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In California, and Santa Cruz especially, high demand and inventory shortages are creating extreme increases in rental prices. This allows landlords to take advantage of a market in crisis. Renters make up 57% of Santa Cruz residents, and 43% of housing units in the United States are being used as rentals. It’s more important than ever to educate yourself on tenant rights and the laws surrounding California rental properties. Number of U.S Renter Occupied Housing Units - Tenant Rights in Santa Cruz

Rental Legislature

Before signing a lease agreement, it’s important to gain a solid understanding of the laws and regulations governing your new place of residence. And that begins with the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act provides basic protections against discrimination during the sale, rental, or financing of a property. Under the direction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), this act includes all residential properties, regardless of whether it is inhabited or vacant. (Certain exclusions do apply, so be sure to check the guidelines.) More specifically to Santa Cruz, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) oversees state-specific legislature regarding the Fair Housing Act. It also includes the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The Unruh Civil Rights Act protects against disability discrimination within both residential and public dwellings and establishments. According to the Fair Housing Information Pamphlet provided by the City of Santa Cruz, these regulations include:

  • Refusal to rent, sell, and/or negotiate housing
  • Changing or denying the availability of housing
  • Creating different terms or conditions for the sale or rental of a residential property
  • Providing alternate housing options than the one requested
  • Third-party interference between a buyer and seller using discrimination to stop a sale or lease agreement
  • Using advertisements or claims directly in contrast to the FHA and/or California FEHA

For disabled folks, California is actually a resident-forward state. This adds further protections for the disabled by widening the eligibility requirements. People suffering from addiction issues, as long as they no longer use illegal substances and are not a direct threat to others, are included as well. Under these laws, modifications may also be made to a home to make it suitable for the disabled resident. This article is designed to convey information and not to provide legal advice. You should not consider any information in this article to be legal advice. You should consider obtaining specific legal advice from an attorney about any decision or contemplated course of action.

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Tenant’s Rights in Santa Cruz

The Lease

To rent a property, a rental application is required. There are usually fees that accompany the process. Some tenants have been successful in negotiating the return of these fees upon rental to a new tenant.

To do this, though, they must have negotiated this term in advance and have a copy on file just in case. Most renters wouldn’t even think to do this, but it could be a great way to fund those extra costs come moving day.

There is also the more common security deposit, which is typically refunded at the conclusion of the lease barring any damages or issues. Your lease agreement is a legal, binding agreement. It is best to review each detail thoroughly to ensure accuracy.

A lease should include the following information, at a minimum:

  • Monthly rent amount and the date it is due
  • Grace period and late payment fees (if unstipulated here, no fees may be assessed until the conclusion of the lease)
  • Utilities included in rent, if any
  • Whether the unit is furnished
  • Security deposit, to include amount and refund policy
  • Repair process and requirements
  • Lease-end policy for both renewal and termination of the lease
  • Move-out instructions, to include required cleaning

Additional details may include HOA stipulations, trash removal and maintenance, pets, and subletting.

Upon move in, both tenant and landlord must review the property together and note any existing damages or issues with dated, photographic proof in case of future issues.

Maintenance and Repair Requirements

While minor repairs tend to fall to the tenant, the landlord is responsible for ensuring that the property fulfills the basic requirements of rental properties.

Santa Cruz city law stipulates that minimum housing standards contain the following:

  • Electric outlets are safe for use
  • Adequate heat source has proper ventilation
  • Sinks possess both hot and cold running water
  • Unit is safe (e.g. no missing or loose stairs)

Should your property fail to meet these basic requirements, the city provides Code Enforcement officers who, upon request, will visit your property for assessment before further action.

However, it is important to note that should the tenant refuse to pay rent during this time, the landlord would be well within his or her rights to pursue eviction procedures.

Santa Cruz Rental Housing Laws


A landlord may, for the following reasons, begin legal eviction procedures against a tenant if the tenant:

  • Has not paid rent
  • Has violated the lease
  • Has received notice from the landlord to terminate upon expiration of existing lease agreement

The tenant can contest any of these issues in court, but most choose to either pay their balance or vacate the property, depending on their circumstances.

Moving Out

As with move-in, you should meet the landlord for a final inspection to assess any damages or issues that could affect the return of your deposit.

California law stipulates that upon the conclusion of a lease, the landlord must either refund the security deposit or send a detailed note including a statement and receipts for any reasonable deductions.

Proposed Legislation

We addressed the upcoming Measure M, which affects the 57 percent of Santa Cruz residents who are renters. Measure M is designed to provide better protection against rent control, thereby reducing the number of evictions within the city.

For more details, we did a comparative study over the last several decades. We took a look at how rent control has developed into a growing issue. 

Proposition 10, also referred to as the Local Rent Control Initiative, went to vote on November 6, 2018. The entire legislation is based upon the continuance of the controversial statewide Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which only allows rent control for apartments occupied before 1995.

If reversed, it would allow city governments the opportunity to widen the gap and include many more properties under the rent control provisions.

Getting Legal Help

If you feel that you have been unfairly treated, you may file a discrimination complaint with both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Each department typically refers all complaints automatically to the other agency with their reciprocal data sharing. But you can also send copies to both agencies to ensure a thorough review.

Your application will require details such as the alleged crime, names, addresses, companies, dates, and times, as applicable. Be sure to include any physical or electronic documents that support your case.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly and may have a case, please review the Community Information Database for resources that can provide help.

Prop 10 repeals the state law that currently restricts the scope of rent-control policies that cities and other local jurisdictions may impose on residential property.

We wanted to understand the economic and social effects of Prop 10 on a closer level. We’ve interviewed San Jose State University Real Estate & Economics Professor, Fred Foldvary, Spokesperson for No On Prop 10, Steve Maviglio, and Owner of The Market Urbanism Report, Scott Beyer, for their thoughts.



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Final Thoughts


Housing laws vary widely depending on your state or city. On top of this, changes often happen. So, it’s important to keep yourself up to date on your tenant rights and the rental property laws in your area. Being educated as a renter will help you avoid legal challenges in the future, saving you time and money.

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