Rental problems abound: evictions, unreturned deposits, high rent increases. So where do consumers go to find out about the law and their rights?
A great place to start is with the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Its Web site, www.dca.ca.gov, is a toolbox for building knowledge.
For an overview, click on "Consumer Information Center." The site explains its mission, purpose and how to file a complaint. Scroll down to the picture of the open book and click on "links to other consumer and government sites" to find other sites. The index provides a link to virtually every government and consumer site available on the Web. For direct access, go to www.dca. ca.gov/cic/cicindex.htm. Seventeen sites are listed and explained in easy-to-read detail. At your fingertips are choices including international and federal sites, California government sites, Consumer World and a terrific Resource and Referral Guide.
Clicking the green button for each site brings myriad choices. For example, the Department of Consumer Affairs Sites will provide detailed links for all 36 department entities that license more than 200 professions and occupations. Included on this four-page site are links to California state government sites, ranging from the Department of Aging to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
More than 20 U.S. government sites are also linked, which can take you from the Aviation Administration to the Internal Revenue Service with a click of the mouse.
The final section on this site links agencies outside their network. The links can take you from the Better Business Bureau to Scamwatch. For tenants, there's a handy link at the bottom of the page at the Tenants Union site.
Tenants Union will send you to the "Tenant Resource Directory," which provides links to sites for renters anywhere in the United States. Click on California and be transported to "California Resources for Renters." This site provides information on 21 different local resources for landlords and tenants. Everything from the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board to Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights is included. Address, e-mail and phone numbers to reach the individual agencies are provided. Back at the index, the "Resource and Referral Guide" gives an excellent breakdown of where to resolve problems. This guide features 23 sites to select from.
Scrolling down this multi-linked site will reveal a step-by-step section on how to resolve complaints. This five-page site walks you through everything from where to file complaints to local agencies to legal agencies. For example, clicking on "Small Claims Court" will transport you to a complete site, listing every court in California and how to reach them.
From the index, my favorite site is the "Landlord/Tenant Rights and Responsibilities." Published by the Department of Consumer Affairs, this guide is the most complete source of definitions, laws and information. With 24 sections, this guide, starting at "Notice ... the Fine Print," walks you through everything from unlawful discrimination to moving out.
Sites are subject to change without notice, so you may need to use the search box to recapture lost sites.
No computer access? Order California Department of Consumer Affair publications at (800) 952-5210. From out of state, call (916) 445-1254.
H. May Spitz is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles. She can be contacted at hmayspitz@aol .com.