Q&A

Landlords can't regulate most personal activities

If you are renting under a fixed-term lease agreement, your landlord cannot change any terms of the lease

Question: Can my landlord restrict when I can use the kitchen or run a bath? He has given me written notice not to cook after 8 p.m. and not to run a bath after 10 p.m., but this was never mentioned when I started renting, and it was not in my original rental agreement either.

Answer: If you are renting under a fixed-term lease agreement, your landlord cannot change any terms of the lease or add any new terms without your written permission.

If you are renting on a month-to-month basis, such as after a fixed term expires, your landlord can change the terms or add new terms by giving you a 30-day written notice of change of terms.

A landlord cannot regulate personal activity in your rental unit, such as preparing a meal in the kitchen or running a bath, even in the case of a month-to-month rental. That type of activity is protected by the right to privacy guaranteed under the California Constitution.

On the other hand, regardless of whether you have a lease or month-to-month agreement, a landlord could regulate your personal activities if it somehow constitutes a "nuisance" and unreasonably interferes with the neighbors' "quiet enjoyment" of their living quarters.

It is difficult to see how the mere time of day of your kitchen or bath activity could constitute a nuisance, but if that activity included some other unreasonable component such as excessive noise or odors, there might be an issue of nuisance.

Also, if your activities somehow affect the landlord's utility costs, that might be a valid basis for the landlord to issue a notice of change of terms.

We strongly recommend that you contact your local housing mediation program to discuss the specifics of your situation and to see if mediation might help you and your landlord develop some practical ground rules that meet everyone's needs.

For more information, contact a local fair housing or mediation program, or Project Sentinel at (888) 324-7468, or visit http://www.housing.org.

Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to info@housing.org.

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