Frequently Asked Questions for Landlords and Managers

Downtown Santa Cruz

My Online Rental Ad

  1. What is the quickest way to get my rental posted?
  2. How much should I charge for my rental?
  3. How do I modify my ad online?
  4. How long will my ad run? How long will my ad stay in your system?
  5. How can I increase interest in my ad?
  6. When does the academic year begin and end? When are breaks? What holidays are you closed?

Tenant/Landlord Communication

  1. I have an applicant from an international student/visiting scholar. How can I qualify them as a tenant?
  2. How can I avoid a security deposit dispute?
  3. How can I avoid other disputes?
  4. What resources are available if we cannot resolve a dispute?
  5. Where can I find tenant-landlord resource information?
  6. When serving 30-day notice, when do the 30 days begin and end?

Legal Questions (by Kimball, Tirey & St. John, LLP)

  1. Are e-mail communications between tenant and landlord admissible in court?
  2. Last Monday I served a resident with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. I served it by posting a copy on my tenant’s door and then the next day I mailed a copy by certified mail. Someone said I have to mail it through the normal mail. Isn’t certified mail better than normal mail?
  3. One of my tenants vacated the property and left the roommate behind. Both signed the rental agreement and now the tenant who vacated demands that half the security deposit be returned. Is this right? What should I do?
  4. One of our tenant’s guests broke a window in the recreation room by throwing a ball through it. My tenant claims they should not be liable for the damage because it was outside the apartment while they were throwing catch in the common area. What can I do?
  5. If we serve a 3-day notice and the tenant decides to move out, is the tenant responsible to pay the monthly rent until the apartment is re-leased?
  6. I have tenants who decided not to move in after signing a six-month lease and leaving a deposit. Can I hold them to the lease agreement that they signed?
  7. Could you please tell me the law on roommates and the return of security deposits when only one vacates the unit?
  8. I am renting a single family dwelling to three individuals, each of whom submitted a separate application but want to all be listed on the rental agreement. How do I fill out a month-to-month agreement?
  9. Several weeks ago, during a wind storm, a large tree fell on my tenant’s car. The tenant thinks I am responsible for the damages, but my insurance company says I am not.
  10. We rent our detached in-laws quarters in the back yard of our property. Can we specify in the ‘house rules’ that no visitors are allowed on the property? Also, can we specify ‘no smoking’ in or around the unit?
  11. A former tenant is threatening to sue us over the security deposit we returned. They cashed the check yesterday. Does that mean that they “agree” with the amount?
  12. One of my tenants vacated the apartment without paying the water bill. Will I have a problem getting the water turned back on? I do not want to pay for my tenant's delinquent bill.
  13. If an owner serves a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit upon a tenant and the tenant decides to move out, can the owner deduct from the security deposit the amount that was demanded in the 3-day notice plus the next month's rent that would have been due if the tenant had given the contractually required 30-day notice before leaving?
  14. Is there a clear definition of what constitutes "normal or ordinary wear and tear"?

My Online Rental Ad

1.What is the quickest way to get my rental posted?
The quickest way to post your rental is directly online in our rental listings program, The Housing Registry. Set up an account and follow the instructions to post your rental. Our staff will approve your listing during our normal business hours.

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2. How much should I charge for my rental?
We do not personally view or manage any properties and cannot recommend the fair market value of your rental. However, our Rental Cost Statistics shows the price ranges and an average price based on the number of listings compared. 

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3. How do I modify my ad online?
Log into your account and go to Manage and then Housing Listings. There you can activate or inactivate it, view, edit, add or delete photos and delete a property you no longer own or manage. You can modify your postings at any time. You do not need to delete it when it rents. Simply inactivate it and the next time it is available, edit it and activate it again.

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4. How long will my ad run? How long will my ad stay in your system?
Your rental ad runs for 45 days from the day you submit or the end of the availability period, whichever is earlier, at which time the ad automatically expires (is set to “hide"). Your ad remains in our system for two years from the expiration date. When it is available again, simply go to your personal dashboard, make any necessary edits and set to 'show' to re-post.

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5. How can I increase interest in my ad?
There are several ways to make your ad more appealing to searchers.

  • Be competitive in your rent price! (see question 2)
  • Lower the deposit or allow the deposit to be paid in installments to decrease initial cost to the tenant.
  • Allow pets. Ask for pet references and get a sufficient deposit. It still must not exceed two months’ rent.

