TENANT 101: 
A GUIDE TO MOVING IN, MOVING OUT AND STAYING IN BERKELEY

Moving can be a stressful process, and it helps to know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Here's a brief guide to moving in, moving out and staying put in Berkeley.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us! Call 510-981-RENT (7368) and ask to speak to a housing counselor. 


WHILE YOU'RE LOOKING

You have rights!

Even before you sign a lease in Berkeley, prospective tenants have protections under Berkeley law. Landlords may charge prospective tenants a screening or application fee; however, there are limits to how much they may charge and how the money may be used. Landlords are only permitted to use screening fees to obtain a consumer credit report. Prospective tenants should expect to receive a copy of their credit report, a receipt detailing the cost of the screening, and a refund of any unused portion of the fee. For more information, go to Tenant Screening Fees.


MOVING IN  

   
1. Make sure you can afford the rent! Signing a one-year lease may obligate a tenant to pay the rent for the entire year - unless there is a really good reason to leave, such as major habitability problems. Thus, if you move out before the lease ends, you may be held responsible for paying rent if the owner cannot re-rent the unit before the lease period expires. If you want to rent a certain apartment, you may negotiate with the landlord to lower the rent. Losing out on an individual apartment is much better than having to pay rent on a place you cannot afford.  

2. Get it in writing! Request that the rental agreement be in written form, and make sure both you and the landlord sign it. Get receipts for any payments that you make, especially if you pay in cash. As a matter of law, you are entitled to a copy of your lease.

3. Ask the landlord if last month's rent will be applied. Rental contract language varies, and can be difficult to interpret. Be clear on what the landlord's intentions are with all money collected (beyond the first month's rent) at the beginning of a tenancy. If you have a written lease, this should be clearly spelled out.

4. Call the Rent Board to determine whether the unit is under rent control. Additional protections are offered to tenants in units covered by rent control. Knowing this in advance can be helpful when negotiating rent and a rental term.

 

IF THERE'S A PROBLEM WHEN YOU MOVE IN

1. Have a friend, neighbor or other neutral party witness the condition of the rental unit. 

2. Take date-stamped photos of any damage, so that you are able to document the condition of your apartment when you moved in. 

3. Send a letter to the owner identifying any substandard conditions and keep copies for yourself. If you have photos of the damage, send those along as well.

4. If the apartment is presented in a condition that does not live up to the original rental agreement (i.e., the owner promised that a problem would be fixed but did not follow up on it), you should document this as well-- in writing, along with photos if possible-- soon after moving in.

 

WHEN YOUR LEASE IS UP

As the expiration date of your lease nears, it is time to consider whether you will stay in your current living situation or move on. You might be able to find a new apartment that is significantly cheaper, and you could start a new lease with a new, lower rent ceiling. In many cases, it is a lot easier to remain in the same place and not have to deal with the expense and hassle of moving. However, do not discount the idea of negotiating a lower rent with your current landlord. Just remember: If you and your landlord can agree on a discounted rent for a certain period of time, your original rent ceiling remains the same. So if you signed an annual lease at $1,500, and then negotiate a rent of $1,400 on a month-to-month basis at the end of the year, your landlord does retain the right to raise your rent back to $1,500 at any time with a 30-day notice, or back up to the ceiling when the new lease expires. A landlord can have “good cause” to evict if you refuse to sign a new substantially identical fixed term lease upon expiration of the current lease. If the landlord accepts your rent after the lease expires, it automatically converts to a month to month agreement.  Once a tenant in Berkeley is on a month to month agreement they cannot be forced to sign another fixed term lease.  


MOVING OUT 

There are many ways a tenancy can come to an end. Regardless of how the tenancy ends however, state law requires that the tenant give 30 days' written notice to the landlord if the tenant is terminating the tenancy. This applies even to tenants planning to leave at the end of a fixed-term lease. For each situation described below, both tenants and landlords should be aware of how their actions will affect the tenancy. 

