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A missing lease agreement is not a reason to withhold rent

Question: A month ago, I signed a one-year lease when I met with the onsite manager at the community’s rental office. I paid the deposit and first month’s rent. The manager took the lease agreement with him, saying he would have the owner sign it and return a copy to me.

I have called him and texted him to ask for a copy, but he is not answering me. Do I have to continue to pay rent?

Answer: Yes. The vast majority of rental agreements are in writing for a simple reason — the terms are clear to everyone.

California Civil Code section 1962(4) specifically states that the agent must provide a copy of the written rental agreement or lease to the tenant within 15 days of its execution by the tenant.

Even though you contacted the manager several times, you should send a formal letter and copy your manager’s supervisor or the owner. Make sure to keep a copy of your letter for your files.

Also, once each calendar year after that, upon request by the tenant, the owner or owner’s agent is required to provide an additional copy to the tenant within 15 days of the request. Your property manager’s failure to comply with this requirement does not relieve you of your obligation to pay rent, but that failure may be a defense in an eviction action filed by the landlord based on a claim that you have breached a term of the lease.

If the owner or owner’s agent claims that the rental agreement is missing from their file, they must furnish you with a written statement indicating that fact and including the following: name, address and telephone number of the person to whom rent is to be paid and the form in which rent payments are to be made to that person. The onsite manager, as well as the owner, is responsible for providing you with a copy of the signed rental agreement under California Civil Code section 1962(d).

Keep asking in writing for a copy and keep paying your rent. If the landlord ultimately files an eviction action because he wants to replace you with a new tenant, you will have some proof that you believe there is a lease and that you have been asking for a copy of it.

However, if you don’t pay your rent on time, the landlord can evict you from the property .

Current is fair housing director for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. For more information, contact Project Sentinel at 1-888-324-7468, info@housing.org, visit www.housing.org or contact your attorney or local housing agency.

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