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6. When does the academic year begin and end? When are breaks? What holidays are you closed?
The Registrar's Office posts both current and future academic calendars.

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Tenant/Landlord Communication

1. I have an applicant who is an international student or visiting scholar. How can I qualify them as a tenant?
Consider the fact that in order for a student or scholar to get a visa to study in this country they had to show the U.S. consulate in their country a guarantee of funds for the first academic year for an F-1 Visa, and for the entire duration of their stay for a J-1 Visa.

You can ask for:

  • A copy of their F-1 or J-1 Visa. All international students and visiting scholars need one of these visas to come to this country to study and work. It also shows they do not have a criminal record. The most common visa for degree-seeking students is the F-1; for specific education exchange programs like the UC Education Abroad Program and visiting scholars, most get a J-1. The families of visiting scholars get a J-2 visa.
  • If the academic year is in progress the International Student/Scholar Office at UCSC will give verification of the student/scholar.
  • An ‘Income Certificate’ or ‘Certificate of Deposit Balance’ from their country of residence – You might need a currency converter (easily found online or download a free app). Most international students won’t be working.
  • A copy of their passport and an international driver’s license if they drive.
  • The maximum deposit allowed by law which is two months’ rent for an unfurnished unit and three months’ rent on a furnished unit along with first month’s rent.
  • A UCSC Renters Workshop Certificate. This will show they have studied California rental laws and common practices.

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2. How can I avoid a security deposit dispute?
Have your tenants perform a thorough inspection of the property within three days of moving in and have them complete a Condition of Rental Property Checklist. When they are done, go over the checklist at the property with your tenant. Both you and the tenants sign the completed checklist and each keep a copy. It documents the condition of the property when they took possession. The checklist is the best way to ensure fair deposit returns and avoid disputes. Photograph each room in the rental and any yard space. Give a copy to your tenants. Familiarize yourself with California Civil Code 1950.5. Landlords have very specific responsibilities; it’s very important you understand and execute them.

  1. Notify your tenants IN WRITING of their right to a pre-move out inspection AND of their right to be present at it.
  2. Do the pre-move-out inspection early enough to give the tenant reasonable time to ‘cure’ the problem. You must give them a list of items you believe need cleaning, repair, or replacement IN WRITING at that inspection and give them time to clean or fix them. This inspection must be done no sooner than two weeks before their move out date.
  3. Provide the tenant with an itemized list of any cleaning or repairs for which you retain money from their deposit. By law, you must also give them a copy of the repair/cleaning receipts if you keep $125 or more.

Landlords in all areas of Santa Cruz County, with the exception of Scotts Valley, are required to pay tenants interest on their security deposits from the date they receive the deposit. Security deposit interest is due when they vacate or when it reaches $50.00, whichever occurs first.

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3. How can I avoid other disputes?
Use open, direct and timely communication. Put all promises and agreements in writing. If you or your tenant agree to something verbally, follow it up with a brief letter or email outlining the agreement, especially if it is not on the rental agreement. Always keep a copy for your documentation.

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4. What resources are available if we cannot resolve a dispute?

  • Lawyer Referral Service, Conflict Resolution Center, Self Help Center, Small Claims Adviser, Small Claims Court
  • See our Tenant-Landlord Advising webpage for contact information for these resources

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5. Where can I find tenant-landlord resource information?

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6. When serving a 30-day notice, when do the 30 days begin and end?
A tenant must vacate the rental unit by the end of the thirtieth day after the date on which notice was served. For example, if a 30-day notice is served on July 16, you would begin counting days on July 17, and the 30-day period would end on August 15. If August 15th falls on a weekday, a tenant would have to vacate on or before that date. However, if the end of the 30-day period falls on a Saturday, the tenant would not have to leave until the following Monday because Saturdays and Sundays are legal holidays. Tenants would be required to pay for these additional days, if they choose to remain in the rental. Other legal holidays also extend the notice period. The same method applies for situations of tenants giving 30-day notice to their landlords.

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Legal Questions (by Kimball, Tirey & St. John, LLP)

1. Are e-mail communications between tenant and landlord admissible in court?
Yes, e-mails can be allowed into evidence, but cannot be used to serve notices. (E-mails can be used for informal landlord/tenant communications and if mutually agreed, to serve security deposit accountings.)