Breaking a lease

A tenant who breaks a fixed-term lease could be held responsible for rent for the remainder of the lease term unless a replacement tenant is found. If the lease allows subletting, then the tenant should find a subtenant; if subletting is forbidden, the landlord is obligated to "mitigate damages" by trying to re-rent the unit as soon as possible once the tenant vacates. California Civil Code section 1951.2 states that the tenant can be held responsible for expenses associated with the tenant's early termination of the lease. This could include lost rent. Therefore, we recommend that the tenant assist the landlord in trying to re-rent the unit as soon as possible to reduce the chance of being saddled with these expenses. In most cases, the tenant and landlord can work together to find a suitable replacement, thus ensuring minimal losses on both sides. Remember however, that if you have a bona fide reason to break a lease that is related to such things as the conditions of the property or a breach of the contract by the landlord, then you there is the possibility you may not be held liable for breaking that lease. Whether such cause exists is often subjective and you may wish to contact our office and speak to a Housing Counselor should this situation arise.  

Roommate replacement

When a group rents an apartment and individual tenants leave, the remaining tenants are allowed to replace their outgoing roommates. A tenant moving out should give 30 days' written notice to her/his roommates and to the landlord. The roommates should try to find a responsible replacement, and provide a rental application to the landlord, who may request an interview. A landlord can reject a replacement only if s/he has reasonable grounds - e.g., the person does not qualify for tenancy under the landlord's standard application process.

If a landlord unreasonably denies a tenant the right to replace a roommate in a unit under Berkeley rent control, there could be a significant impact on the rent level. Rent Stabilization Board Regulation 1270 allows a rent ceiling reduction in proportion to the decrease in the number of tenants imposed by a landlord. Whether the landlord imposes this by unreasonably rejecting each proposed person or by refusing to consider anyone at all, the Regulation still permits a rent ceiling reduction (even if the landlord prohibits subletting in the rental agreement). For example, if three tenants were leasing an apartment for $1,500, then the rent ceiling would be reduced to $1,000 if one tenant left and the landlord prohibited a replacement.

Subletting is not a good cause for eviction

Under the Rent Ordinance, an owner cannot evict because the tenant sublet the unit if the landlord has unreasonably withheld consent to sublet. In order for this protection to apply, the original tenant must remain an actual occupant of the rental unit and the number of tenants may not exceed the base occupancy level established at the inception of the tenancy. We strongly advise tenants and landlords who are having a problem with roommate replacement to speak with a Rent Board housing counselor as soon as possible before taking any action.

Becoming a co-tenant

If a landlord makes the replacement tenant a co-tenant by adding their name to the lease, then the landlord will not qualify for a vacancy increase until this replacement tenant also moves out.


IF YOU'RE STAYING 

Renewing a lease
Many tenants stay in their rental units long after their original lease agreement expires. For units under Berkeley rent control, tenancies continue even if a lease period expires. Landlords and tenants should be aware that when a fixed-term lease is close to expiration.

A landlord CAN:

1. Require that the tenant sign a substantially identical renewal lease (assuming the tenant is currently on a fixed term lease). Failure to sign a new substantially identical fixed term lease upon expiration of the current lease is “good cause” for eviction in Berkeley.

2. Require 30 days’ written notice from a tenant who wishes to move out.

3. Assume the tenancy will continue on a month-to-month basis if the tenant does not inform them in writing at least 30 days prior to a planned move-out date. 

A landlord CANNOT:

1. Require the tenant to sign a new lease after the previous lease has expired and the tenancy has converted to a month-to-month agreement. (California state law provides that if, after the expiration of a lease, a landlord accepts rent, the tenancy will become month-to-month under the same terms of the original lease).

2. Require a tenant to sign a lease that changes any material term of the original lease. Examples of material terms are:
    • Lease period       
    • Security deposit amount    
    • Space provided   
    • Services provided             
    • Late fees
 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Below are a few helpful links related to moving in and moving out in Berkeley. Can't find what you're looking for? Check out the Tenant Topic Listings, or call our office and ask to speak with a housing counselor at 510-981-RENT (7368).

Moving In:

Staying:

Moving Out: