Asset 9
ACC Building Front

Real Estate Rental Tips

Assisting in the real property needs of students, staff and faculty of the Claremont Colleges both on and off campus.

When should I look for housing accommodations?

A good time to look is the month before each quarter. Early summer is when the best deals are available. Plan to spend 15-40 hours looking for a place to live.

How do I read and negotiate a lease?

The two most common kinds of rental agreements are lease and month-to-month.


  • A lease is for a definite period of time, generally one year.

  • Unless you break the terms of the lease, the owner of your apartment or house cannot raise your rent, unless the lease says otherwise.

  • The owner should not ask you to move unless the lease is up.


  • A month-to-month rental agreement is not for a set period of time.

  • It continues until you decide to move or the owner asks you to leave.

  • If you pay your rent monthly, you must give the owner a 30-day written notice that you are moving.

  • An owner who wants you to leave or decides to raise your rent must inform you in writing 30 days ahead of time.

  • If you break the rules, the owner can give you a three-day notice to vacate.

Must rental agreements be in writing?

No. Both lease and month-to-month agreements may be oral or written. However, a lease for more than one year must be in writing to be binding.

Oral Agreement:

  • Often contains fewer rules than a written agreement

  • Does pose the risk of the tenant and landlord recalling the agreement differently over time

Written Agreement:

  • Typically includes more rules than an oral agreement

  • Sometimes references another “house rules” document, do not sign the agreement unless you read the extra rules

  • Ensure that any blank spaces in the agreement are filled in or crossed out before you sign it and ask for a copy.

Be sure to get the name, address, and telephone number of the owner. Regardless of the type of agreement, California law states that the names and addresses of the owner and manager must be on the rental agreement if the building has three or more apartments.

Can I change a written agreement?

You can make changes before you sign, as long as the owner agrees.

  • Cross out whatever the two of you agree to take out.

  • Write in any additions. Be sure you both initial the changes.

  • Many rental agreements are on a printed form available at stationery stores.
    • Sometimes these forms are out of date because the guidelines have changed. You will not be bound by any illegal or outdated rules in the agreement you sign.

Do I owe any money besides the rent?

You might. The owner has the right to ask for some fees and deposits, and you have the right to a receipt and written agreement that tells what the money is for and if and when you can get it back. Although the law considers all deposits to be "security deposits," here are some of the payments that the owner might ask you to make:

  • Last month's rent in advance: The owner can ask you to pay the last month's rent before you move in. Thus, if you give proper notice when you want to move out, you will not have to pay rent for the last month.

  • Security Deposit: This deposit can be used for such things as replacing a window that you broke before moving out. But if you do not cause any damage, the security deposit will usually be given back to you.

    • The owner either must refund the security deposit no later than three weeks after you move or must tell you in writing why you will not get back some or all of the money including an itemized description of how the money was spent.

  • Cleaning fee or deposit: some owners want a cleaning deposit or fee. Your lease might say that such fee is nonrefundable, but that is illegal. Whether it is called a fee or a deposit, you usually can get the money back if you keep the place clean and in the same condition as when you took possession.

  • California law puts a limit on the deposits that the owner can ask for, no matter what they are called. All of the deposits/fees cannot add up to more than the cost of two months' rent for an unfurnished apartment or three months' rent for a furnished apartment.

  • Also, keep in mind that you are not covered by the owner's insurance policies. If you wish, you can purchase renter's insurance that covers your belongings against fire or theft.

What happens when my lease runs out?

  • The lease may give you directions in this situation
    • For example, the lease may have an "automatic renewal" clause (the lease will be renewed for the same period of time as the original agreement).
  • If you pay rent monthly and the owner accepts your rent after the lease is up, the agreement is automatically renewed – but only on a month-to-month basis.

Can the owner sue to evict me?

  • Yes, if you have a lease, the owner can possibly evict you for such reasons as not paying your rent or creating a nuisance by having noisy parties.

    • The owner might also sue to evict you if you break part of the agreement, or if you are asked to leave when your lease runs out and you refuse to do so. In this case, the owner must give you a three-day written notice before suing to evict you.

  • If you have a month-to-month agreement, the owner can ask you to vacate with proper notice for any reason or no reason at all.

    • If you have lived in the rental less than one year, your landlord is required to give you a 30-day notice.

    • If you have lived in the rental longer than one year, your landlord must give you a 60-day notice.

    • However, if you are in violation of your rental agreement, the landlord may ask you to leave with a three-day notice.

    • If you do not move out within the time stated in your notice, the owner can sue to evict you.

For more information or a complete guide to tenant and landlord rights, you may contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210.