A. Nature of the Landlord-Tenant Relationship.
- Landlord-Tenant Relationship. The landlord-tenant relationship is created by contract. The contract, known by a variety of names, may be oral or written, express or implied. The contract must show, expressly of from the facts, that the parties intend to create a landlord-tenant relationship. (Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. v. Bluvshtein (1991) 230 Cal.App.3d 308, 281 Cal.Rptr. 298).
- Lease or Periodic Rental Agreement. The agreement entered into between the landlord and tenant is either a lease or periodic rental agreement. Generally, a lease creates a longer rental term (6 months to 1 year, for example), whereas a rental agreement is for shorter periods, usually month to month (but, could be shorter).
- Character of Leasehold. A leasehold is a chattel real and governed by the rules applicable to personal property. (Witkin, 4 Summary of California Law, Real Property §510; Civil Code §765). However, a leasehold is also an estate in land and an interest in real property. (Parker v. Superior Court of Riverside County (1970) 9 Cal.App.3d 397, 88 Cal.Rptr. 352). It vests exclusive possession of the property in the lessee and is based on a privity of estate between lessor and lessee. (Darr v. Lone Star Industries, Inc. (1979) 94 Cal.App.3d 895, 157 Cal.Rptr. 90).
- Implied Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment. Every lease contains an implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, whereby the landlord covenants that the tenant shall have quiet enjoyment and possession of the premises. A convenant of quiet enjoyment “insulates the tenant against any act or omission on the part of the landlord, or anyone claiming under him, which interferes with a tenant’s right to use and enjoy the premises for the purposes contemplated by the tenancy.
- Landlord’s Right of Entry. A landlord’s access to dwelling units is limited by statute. A “dwelling unit” means a structure or part of a structure that is used as a home, residence, or sleeping place by one person who maintains a household or two or more persons who maintain a common household. (Civil Code section 1940(c)). A landlord may enter a dwelling unit only (Civil Code §1954): (a) in case of emergency; (b) to make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services, or exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workers or contractors; (c) when the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises; or (d) pursuant to court order. Except in an emergency, twenty-four hours is presumed to be reasonable notice in absence of evidence to the contrary. (Civil Code §1954).
B. Liability for Rent.
- Nature of Obligation to Pay Rent. Rent is consideration paid by a tenant for the use of the property. The obligation may arise from a lease or, absent a lease, from mere occupancy with the landlord’s consent. Tenancies based on mere occupancy give rise to the liability of rent (as opposed to damages), not from contract, but from the relationship of landlord and tenant. The tenant is liable by operation of law. (Ellington v. Walsh, O’Connor & Barneson (1940) 15 Cal.2d 673, 104 P.2d 507).
- Uninhabitable Dwelling A warranty of habitability is implied by law in residential leases. Under this warranty, a residential landlord covenants that the premises leased for living quarters will be maintained in a habitable state for the duration of the lease. Further, a tenant’s obligation to pay rent and the landlord’s warranty of habitability are mutually dependent. Thus, a proven breach by the landlord may justify a tenant withholding rent while continuing to reside on the premises. (Green v. Superior Court of San Francisco (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, 111 Cal.Rptr. 704).
- Recovery of Rent from Tenant. [§17:17]
- Security Deposits Distinguished. Controversies between landlords and tenants commonly arise over the refund of security deposits to the vacating tenant. Determining whether the money collected by the landlord represents security or merely rent is central to resolving these controversies. (see Granberry v. Islay Invs. (1984) 161 Cal.App.3d 382, 2017 Cal.Rptr. 652). The collection, use, and refund of security deposits for residential tenancies is governed by Civil Code §1950.5. Rules governing commercial tenancies are contained in Civil Code §1950.7.