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If you’re in danger and/or someone is harassing or threatening you, file a police report.  You can potentially seek a court restraining order against someone, but if there is any possibility of imminent harm, the first step is to contact law enforcement. This documentation from law enforcement may help with future legal action. Call the dispatch number for your local police:  

  • UCPD:  (510) 642-3333
  • Berkeley Police:  (510) 981-5911
  • Albany Police: (510) 525-7300
  • Oakland Police:  (510) 777-3211

If the person is another student, you can contact the Center for Student Conduct as well.

Important Definitions: 

Co-tenants: Roommates who sign a lease together are co-tenants, and they are “jointly and severally liable” to the landlord.  This means that the landlord can seek to enforce the full payment of rent (and any other obligation(s) under lease) against any one of the tenants individually, and all of them collectively. This liability extends to any co-signers/guarantors of the lease as well.  

Subtenants: If you sublease your apartment, you are the “landlord” to your subtenant. The subtenant is responsible for paying whatever amount of the rent they’ve agreed to pay, but you are still responsible for all rent due to the landlord, even if the subtenant does not pay.   

Potential Scenarios: 

Rights and obligations: If you are co-tenants (see above), you are jointly and severally liable. This means that even if one roommate leaves before the lease is up, the rest of you are still responsible for payment of the full rent. If the remaining roommate(s) don’t pay the full rent due, the Landlord can potentially evict all of you for non-payment. 

However, the departing roommate is still responsible for their share of the rent until a replacement is found.  By signing the lease together, each of the co-tenants committed to each other that they will share in the payment of rent throughout the lease term.  This means the remaining co-tenants have potential legal claims against a departing tenant to reimburse them for any rent paid to cover the departing tenant’s share. 

 

Potential avenues for resolution:

  • Have a conversation with the departing tenant about finding a subtenant or a replacement roommate who can take over the remaining portion of their lease. The landlord and co-tenants must approve the subtenant.
  • You are still responsible for mitigating damages, so even if your departing roommate won’t do it, you should try to find a replacement roommate who can take over the departing roommates portion of the rent. Again, the landlord and co-tenants’ consent is required to bring in a new tenant.
  • Offer a discount for the space if you’re having trouble filling it. Even though you will have to pay the remaining rent out of pocket, it may be better than paying the entire amount.  Also, as noted above, you would still have a potential legal claim against the departing tenant for the extra rent you had to pay to cover their share. See Small Claims Court.
  • Talk to the landlord/property manager and ask for a reduction in the rent, even if only temporary, while you find a replacement.  The landlord does not have to agree to this, but may be willing to consider it since there are fewer occupants.
  • If all of the avenues above fail, Small Claims Court is also an option to seek reimbursement from the departing tenant. 

 

Information for Small Claims Court

  • If you have a written agreement with your roommate or subtenant, you must file your Small Claims lawsuit within 4 years of the roommate’s departure. If you have an oral agreement, you must file within 2 years. 
  • Relevant Evidence:
    • A copy of the lease 
    • All emails, texts, voicemails, social media messages, etc. that document the situation, especially when the departing roommate left
    • Notes of conversations you have had with the roommate that left, including dates, times, witnesses, and details of the conversation
    • A roommate agreement (if there is one), verifying the agreed-upon contributions to monthly rent by each co-tenant 
    • If there is no roommate agreement, records of monthly payments made by each tenant during the lease, to verify how much each person was paying (and the share that was being paid by the vacating roommate, before they left)
    • Your own oral or written testimony, along with other co-tenants and witnesses 

Rights and obligations: If you are co-tenants (see above), you are jointly and severally liable. This means that even if one roommate won’t pay their rent, the rest of you are still responsible for the full rent. If the rent isn’t paid in full, the Landlord can potentially evict you for non-payment. However, the roommate who isn’t paying is still responsible for their share of the rent, and you may have potential legal claims against them. 

If you have a subtenant that does not pay rent, you are still responsible for paying that rent to the landlord.  However, you have a legal claim against the subtenant for that unpaid rent, pursuant to the terms of your sublease agreement with them.

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  • Have a talk and try to understand the situation. If it’s an issue with paying rent, Cal offers emergency loans. If it’s an issue where a roommate or subtenant is constantly late on paying their portion, set up automatic transfers or ask that they pay their rent early.   
  • If the person decides to move out, see scenario #1 above
  • If all of the avenues above fail, Small Claims Court is an option. 