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2. Last Monday I served a resident with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. I served it by posting a copy on my tenant’s door and then the next day I mailed a copy by certified mail. Someone said I have to mail it through the normal mail. Isn’t certified mail better than normal mail?
The California Legislature has created the procedural laws for serving a delinquent resident with a notice to pay rent or quit. Unless the tenant admits receiving the notice, the notice is invalid unless properly served. In this case, the law is specific and requires the second copy of the notice be mailed by regular mail.

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3. One of my tenants vacated the property and left the roommate behind. Both signed the rental agreement and now the tenant who vacated demands that half the security deposit be returned. Is this right? What should I do?
You are not required to return or account for the use of the security deposit until you regain possession of the property after the tenants have vacated. California requires the deposit be accounted for in writing and sent to the last known address of the tenants no later than 21 days following the return of possession unless the lease requires an earlier time frame. The tenant who vacated early should work out an arrangement with the former roommate. You are under no obligation to account for the deposit at this time.

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4. One of our tenant’s guests broke a window in the recreation room by throwing a ball through it. My tenant claims they should not be liable for the damage because it was outside the apartment while they were throwing catch in the common area. What can I do?
In California, tenants are liable for the negligence of their guests while on the premises. The premises not only includes the rented unit but the common area as well. The tenant and the tenant’s guest are jointly liable for the damage to the window.

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5. If we serve a 3-day notice and the tenant decides to move out, is the tenant responsible to pay the monthly rent until the apartment is re-leased?
The tenant is still liable for the rent until the lease expires or the apartment is re-let, whichever occurs first even if they vacate pursuant to a three-day notice to perform or quit.

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6. I have a tenant who decided not to move in after signing a six-month lease and leaving a deposit. Can I hold them to the lease agreement that they signed?
Once the tenant signed the lease, they are bound by its terms and must pay rent until it expires or the premises are re-let. You do have a responsibility to sincerely attempt to re-rent the unit.

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7. Could you please tell me the law on roommates and the return of security deposits when only one vacates the unit?
Unless you provide otherwise in your lease, you do not release the deposit until after you regain possession of the unit. It is up to the roommates to figure out who gets what as they are ‘jointly and severally’ liable for the performance of the lease or rental agreement.

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8. I am renting a single family dwelling to three individuals, each of whom submitted a separate application but want to all be listed on the rental agreement. How do I fill out a month-to-month agreement?
Have them all sign the same agreement. That way, they would be jointly and severally liable under the rental agreement.

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9. Several weeks ago, during a wind storm, a large tree fell on my tenant’s car. The tenant thinks I am responsible for the damages, but my insurance company says I am not.
Unless you were negligent in the way you maintained the tree, you are not liable.

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10. We rent our detached in-laws quarters in the back yard of our property. Can we specify in the ‘house rules’ that no visitors are allowed on the property? Also, can we specify ‘no smoking’ in or around the unit?
You could prohibit smoking, since it is a health and fire hazard. Restricting visitors would most likely violate the tenant’s constitutional rights of freedom of association.

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11. A former tenant is threatening to sue us over the security deposit we returned. They cashed the check yesterday. Does that mean that they “agree” with the amount?
No, they can still cash the check and claim you owe them more of the deposit.

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12. One of my tenants vacated the apartment without paying the water bill. Will I have a problem getting the water turned back on? I do not want to pay for my tenant's delinquent bill.
Thanks to the California Apartment Association, local water departments cannot charge the owner of rental property for unpaid bills incurred by former tenants of the property.

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13. If an owner serves a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit upon a tenant and the tenant decides to move out, can the owner deduct from the security deposit the amount that was demanded in the 3-day notice plus the next month's rent that would have been due if the tenant had given the contractually required 30-day notice before leaving?
Yes, California law allows a landlord who has a month-to-month lease with a tenant who vacates without notice, to charge rent up to thirty days after the premises were abandoned, unless relet within the 30-day time. In that event, the landlord may only charge rent up to the day it was relet. The unpaid rent may be deducted from the tenant's security deposit.

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14. Is there a clear definition of what constitutes "normal or ordinary wear and tear?"
There are not many legal guidelines on this issue so many judges use what they consider a common sense approach. We advise landlords to seek an opinion from the manufacturer of drapes, carpets, and appliances as to their expected lifetime assuming ordinary wear and tear. If the item needs replacing before that time, you can use this as a guideline to determine the pro rata amount to charge back to the tenant.

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