Resources for Tenants

Legal Aid of Sonoma County provides free, comprehensive representation for low-income tenants in housing matters, including eviction defense, Housing Choice Voucher issues, mobilehome park issues, and habitability issues.

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Resources to Help Understand New COVID-19 Protections for Tenants – Effective September 2020

Legal Aid of Sonoma County has created resources to help explain new COVID-19 protections for tenants who are unable to pay rent due to economic impacts from COVID-19. These resources are designed to help Sonoma County tenants and landlords understand a new state law, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020.

The law prohibits evictions for not paying rent due to loss of income or increased expenses from COVID-19 from March 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021. If you were financially impacted by COVID-19, your landlord cannot evict you during this time period if you take steps to protect yourself.

Resources Include:

  • One-page flyer about new COVID-19 protections for tenants Download >>
  • Copy of a Declaration of COVID-19-Related Financial Distress Download >>
  • Monthly Rent Template Letter that tenants can send to their landlord instructing them to apply any rent payments to the current month – this version is for September but tenants can update it for any month they are able to make a rent payment. Download >>
  • FAQ for Tenants Download >>
  • FAQ for Landlords Download >>

Here are proactive ways to advocate for yourself and bolster your rights as a tenant:

  • Attend city council meetings and Board of Supervisor meetings when housing policies that effect tenants are on the agenda. Let your elected officials know that you support tenant-friendly policies like rent stabilization and just-cause eviction!
  • Familiarize yourself with major provisions of landlord-tenant law.
  • Check your lease if you are unclear about something.
  • Try to maintain a positive, friendly relationship with your landlord.
  • Talk to your landlord when you have an issue.
  • Seek legal help.
  • Make reports to Code Enforcement if you feel your unit is not being adequately maintained by your landlord.
  • Pay your rent even if you think your landlord is doing something wrong. You can recover paid rent in Small Claims Court.
  • Document everything! Get receipts, take pictures, have witnesses, put important communications with your landlord in writing.
  • Talk to your neighbors. Form a tenants’ association or join the Sonoma County Tenants Union to get support. Contact the Sonoma County Tenants Union at 707-387-1984 or

Additional Resources for Tenants

Frequently Asked Questions for Tenants

How much of a security deposit can my landlord charge when I move in?

For a furnished unit, a landlord may charge no more than three months rent. For an unfurnished unit, a landlord may charge no more than two months rent.

Can my landlord charge a late fee for late rent?

Yes, your landlord may charge a late fee for late rent, but late fees cannot be punitive (anything more than $50 would probably be considered too much).

Can my landlord raise the rent?

If you have a fixed lease, your rent cannot be raised during the lease term, unless your lease allows it.

The California State Legislature just enacted a Rent Cap; each year your landlord is allowed to raise rent by:

  • 5% of the current rent + the percentage change in CPI; or
  • 10% of the current rent, whichever is lower.

Increases can be implemented in up to two separate increases each year.

This law excludes units built in the last 15 years and single-family homes.

When can my landlord enter my unit?

Your landlord can only enter your unit for the following reasons and must give 24-hour written notice before doing so, unless she is entering due to an emergency:

In the case of an emergency

  • When a tenant has moved out or abandoned the unit
  • To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, alterations, or improvements
  • To show the unit to prospective tenants, purchaser, or workers
  • By court order

What is my landlord required to do to make my unit habitable?

Your landlord must maintain your unit to prevent:

  • Damp, leaking ceiling and/or walls
  • Holes in walls, floor, and/or carpet
  • Falling plaster and/or peeling paint
  • Inadequate heat and/or hot water
  • Missing or broken windows
  • Missing or broken smoke detectors
  • Rats, roaches, and/or insects
  • Inadequate trash collection
  • Unsafe stairs and/or railing
  • Inadequate security
  • Defective electrical wiring

If you feel your landlord is not maintaining unit to level of law, you can report your landlord to your city’s Code Enforcement.

Your landlord may not impose a retaliatory rent increase or eviction within 180 days of when you request repairs or make other demands.

Can my landlord evict me for no reason?

The California State Legislature recently enacted Just-Cause Eviction. Your landlord must notify you of the reason you are being evicted. There are two types of reasons that your landlord can evict you: no-fault evictions (like if the landlord wants to move in or substantially remodel the unit) or at-fault evictions (like if you violate your lease or are not able to pay rent).

What is Relocation Assistance?

If you are subject to a No-Fault Eviction, your landlord has to pay you Relocation Assistance. Relocation Assistance is one-month’s rent. You should be given the choice of receiving this payment either:

  • In a lump sum within 15 days after giving you Notice of your eviction; or
  • A waiver your last month’s rent.

How much notice am I entitled to before having to move out?

If you have a periodic tenancy, like a month-to-month tenancy, you are entitled to:

  • 60-days notice if you have lived in the unit for one year or more.
  • 30-days notice if you have lived in the unit for less than one year.
  • 90-days notice if you have Section 8, and your landlord has no reason for eviction; or if your unit is in foreclosure.

When can my landlord issue a 3-day notice?

Your landlord can issue a 3-day notice for lease violations like:

  • Failure to pay rent
  • Violation of lease agreement
  • Nuisance (substantially interfering with other tenant)
  • Waste (permanent lowering of value)
  • Illegal activity

However, if the lease violation is curable, your landlord must give you the opportunity to cure the violation, like pay your rent or make a repair.

What should I do if I get a notice?

If the Notice is a 3-day and the lease violation is curable, try to cure the lease violation as soon as possible and speak with you landlord.

If the Notice is a no-cause eviction notice, you should do your own research or consult an attorney that specializes in landlord/tenant law to make sure the notice is valid.

What happens when the notice expires?

Your landlord can file an unlawful detainer (an eviction complaint) against you. If you are served with an Unlawful Detainer, you have five days to file an Answer to the complaint. Then your case will be set for trial.

When can my landlord withhold my security deposit?

Your landlord may use your security deposit for unpaid rent, to make the unit as clean as it was when you moved in, or to repair damage beyond normal wear and tear.

Within 21 days of moving out, your landlord must refund your security deposit or give an itemized statement of what she used the security deposit for.

You may take your landlord to Small Claims Court if you feel your security deposit was unfairly withheld.

Are there protections for Housing Choice Voucher Holders?

The California State Legislature and the Santa Rosa City Council recently enacted Source of Income Protections for Housing Choice Voucher Holders. These protections make it unlawful for a landlord to discriminate against a person just because they have a Voucher. That means a tenant cannot be denied a rental or evicted from their current rental just because they have a Voucher.

You should contact Legal Aid of Sonoma County or Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California if you feel you have been discriminated against because you have a Voucher.