 

Information for Small Claims Court

  • If you have a written agreement with your roommate or subtenant, you must file your Small Claims lawsuit within 4 years of the roommate’s departure. If you have an oral agreement, you must file within 2 years. 
  • Relevant Evidence:
    • A copy of the lease (to verify the co-tenancy among the people who signed the contract) or sublease (to verify the subtenant’s promise to pay rent during the sublease term)
    • All emails, texts, voicemails, social media messages, etc. that document the situation
    • Notes of conversations you have had with the roommate or subtenant that stopped paying rent, including dates, times, witnesses, and details of the conversation 
    • A roommate agreement (if there is one), verifying the agreed-upon contributions to monthly rent by each  co-tenant 
      • If there is no roommate agreement, you can find records of monthly payments made by each tenant during the lease, to verify how much each person was paying (and the share that was being paid by the roommate or subtenant that stopped paying rent).
    • Your own oral or written testimony, along with other co-tenants and witnesses

Rights and obligations: If you are co-tenants (see above), you are jointly and severally liable under the lease. This means that even if you move out, you will still be responsible for your portion of the rent. 

Also, one co-tenant cannot evict another co-tenant.  Only the landlord is able to evict a tenant, and has no obligation to do so if there is one difficult roommate and the other co-tenants want that person to leave (the landlord may not even have a legal grounds to pursue an eviction).  When it comes to co-tenants, landlords will typically not get involved, have no obligation to do so, and will expect the co-tenants to figure out a solution.

If your roommate is a subtenant, you are essentially their “landlord,” so you may have the right to try to evict the roommate.  However, in most Bay Area cities (including Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco), the subtenant will be protected by the local “good cause for eviction” laws that require you to have one of the good causes specified in the local law to proceed with eviction.  Also, eviction requires the delivery of proper notices to the subtenant and the filing of an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit in Superior Court – it is a fairly technical procedure that should be done with the help of a representing attorney (SLS cannot provide this type of assistance).  Generally, it is better to try to resolve the issues informally than to seek eviction.  (See the bottom of this page for local mediation resources.)

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  • If you are being harassed or threatened and/or feel like you’re in danger, file a police report.   
  • Start by having a conversation. Make sure you address the issues in a respectful, straightforward manner. Lay out what you see and how it’s impacting you. Don’t wait too long to address an issue. 
  • Create a roommate agreement using this template. Set aside some time and make sure that everyone agrees. Having this buy-in is essential for addressing the problems later. 
  • If the issue is having a guest stay for too long, you may have a provision in the lease that limits the number of days a guest can stay. Check your lease for details. 
  • If you feel that you can’t resolve the issues and you must move out, speak with your roommates about finding a subtenant or someone to take over your lease. The landlord and co-tenants must approve the new tenant or subtenant.     

Rights and obligations among co-tenants on the same lease: See the SLS Security Deposit Tip Sheet for more information about security deposits. At the end of a lease, the landlord may return the deposit to any one (or more than one) of the co-tenants on the lease.  If the landlord returns the entire deposit to you, you still have a contractual obligation to distribute shares of the deposit to the other tenants in proportion to the amounts they contributed to the deposit.

If the landlord deducts an amount from the deposit that is attributable to one tenant of a group of co-tenants (e.g. one tenant caused damage in their room), it is reasonable for you to make the deduction from the share of the tenant who was responsible for that damage. 

  • The security deposit may be kept in part or in its entirety for the following reasons: 
    • Unpaid rent
    • Cost to repair damage, in excess of ordinary wear and tear, caused by the subtenant
    • Cleaning the premises after the tenant moves out, if cleaning is necessary to return the premises to the level of cleanliness when the tenant moved in
    • If specified in the lease, personal property that the co-tenant failed to restore or replace
    • The security deposit deductions must be itemized, and any deductions for expenses exceeding $125 must be documented by the landlord or sub-landlord

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  • Make sure it is clear to your co-tenants if you are reducing their security deposits because of a deduction your landlord took. 
  • Ensure that your landlord provided the necessary itemization or documentation for the deductions.
  • If your co-tenant(s) take you to Small Claims Court, make sure you have all of the documentation of the reason you reduced their security deposit (unpaid rent, damages, or cleaning) 

Rights and obligations when you have a subtenant: The rules for a landlord returning a security deposit are described here, and would also apply to a tenant who has taken a security deposit from a subtenant. Generally, a landlord or sub-landlord must return the security deposit within 21 days of moving out.  The security deposit may be kept in part or in its entirety for the following reasons: 

  • Unpaid rent.
  • Cost to repair damage, in excess of ordinary wear and tear, caused by the subtenant.
  • Cleaning the premises after the tenant moves out, if cleaning is necessary to return the premises to the level of cleanliness when the tenant moved in.
  • If specified in the lease, personal property that the cotenant failed to restore or replace.
  • The security deposit deductions must be itemized, and any deductions for expenses exceeding $125 must be documented by the landlord or sub-landlord.

