of the unit is kept track of.
Rent costs, security deposit and additional fees
Legally, landlords are able to increase a tenant’s rent. Such costs throughout the renting process might additionally include an application fee, screening fee or new tenant processing fee.
The security deposit, worth two months of the tenant’s rent, depends on whether the unit is furnished or not. For a furnished unit, the deposit is increased to three months worth of rent in addition to the first month of rent, the Online Tenant’s Guide writes.
Tenants must alert their landlord a month before they plan to move out. Upon leaving, the landlord has the right to keep some of the security deposit based on damages sustained or other reasons outlined in the Tenant’s Guide:
- You owe rent
- The place is less clean than when you first started renting
- You have damaged the property beyond normal measures
- You fail to restore the property’s furniture or belongings besides regular “wear and tear”
The lease, containing the length of the tenant’s stay, is decided between the landlord and tenant. Additional time following the original lease term may be charged on a month to month basis, according to the California Tenant’s Guide.
Monthly rent may be increased by the landlord. In San Luis Obispo, rent can be increased by 60% of the Consumer Price Index, according to the San Luis Obispo County Government website.
Cal Poly’s Basic Needs Task Force is one resource that can help students find and afford housing. Joy Pedersen, the university’s dean of students and co-chair of the task force, told Mustang News that the Cal Poly Cares Emergency Fund assists students with financial challenges such as providing them a security deposit or first month’s rent.
Cal Poly Cares served 163 students during the 2015-16 school year and 183 students during the 2016-17 year, according to the university’s 2018 Basic Needs Report. The 2018 report found that 12% of Cal Poly students experience homelessness, and “as college tuition and living expenses continue to increase,” housing insecurity would likely worsen.
If there are issues such as leaking pipes, damage, inadequate garbage collection or large gaps behind kitchen drawers where insects can enter, a landlord must address them and not charge the tenant to do so instead.
To enter a rented unit, the landlord has to alert the tenant 24 hours before legally entering, the guide writes.
It is illegal for landlords to refuse renting to someone based on their identity or preferences, though landlords can refuse renting to someone based on income level, according to the California Renters Guide.
Examples of discrimination to look out for include:
- Refusing to rent to you because of your identity
- Not providing accommodation for a disability
- Your landlord showing a preference for one tenant over another
- Your landlord treats you differently than they treat another renter.
- Access barriers
If, as a tenant, accommodations are needed, the steps to ask for them include obtaining a doctor’s or therapist’s note and writing a formal letter to the landlord for specific requests.
“It is ALWAYS okay to ask for accommodations and it is ILLEGAL for landlords to punish or evict you for requesting reasonable accommodations or modifications,” the guide states. “The disability doesn’t have to be permanent; a broken leg will heal eventually, but it doesn’t mean that life isn’t harder in the meantime.”
For more details on tenant rights and tips for renting, the whole Online Tenant’s Guide can be found at slocialism.org/housing.