Renting in Berkeley
Moving can be stressful, and it helps to know your rights and responsibilities. Here's a brief guide to moving in, moving out, and staying put in Berkeley.
Tenant screening and application fee limits
Landlords can charge prospective tenants a screening or application fee, but there are limits to how much and to how the money can be used. Landlords can only use screening fees to get a consumer credit report. Prospective tenants should receive a copy of their credit report, a receipt showing the cost of the screening, and a refund of any unused portion of the fee. For more information, including the current screening fee limit, see our Tenant Screening Fees page.
Make sure you can afford the rent
Signing a fixed-term lease may obligate you to pay the rent for the entire term, unless there is a really good reason to leave, like major habitability problems. If you move out before the lease ends, you may be held responsible for paying rent if the owner cannot re-rent the unit before the lease period expires. See our Lease Breaking page for more information.
Check if the unit has protections under the Rent Ordinance
Most rental units in Berkeley are either fully or partially covered by the Rent Ordinance, but some units are completely exempt from any protections. It’s important to know what rights you’ll have as a tenant. Check our Is Your Unit Covered by Rent Control? page for information about protections and various exemptions for different types of units. You can also contact us to ask about a particular unit.
Understand the terms of the lease before signing
It’s important to clearly understand what you are agreeing to before accepting the terms of a lease. While sometimes only the landlord can clarify what a proposed lease term means, we can help identify issues so that you are able to ask the right questions. Common issues are:
Last month’s rent: Ask the landlord if the last month's rent will be applied. Be clear on what the landlord's intentions are with all money collected (beyond the first month's rent) at the beginning of a tenancy. If you have a written lease, this should be clearly spelled out.
Discounted rent: For units with rent control, reduced, free, or discounted rent must be factored into the base rent ceiling for a new tenancy. For example, if a landlord and tenant agree to a rent of $2,000 per month for a new tenancy with a 12-month term, but the tenant receives one month of free rent, the base rent ceiling for the unit would be $1,833.33, which is the average of the monthly rent payments made for the initial lease term ($22,000/12 months). In this example, starting the month following the expiration of the initial lease term, the maximum rent the landlord could charge would be $1,833.33.
Get a signed, written copy of your lease and receipts for all payments
Ask for a written copy of your lease signed by both you and the landlord. California law requires your landlord to give you a copy of your lease. Get receipts for any payments that you make, especially if you pay in cash.
Document any issues with your unit
- Document in writing to the landlord any issues with the unit, and keep copies of your documentation for yourself.
- Have a friend, neighbor, or other neutral party witness the condition of the rental unit.
- Take date-stamped photos of any damage so that you are able to document the condition of your apartment when you moved in. Send them to your landlord.
- If the unit is presented in a condition that does not live up to the original rental agreement (for example, if the owner promised to fix a problem but did not), you should document this as well--in writing, along with photos if possible--soon after moving in.
When Your Lease Expires
In most cases, you do not have to move out just because your lease expires
Rental units that are fully or partially covered by the Rent Ordinance have good cause for eviction protections. The expiration of a fixed-term lease is not good cause for eviction, so your landlord cannot make you leave just because your lease expires.
If your landlord asks you to sign a new lease
A landlord can have good cause to evict if you refuse to sign a new, substantially identical fixed-term lease upon expiration of the current lease. If the landlord accepts your rent after the lease expires, however, it automatically converts to a month-to-month agreement under the same terms of the original lease. Once a tenant in Berkeley is on a month-to month agreement, they cannot be forced to sign another fixed-term lease. A landlord cannot require a tenant to sign a lease that changes any material term of the original lease. Examples of material terms:
- Lease period
- Security deposit amount
- Space provided
- Services provided
- Late fees
When written notice of move-out is required
State law requires that the tenant give at least 30 days' written notice to the landlord if the tenant is terminating the tenancy. This does not apply to tenants planning to leave at the end of a fixed-term lease; in that case, tenants should check their lease and follow any notice requirements contained in the lease.
Security deposit and interest
For information about recovering your security deposit and any interest you’ll be owed on your deposit, see our Security Deposit pages.