Please see the SLS Security Deposit Tip Sheet for more detailed information. 

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  • Have a conversation with your subtenant about why you are keeping their security deposit (in part or in full). Make sure that the deductions you are taking are itemized and documented if they exceed $125. Deductions may only be made as a result of the reasons above. 
  • If they bring you to Small Claims Court, make sure to bring the documentation with you, including receipts, messages, emails, etc.  

Rights and obligations: If you are co-tenants (see above), you are jointly and severally liable. This means that your landlord can hold all of you responsible for the actions of one roommate by taking legal action or pursuing reimbursement. Tenants must: 

  • Keep the premises “as clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits”
  • Use and operate gas, electrical, and plumbing fixtures properly (not overloading electrical outlets, flushing large, foreign objects down the toilet, or allowing any gas, electrical, or plumbing fixtures to become filthy)
  • Dispose of trash and garbage in a clean and sanitary manner
  • Not destroy, damage, or deface the premises or allow anyone else to do so
  • Not remove any part of the structure, dwelling unit, facilities, equipment, or appurtenances, or allow anyone else to do so
  • Use the premises as a place to live, and use the rooms for their intended purposes. For example, the bedroom must be used as a bedroom, and not as a kitchen
  • Notify the landlord when dead bolt locks and window locks or security devices don’t operate properly 

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  • Start by speaking with your roommate about what happened. Remember to be straightforward but not accusatory. Inform the landlord as soon as possible. 
  • Determine what needs to be fixed and fix it yourselves or find out approximately how much it will cost to fix it. Work out a payment plan if the cost to fix something is more than your roommate can pay up front.  
  • If your roommate refuses to fix the damage or pay to fix it, you can cover the cost and your roommate will still be obligated to pay you. Make sure to keep receipts, take pictures of the damage, and track conversations you have about the issue.  
  • If your roommate refuses to reimburse you, first have a direct conversation with them. If this fails, you can take them to Small Claims Court to recover the cost of the damage you paid to fix. 

 

Relevant Evidence for Small Claims Court

  • A copy of the lease 
  • Proof of the damage caused ( including photos or videos)
  • All emails, texts, voicemails, social media messages, etc. that document the situation
  • Receipts for fixing the damage or replacing the property 
  • Your own oral or written testimony, along with other co-tenants and witnesses 

Rights and obligations: You can recover an unpaid loan from an individual through Small Claims Court. However, it may be easier to try and come to an agreement outside of the court system. You can always go to court after trying other methods first, so it is worth trying to resolve the issue on your own. 

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  • Start by being firm and persistent, without being overly aggressive or guilt tripping the person. Try and maintain perspective and be understanding in your conversations. 
  • Set up a repayment plan that is realistic with clear deadlines 
  • Highlight the reason you need the money back (ex: to pay rent, school books, etc.) 
  • If discussing the issue by yourselves doesn’t work, try out mediation services.
  • If legal action is necessary, Small Claims Court is often the best venue.

 

Relevant Evidence for Small Claims Court:

  • Proof of the agreement including promissory note, emails, texts, voicemails, social media messages, etc. that document the promise to pay
  • Keep track of how much they owe you 
  • Receipts including photos of checks, screenshots of venmo, paypal, etc. transactions, or written receipts 
  • Any payment plans that were agreed upon
  • Your own oral or written testimony and the testimony of any witnesses you may have

Rights and obligations: Sellers are required to sell items that are in good working condition. If you buy something, it breaks soon after you bought it, and you were using it as it was intended to be used, you may have a few avenues to recover from this loss.  

Even if the seller claims to have sold you the item “as is,” this does not mean that they are allowed to sell you a defective product. In order for this disclaimer to be in affect, they would need to have informed you in a conspicuous manner, typically in writing. And even then, the seller may still be liable if the item was broken or it caused any injuries. 

