Know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant

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Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

Finding housing in Berkeley is tough, but before settling for a low-quality, run-down apartment, students should know their rights and what to expect from their landlords and the community.

State and city laws provide protections for tenants, such as the right to a working heater and rodent-free housing, but individual leases have different provisions on other common issues, such as subletting.

Rahul Verma, a director with the ASUC Renters’ Legal Assistance program, emphasized that students should read leases thoroughly before signing.

Different landlords and companies have varying policies on subletting — in which a tenant directly rents out a portion of the apartment for a certain period of time to someone else. Not all apartments will allow subletting, and tenants should verify the rules with their landlord before committing.

Verma suggests that after signing the lease, students take a walk-through of the apartment with their landlord before moving in to note any pre-existing problems. Documenting damages with pictures or written notes will make it easier for the tenants to get their security deposits back at the end of the lease.

When issues arise while living in the unit, local and state laws provide a minimum level of rights for tenants, such as a roof and walls that do not leak and natural lighting in each room. But if a landlord fails to make fixes within 30 days, according to the Rent Stabilization Board, tenants can make the repairs and then deduct the cost from the next rent payment. Although this “repair and deduct” method is allowed under state law, tenants should consult a professional before doing so to ensure that they do not face any legal challenges.

Tenants have responsibilities too, including keeping the premises “as clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits” and disposing of trash in a proper manner, according to the Rent Stabilization Board’s list of tenant’s rights.

Students should also strive to be good neighbors to others in their communities.

New tenants should create and maintain good relationship with their neighbors, said Karen Hughes, a coordinator at the Tang Center who works on the Happy Neighbors campaign. Students need to remember that they are not just living in the “campus bubble” but have to adhere to city regulations as well.

Communication between neighbors is key — it is important to build a supportive network with other tenants to prevent issues from arising, according to Hughes. For example, if planning a party, speak with neighbors in advance to warn them about any excessive noise.

“Be neighborly. Don’t think that just because sometimes they’re older and you’re younger that you’re relieved of the opportunities to be social and civil,” Hughes said. “The overarching goal is the high quality of life for everyone who lives in the campus area.”

Contact Mitchell Handler at [email protected].