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If you’re a brand-new landlord in Orange County, here’s a quick guide to your legal responsibilities:
1. Tenant Screening
The law allows you to screen applicants before signing an agreement with a tenant. This screening process can also include a criminal background check, in addition to credit reports and eviction reports.
You have the following responsibilities when performing criminal background checks:
- Your criteria and methods for screening must be consistent, with no discrimination or bias. Choosing to run background checks only on applicants of a certain race, religion, or ethnicity is an example of clear discrimination.
- If you reject an applicant based on a past conviction, the conviction must be directly related and pose a risk to other tenants, you or your staff, or the property itself. Factors to consider here include the nature of the crime and the time that has passed since it happen.
- 2. Security Deposit
The law allows you to collect a security deposit from your tenants, but it imposes certain limits on it too.
The security deposit can be as much as two months’ rent if you’re renting out an unfurnished unit. For furnished units, the amount can be equivalent to 3 months’ rent.
You may withhold the security deposit under these conditions:
- If the rent is unpaid
- If the rental unit needs to be cleaned after the tenant has moved out
- If there are damages by the tenant or their guest that need to be repaired
- 3. Habitable Rental
One of your major responsibilities is ensuring that the rental unit continues to be in a habitable or livable condition for the duration of the rental agreement.
To be considered habitable, your unit must have the following:
- Electricity, plumbing, and heating
- A clean and sanitary premises
- A proper mechanism for waste collection and disposal
- Properly maintained floors, railings, and stairways
As a landlord, you must also stay on top of repairs and maintenance. This includes routine maintenance tasks of the building and any emergency repairs that may occur from time to time.
Professional rental management services can help you keep your rental units habitable.
4. Necessary Disclosures
Under the California state law, you should disclose the following to your tenants:
- Whether they’d be sharing their utilities with other tenants, cost allocation must be specified in the agreement if this is the case.
- Presence of toxic mold or pests. You must also disclose the pesticides used and any potential risks, and the frequency of treatments if they’re performed regularly.
- If a rental unit is due to be demolished, you should give written notice of the same to any prospective tenants.
- Any deaths in the rental unit during the past 3 years.
- If you enforce a smoking policy in your rental units, the agreement should clearly mention the areas where smoking is prohibited.
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