Frequently Asked Questions for Renters

  1. How do I get access to search your rental listings?
  2. What is the difference between a UNIT and a ROOM?
  3. What are the most important things to do in searching for a place and renting it?
  4. When should I look for fall housing?
  5. How much can I expect to pay?
  6. If I am renting with other people, should we prepare an application packet for each person?
  7. What should we say in the cover letter?
  8. Most applications refer to credit history. What if I don't have any credit?
  9. I'm concerned about my personal information. Is it safe to put account numbers and social security numbers on the applications?
  10. Is there a way to locate other UCSC students looking for housing?
  11. In a month-to-month agreement, can the landlord raise the rent?
  12. I am an international student - what advice do you have for me?
  13. Do you have any advice for finding a rental with a pet?
  14. If my landlord sells our rental, can they make me leave?
  15. I did not complete a Condition of Rental Property Checklist when I moved in; now I am getting ready to move out. What should I do?
  16. What is "normal wear and tear"?
  17. What if I run into problems with my housing situation?
  18. My landlords didn't give us an itemized list of deductions within 21 days of us vacating the rental. Can they keep our deposit?
  19. My landlord didn't tell me I had a right to a pre-move out inspection and did not do one. Now he wants to keep my deposit. Is this right?
  20. My landlord won't give me a copy of my rental agreement. What do I do?
  21. Our landlord is evicting all of us because one of our roommates violated our lease. We haven't done anything wrong and really want to stay but she won't agree to it. Can she do that?
  22. Our housemates aren't getting along. We all want to split up. How can we break our lease?
  23. We don't agree with the deductions our landlord took out of our security deposit. We know we are responsible for some of it but not all she took. Also, some of the damage was done by a tenant who left last year, not any of us. What should we do?
  24. We put in an application to one property manager but before they processed it we found another place. Now, we want our rental application packet back. They won't give me the entire packet, only my portion. They want all of us to come in and get our own sections. This seems really unreasonable. What can we do?
  25. The landlord’s friend is acting as a manager for my rental. He told us he is not a real estate agent. Is this OK?

1. How do I get access to search your rental listings?
You must have a UCSC email account for access. Once you do, go to our home page, click on Search Rentals and then The Housing Registry; follow the easy instructions to create your password.

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2. What is the difference between a UNIT and a ROOM?
A unit is a self-contained space, be it a house, apartment, or studio. In order for it to be classified as a unit it must have a private bath, private entrance, and a complete private kitchen area. A room is in shared housing. The room is (usually) private, but the kitchen, living room, bathrooms, and other common areas are shared. We also have listings we call "efficiencies," which are typically living spaces with most characteristics of a studio, but with limited cooking facilities. They are categorized as a studio for searching.

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3. What are the most important things to do in searching for a place and renting it? 
For searching: Take our online Renters Workshop and prepare a rental application packet. 
For renting: Get all agreements in writing and keep receipts for financial transactions. Complete a Condition of Rental Property Checklist (PDF, 188KB) when you move in and KEEP A COPY! Take photos of every room and the yard. Communicate with your landlord by e-mail or letter so you can document and date your exchanges.

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4. When should I look for fall housing?
First take the Renters Workshop and prepare a thorough Rental Application Packet to prepare for your search.

Then you can start looking in April, May and early June for the upcoming fall term. The Community Rentals Office solicits what we call "Advance Fall Listings" in April, where landlords list their rentals during spring quarter for students to contract for the upcoming fall. Based on prior years, we expect to receive about 100 listings. Students who can stay over the summer will find more availability in July as there is much less demand from other students.

However If you don't locate your housing before the school year ends, start looking online in August; plan to come back to Santa Cruz to personally look at any listings you are interested in and to apply.

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5. How much can I expect to pay?
Our Rental Cost Statistics page lists price ranges and averages of everything from rooms in shared housing to 6+ bedroom houses.

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6. If I am renting with other people, should we prepare an application packet for each person?
Yes, and then put all individual packets together with one cover letter. Be sure to include your photos. Download a sample rental application packet (PDF, 3.6MB) to see what to include.

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7. What should we say in the cover letter? 
Try to tie the household together with common interests, how you all met, that you get along well, perhaps that you have lived together on campus. Reiterate highlights from your resume, e.g. you are responsible, conscientious individuals who are science majors and need a quiet household for serious studying–only if you are, of course!

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8. Most applications refer to credit history. What if I don't have any credit? 
No credit is better than bad credit. Get a credit report on yourself. You might be surprised at the information you find there.

