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Un-Permitted Granny Units
updated: Mar 06, 2014, 10:59 AM

By Edhat Subscriber

Is it widely know that renters of an unpermitted living space can get all of their rent returned to them? My mother-in-law rented out her garage and we were told by our lawyer that the renter could demand all of his money back because the space was illegal.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 500425 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 11:06 AM

Legally? Sure. You could even get a judgement in your favor, but good luck actually getting the money.


 COMMENT 500430 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 11:20 AM

I heard there is a $20,000 fine too. But the reality is people have unpermitted rentals everywhere.


 COMMENT 500435 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 11:31 AM

That would be great - would quickly put a stop to all the illegal garage and spare room apartment conversions around here.


 COMMENT 500441P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 11:40 AM

435, but first someone has to find them all and snitch on, uh, I mean report the landlords.


 COMMENT 500442P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 11:42 AM

I think that's an urban legend. If the tenant stops paying rent the landlord can't recover that, but to my knowledge there is no legal basis for returning all the rent that was ever paid.


 COMMENT 500449 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 12:06 PM

I've never heard that. More likely the local municipality might fine the landlord for the illegal rental but it won't be to benefit the tenant, it will be to benefit the municipality.


 COMMENT 500452 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 12:10 PM

Doesn't have to be a snitch. It could be a disgruntled renter!


 COMMENT 500468 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 12:33 PM

I was told the same thing. We wanted to evict a renter in an unpermitted apartment but our lawyer said that it would be best to ask them politely to leave and give them plenty of time because of the chances of them asking for all of their rent back.

Other websites says that courts will not let landlords recover unpaid rent because they will not enforce an illegal agreement. And that landlords should have the proper insurance for income property and not a homeowners policy.

Renters can also sue for habitability and safety reasons.


 COMMENT 500470P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 12:34 PM

Wonder if that includes the many short term (daily or weekly) rentals?


 COMMENT 500489P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 01:02 PM

I wish someone would give a citation to California Law for this, rather than just making assertions. Seems to me if this were so and if were enforced, Santa Barbara (and Goleta, too) would have even more homeless people.

458, perhaps you could ask your attorney for a citation? I can understand not recovering unpaid rent, but not past rent.


 COMMENT 500500 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 01:23 PM

I'd have to agree with 442P. I'm not sure that the tenant would be able to recover the rent already paid unless there is some specific law stating otherwise. Basically, because the subject matter of the contract (rental agreement, lease, etc) is illegal (renting an illegal dwelling), then the lease would be unenforceable and the court would treat it as though no contract (lease) ever existed. In this case, nobody would be entitled to recover any damages (past rent). But, that's just my understanding of the basic contract law principles. There may be some law that provides recovery for tenants in these situations but it would seem that it would rely on the tenant believing that the living situation was up to code. If the tenant was aware that the living space was illegal (most likely common sense that you can't live in a garage), then I doubt they could recover past rent.

Just my thoughts...


 COMMENT 500511 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 01:38 PM

I lived in an "illegal" garage turned studio in the early 90's. The work the family did to convert it was top notch - that place was awesome and the rent was fair. I knew it was illegal - they were up front with me about that - but it was clean and bright. No regrets here. Suing people is not my thing - got better things to do than that.


 COMMENT 500522 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 02:00 PM

Can Dario P. weigh in on this issue?


 COMMENT 500526 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 02:15 PM

@522, He's too busy fending off the Carp Planning Commission and Code Enforcement per today's Coastal View front page main article. Yes, he's Carp's favorite landlord too.


 COMMENT 500527 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 02:27 PM

In order to avoid getting sued by the tenant for safety and habitability issues, they have to tell the renter up front and in writing that the place is illegal. But if you document that it is illegal, wouldn't that raise all kinds of issues for the renter and expose you to other kinds of liability?

Google "illegal unit rent recovery" for a case where the tenant was awarded all rent in excess of the local rent control ordinance but not all rent.

In SF, if you evict a renter from an illegal unit, you have to pay hefty relocation costs.


 COMMENT 500545 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 02:57 PM

I'm not going to pretend I'm a lawyer but I lived in an illegal apartment for a while and it was great. I had the upstairs area of a large home which had been [dry]walled off from the ground floor. 180 square foot bedroom, big living area, large (if oddly shaped) kitchen. As a tenant, it was great. I paid a lot less than the going rate and had no risk of my own. Worst case, a neighbor might complain and I'd have to find a new place in a few months. All the fines and whatnot would fall on the owner.


 COMMENT 500554 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 03:12 PM

Also, I don't think the owner can keep any of the security deposit for an illegal unit. I think the phrase is 'enforcement of an illegal contract'.

Speaking of Dario Pini, one of his properties on Mission Street has a sign up covering a hole in the fence that has 'slum lord' spray painted on it.


 COMMENT 500569 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 03:50 PM

Yes, it is true, however, if the renter knows it is illegal then no, they cannot get the rent back. However, if they do not know then YES they can get ALL of their rent back!!!!