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  • Start by trying to work out the issue with the person before getting involved in the court system. 
  • Inform the seller that the item broke and see if they will pay to have the item fixed, will allow you to return the item, or replace the item that was broken.
  • If they refuse to provide one of these remedies, you may have the option to take them to Small Claims Court

 

Relevant Evidence for Small Claims Court:

  • Proof of the purchase and their refusal to remedy the situation, including receipts, emails, texts, voicemails, social media messages, etc. that document the situation
  • Receipt or Estimates  for how much the repair or replacement cost 
  • Any other communication you’ve had with the seller
  • Your own oral or written testimony and the testimony of any witnesses you may have

Rights and obligations: There are two ways someone may have broken or damaged your personal property: negligently (accidentally) or intentionally (on purpose). You can recover from either form of damages, however there are different considerations. 

If someone caused damage negligently, you will need to prove that you suffered property damage as a result of another person’s conduct and that person didn’t act with reasonable care under the circumstances. You will also need to show the cost of damages (what it costs to repair or replace the property). Consider whether or not the person who caused the damage had a special duty or responsibility to act. For example, a plumber that causes a pipe to break, leading to water damage. 

If the damage is caused intentionally, you will need to prove that the act was intentional and similarly, the cost of damages (what it costs to repair or replace the property). 

If multiple people are responsible for the damage, they can be all held responsible. 

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  1. Start by trying to work out the issue with the person before getting involved in the court system. 
  2. Try to negotiate with the person who broke your property to fix or replace the item that was broken.
  3. If they refuse to provide one of these remedies, you can take them to Small Claims Court

 

Relevant Evidence for Small Claims Court:

  • All emails, texts, voicemails, social media messages, etc. that document the situation, specifically the damage that was caused and refusal to remedy the situation 
  • Receipts or documentation that prove the value of the property that was broken or damaged
  • Receipts or documentation that prove the cost of fixing or replacing the property
  • Your own oral or written testimony and the testimony of any witnesses you may have

Rights and obligations: Defamation is an umbrella term for any statement that hurts someone’s reputation. Written defamation is called “libel,” and spoken defamation is called “slander.” Defamation is a civil wrong and not a crime, therefore, you can sue someone who defames you for damages. 

To be defamatory, a statement must:

  • Be false, but purporting to be true (an opinion doesn’t count)
  • Be made to a third party (e.g. verbally, in writing, or through social media, on tv, in a book, in a magazine, etc.)
  • Cause an injury (e.g. lost work, hurt reputation, harassment by the press, or even hatred, contempt, or ridicule) 
  • Be unprivileged (not having special rights or privileges)  
  • Be made negligently, recklessly, or intentionally 

Private citizens have more protection than public figures, politicians, or celebrities. Although the 1st Amendment protects freedom of speech, this is not an absolute right. False statements are often not protected by the Constitution. 

 

Potential avenues to resolve disputes:

  1. Determine if the situation can be resolved by taking down or removing the libel, by receiving a public apology, or coming to some other agreement.  
  2. Cases for defamation must be commenced within 1 year (a 1 year statute of limitations). All of the points above must be proven, and depending on the circumstances, you may be awarded damages if you take the person to court. Keep in mind that it can be very difficult to prove/quantify damages caused by defamation – for example, damages for emotional distress generally require a showing that the counseling/therapy was necessary to address the harm caused by the defamation, and/or that the emotional distress resulted in physical symptoms.
  3. Depending on the amount which you plan to sue for, you may take the person to Small Claims Court.

 

Information for Small Claims Court

  • Cases for defamation must be commenced within 1 year (a 1 year statute of limitations).
  • Relevant Evidence:
    • All emails, texts, voicemails, social media messages, etc. that document the situation, especially any written defamatory statements
    • Documentation of the injury caused to you 
    • Oral or written testimony from you 
    • Oral or written testimony from witnesses who heard or read the defamatory statement 
    • A timeline showing when the defamatory statement was made and the subsequent injury 

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What is Small Claims Court?:

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Mediation Services

SEEDS Community Resolution Center

SEEDS (Services that Encourage Effective Dialogue and Solutions) is a nonprofit community-based organization that provides mediation for individuals, facilitation for groups and training to manage conflict. Does not provide legal advice.

1968 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley

(510) 548-2377, info@seedscrc.org

 

Ombudsperson for Students

If you are a UC Berkeley student, and have a dispute with another UC Berkeley student, the Ombudsperson for Students may be able to assist in helping to mediate a discussion and resolution of the issue.