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9. I'm concerned about my personal information. Is it safe to put account numbers and social security numbers on the applications? 
Landlords need to have social security numbers to run a credit check but actual bank or credit card account numbers are unnecessary. You can make a copy of the latest financial statement and black out the account number for the application packet. You can put “available upon request” on the application and only give your social security number to those landlords seriously considering you as a tenant. Landlords are required to take reasonable steps to safeguard your private information. While they must keep copies of your application if they run a credit check on you, if they do not, you can request they shred or return your application.

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10. Is there a way to locate other UCSC students looking for housing? 
With a UCSC e-mail account, you can view profiles of UCSC students available as roommates and post your own profile on the roommate page of our rental listings program, The Housing Registry.

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11. I am an international student - what advice do you have for me?
International renters have many things to consider when looking for a rental. We have compiled some recommendations here. 

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12. Do you have any advice for finding a rental with a pet?
See Renting with a Pet for information on creating a pet resume to present your pet's best qualities to potential landlords and a list of pet-friendly housing. 

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13. In a month-to-month agreement, can the landlord raise the rent? 
Yes, with a 30-day written notice. We still recommend a month-to-month agreement for students because of its flexibility. Leases can be very expensive to break.

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14. If a landlord sells a house, can they make me leave? 
If you are on a month-to-month agreement they can with a 30-day written notice. If you are on a lease, they cannot. The new owner becomes your new landlord with the same terms and conditions of the original lease.

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15. I did not complete a Condition of Rental Property Checklist when I moved in; now I am getting ready to move out. What should I do? 
Familiarize yourself with the Security Deposit law. Clean the unit thoroughly and, if possible, have anything you damaged fixed before the pre-move out inspection. This inspection gives you the opportunity to correct any areas that the landlord believes are not up to expectations before you vacate. It is usually less expensive for you to take care of it than for them to manage hiring professional cleaners and charge you. Expect that your idea of clean and their idea will most likely be different. Take photos! It is too late to document the condition when you moved in but you can document the condition when you vacate. Time stamp the photos if possible. Remember for the next rental to complete the Condition of Rental Property Checklist (PDF, 150KB). This is the most important thing you can do to protect your deposit. Be sure to keep copies of all documents pertaining to your rental.

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16. What is "normal wear and tear?"
California residential tenants should not be charged by their landlord for “normal wear and tear”. While the law doesn’t specifically define “normal wear and tear”, this document may provide guidance.

Since there are not many legal guidelines on this issue, many judges use what they consider a common sense approach. We understand a good way to determine this is to seek the opinion from the manufacturer or dealer of drapes, carpets, appliances, etc. as to their expected lifetime, assuming normal wear and tear. If the item in question needed replacing before that time, you can use that as a guideline to determine the pro rata amount to expect to pay. (Example: an item’s lifetime is estimated to be 10 years. It was 5 years old when the tenants moved in and a year later it needs to be replaced [it’s now 6 years]. If a similar quality replacement item costs $1500, the tenant would be responsible for $600.)

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17. What if I run into problems with my housing situation? 
Review the questions and answers below and the information on our Tenant-Landlord Advising page, which lists many expert resources. Many problems are common and even though each situation is unique, the process to work it out is fairly standard.

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18. My landlord didn't give us an itemized list of deductions within 21 days of us vacating the rental. Can he keep our deposit?
If the landlord does not give you an itemized list within the 21 days allowed by California Civil Code 1950.5, he or she forfeits his or her right to retain any of the deposit and must return all of it to you and then take you to court to prove the deductions are valid. You may need to take them to small claims court. This is why it is always a good idea to take photos that highlight the condition of the property when you moved out.

The process allowed in CCC 1950.5 is a unique process intended to allow a reasonable and fair way of dealing for both tenants and landlords. However, if the landlord does not follow this procedure correctly, he or she loses the right to use it.

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19. My landlord didn't tell me I had a right to a pre-move out inspection and did not do one. Now he wants to keep my deposit. Is this right?
No, it is not right since the landlord has not followed the process determined in CCC 1950.5, which requires the landlord to offer a pre-move out inspection in writing. Review your original rental agreement and see if it was disclosed there. The landlord must notify the tenant, in writing, of their right to a pre-move out inspection AND of their right to be present at the pre-move out inspection. The pre-move out inspection should have been done within two weeks prior to your move-out date, unless you did not ask for it or waived it.