 COMMENT 500581P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 04:22 PM

569, please show the code section(s) or the CA Sup. Ct. case that says that about getting "all of their rent back".


 COMMENT 500600P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 04:42 PM

I'll bet Barry "Ka-Ching" Capello, attorney to the rich & famous & infamous, could weigh in on this one with keen wisdom. Ya think?

Heck even Wendy (Remember her?) might know first hand.


 COMMENT 500622 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 05:21 PM

Can Dario P. weigh in on this issue?


 COMMENT 500630 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 05:43 PM

Knowing this how many "landlords" would ever dare rent a room or space that wasn't legal?

Does this law, if there is such a law, also apply to people that rent rooms to students?

We all know there are literally hundreds of "illegal" rentals in our city and what disgruntled renter wouldn't like to have a full refund on rent they have paid?


 COMMENT 500631 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 05:43 PM

this from Reality Times June 2009 "One of the things we can count on is that each season brings us court decisions that diminish the appeal of being a landlord. Today’s lesson comes from California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in the case of Espinoza v. Calva.
In short the decision says this: "If you are renting out a unit that has not been permitted for occupancy, don’t count on being able to collect a judgment against a tenant who defaults on the rent."
Maria Espinoza had rented a unit to two tenants, Gudelia Calva and Jorge Soqui. After three months of non-payment of the $750 monthly rent, Espinoza had them evicted. In a court proceeding at Orange County Superior Court the eviction action was upheld and the landlord was awarded possession of the premises. As a defense, the tenants had raised various claims about the sub-standard conditions of the unit, including the fact that it had not been certified for occupancy.


 COMMENT 500636 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 05:57 PM

The best way to control this is for the city to be generous in permitting rental units. For some reason cities love to block rental units. The units provide affordable living quarters. The rental unit may be good as rooms for the owners. I'm pushing 80 and would like to add a nice room for a caretaker -- rent free. I'm told that regulations make it impossible to do legally.


 COMMENT 500638 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 06:04 PM

So you mother, that you got by a law, might doubtfully get screwed.

So yeah, make sure everyone else gets the chance to get screwed too.

I mean hey. It's the American way. Show your bias and "me too" attitude and let'er rip. Make it loud and clear that if you can't do it, nobody else can either!

And go ahead and advise the douche bags to rent a place only to put themselves in position to sue at some point.

Just what we need in this town.

Go team!


 COMMENT 500668P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-06 07:49 PM

Who needs Dario when you can live in your RV anywhere on City streets for as long as you want!


 COMMENT 500719 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-07 07:34 AM

631 is quoting from an actual source. So the bottom line is that this seems to apply to a garage rented out without permitted conversion to living space being done first, but not to normal bedrooms in a normal permitted house. Renting out proper living space - good. Renting out cowboy conversion of a garage or storage shed - bad.


 COMMENT 500818 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-07 10:37 AM

Just ask them to vacate as soon as they can, give back a deposit if there's no damage done and just Don't let them intimidate her, make yourself visible to show she's not alone and tell her to put her wallet away. Seems to be a lot of intimidation lately, don't fall for it. jmho that's all


 COMMENT 500879 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-07 12:01 PM

Theoretically, you, as tenant, ARE entitled to recover all the rent ever paid on an illegal garage conversion, I found it in California tenant law codes. But good luck ever actually getting it back. After I moved out of such a garage conversion, which was, admittedly, quite well done, I sued the landlady of such a unit in Goleta, who is the ex-wife of an SBPD PIO, and who KNEW she was violating Goleta's ordinance about inhabiting such conversions. The case went to NEGOTIATION, which was a mistake, because the negotiators totally ignored the violation encoded in the law and treated it as if it were a monetary dispute alone. I got so frustrated with their not recognizing the legal aspects that we settled for nobody getting anything. She COULD have been liable to give back a year and a half of rent because it was illegal to start with.

The City of Goleta is conscientious about enforcing it's ordinances. It was just my frustration with the whole judicial process that made for a bad outcome. I am STILL mad about a cop's wife deliberately violating the law, though. If anybody should be setting a lawful example, it should be a cop's wife. But I guess she was aware she could get away with it, being inside the legal community. But, YES, you CAN recover the whole prior rent history. It is in the codes. Checkit out online, although it is not easy to find.


 RESIDENT agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-07 12:13 PM

If there wasn't such a shortage of living space in the area there wouldn't be so many illegal rentals filling that need.

If these rentals don't harm anyone, why should we care?


 COMMENT 561351 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-10-15 08:23 AM


I am researching this issue. Anyone who has personal experience with this please contact me or leave a post here. Either positive or negative. Actual government codes. Lawsuits. I am in search of facts and cases.



 COMMENT 561359 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-10-15 08:57 AM

The Rental Housing Mediation Task Force might be a good place to start. 564-5420


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