Real Estate

Rent Watch

Does a college student have the right to invite guests?

Q: I moved to California to attend college. I found an apartment and signed a one-year lease. Last month I invited some of my friends over for a study session while my landlord happened to be doing some landscaping out front. He saw my friends, knocked on the door and told me that guests were not allowed. I informed him that we were simply studying, being quiet and disturbing no other neighbors. He said, "no guests" and left. I thought the matter was finished but a couple of days later I received a "Three Day Notice to Cure or Quit." The notice said that guests were not allowed, that I was the sole person authorized to be in the apartment, and that noncompliance would be greeted with an eviction process. Is it possible for my landlord to enforce a wholesale prohibition against guests? This seems a very severe.

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A: Your first step should be to find your lease and look at the language in the lease regulating "guests." The landlord cannot enforce a limit on guests unless it is part of your lease. We would agree that your landlord may be overreaching based on the facts that you present. There is a big difference between reasonable restrictions on guests and a total prohibition of guests. A total prohibition of guests, even if spelled out in the lease, would probably be deemed unenforceable. A landlord does have an interest in preventing a temporary guest from becoming a lawful subtenant. It is primarily for this reason that many rental agreements have provisions limiting the number of nights that an overnight guest may stay. A valid restriction may limit overnight stays to a couple nights per month or 10 days per six months. This type of restriction allows for overnight stays by visiting family or friends, while preventing others from establishing rights as a subtenant. That said, tenants do pay rent for the right to use and occupy a rental unit, which includes a right to privacy. Landlord ownership does not trump privacy rights and landlords cannot determine who can visit your rental or for what purpose, so long as tenants are not causing a disturbance and not committing any criminal acts. Your guests are college students, you are studying quietly and you are not causing any disturbances. However, you do not want this dispute to proceed to an unlawful detainer dispute in the Superior Court, which would be the next step following the three-day notice you received. Contact your local mediation service to explore whether mediation can bring you and your landlord together to set some mutually acceptable ground rules for guests in your apartment and avoid a costly legal dispute for both sides.

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Resources: Renters' & Tenants' Rights

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Project Sentinel provides landlord-tenant dispute resolution and fair-housing services in Northern California, including rental-housing mediation programs in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. Call 650-856-4062 for dispute resolution or 650-321-6291 for fair housing, email info@housing.org or visit housing.org.

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