If you did request one, they also must give you a written itemized list of what needs to be "cured"—cleaned, fixed, whatever the situation—at the time of the pre-move out inspection. If they don't do this, they may not keep your deposit. They can take you to court to prove damages and win. Good faith is a very important part of tenant-landlord law. Not only must the tenant be given written notice of any deficiencies, they must also be given enough time to "cure" them. A pre-move out inspection two days before actual move out, for example, is not giving the tenant enough time to "cure."

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20. My landlord won't give me a copy of my rental agreement. What do I do?
Your landlord is required by law, California Civil Code 1962, to give you a copy of the rental agreement within 15 days of it being executed and once additionally every calendar year if you request it. Mail the landlord a letter requesting a copy of the contract along with the copy of the civil code.

We recommend written agreements, but if you have a verbal agreement, the landlord must still provide these key items to you in writing:

1. Name, telephone number, and street address of manager or owner for serving notice
2. Who to pay the rent to and where
3. How you are to pay rent

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21. Our landlord is evicting all of us because one of our roommates violated our lease. We haven't done anything wrong and really want to stay but she won't agree to it. Can she do that?
A landlord can legally hold all co-tenants responsible for the negative actions of just one, and terminate everyone's tenancy with the appropriate notice. For example, three co-tenants can be evicted even if only one of them violates the lease or rental agreement.

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22. Our housemates aren't getting along. We all want to split up. How can we break our lease?
Tenants can break a lease; however, it can be a very expensive proposition. When a tenant breaks a lease, they are financially responsible for advertisement and administrative costs, and are liable for lost rental income until the unit is re-rented or until the end of the term of the lease if a replacement tenant is not found. A landlord is legally required to try to find a replacement tenant and cannot unreasonably reject a similarly qualified tenant. However, a landlord can require an entire household to leave when only one tenant wants to break a lease.

Keep in mind, re-renting your unit or room isn't always easy. We recommend you try compromising and if that doesn't work or you have already tried, contact the Restorative Justice Program to try to sort things out among the housemates.

If you still decide to break your lease, we highly recommend you contact California Rural Legal Assistance for free legal advice at 831-724-2253. If no one in your household qualifies, you can use Lawyers Referral service and meet for 1/2 an  hour with an attorney for $50.00. Call 831-425-4755 to make an appointment. Staff at Community Rentals are not qualified to advise on legal issues.

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23. We don't agree with the deductions our landlord took out of our security deposit. We know we are responsible for some of it but not all she took. Also, some of the damage was done by a tenant who left last year, not any of us. What should we do?
You should voice the reasons for your dispute in writing and in detail. As with all rental papers, keep a copy for yourself. Both the tenant's and landlord's responsibilities are spelled out in the California Civil Code 1950.5. Read the code and make sure the landlord followed procedure and that you understand your rights and responsibilities. Include a copy of it in your correspondence to your landlord.

Before you write the letter, research the issue you are having with your landlord in the California Tenants handbook (PDF) online. This will give you a printable PDF file of the latest version of the handbook. Isolate your issue and print out that section. There is a lot about security deposits in the booklet. Narrow the search by using "painting" and "carpets" or "carpet cleaning" as a search parameter instead of "security deposit" to get you closer to the pages you need. Take some time to find language that supports what you believe is not being settled fairly. Send a copy of a dispute letter (PDF) along with your dispute.

Regarding what a previous tenant did, the remaining household is responsible for dirt and damages based on the difference between the condition when the first group moved into the empty house and the condition when the final group moved out, no matter who did the damage.

If the damage that was done, it should have been accounted for when the person who did it moved out and charged to him or her.

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24. We put in an application to one property manager but before they processed it we found another place. Now, we want our rental application packet back. They won't give me the entire packet, only my portion. They want all of us to come in and get our own sections. This seems really unreasonable. What can we do?
Actually, that property manager is following the law which was written to protect you. They are not allowed to give confidential information out to anyone but the person who gave it to them and who it is regarding. They also must require that you bring photo ID. If they had run your credit report, they would be required to keep the application with your authorization for the credit check on it for a number of years.

 

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26. The landlord’s friend is acting as a manager for my rental. He told us he is not a real estate agent. Is this OK?
One must be a licensed real estate broker or a licensed real estate associate working under a real estate broker in order to manage rentals in California for a third party. An exception to this is for a manager who lives on-site and also for a close relative to the owner.

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Sources: California Rural Legal Assistance, Watsonville; NoloPress.com;
California Tenants, A Guide to Residential Tenants' and Landlords' Rights and Responsibilities by Consumer Affairs, Sacramento, CA, Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office.