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5 Ways to File a Complaint Against a California Landlord

Camila Lopez - Landlord - September 24, 2023

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    Unfortunately, most of us have had to deal with a problematic landlord before. If a dispute arises between you and your landlord,  you may be able to file a complaint with the government or other organizations that support tenants. If you are still unable to solve your dispute after filing a complaint, consider suing your landlord in small claims court. In this article, we go over 5 different ways you can file a complaint against a landlord. 

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a complaint letter to a landlord? Check out our demand letter tool.

    Common Types of Complaints and Lawsuits Against Landlords 

    Here are some common complaints people have against their landlords: 

    • Your landlord refuses to return your security deposit after you move out. Suing for the return of your security in a different state? Here is a 50-state guide on how to get your security deposit back. 

    • The terms under your lease have been breached. 

    • You are being harassed by the landlord.

    • You experienced discrimination based on your race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, familial status, etc.

    • Your landlord has breached California's implied warranty of habitability. Warranty of habitability means that regardless of any opposing lease term, your landlord is required to keep your unit in a habitable condition at all times.

    • Your landlord refuses to do anything about excessive noise or other issues you are having with your neighbors.

    • Your landlord is refusing to make necessary repairs to the rental unit as per the lease terms. For example, your lease states your landlord will repair the stove if it breaks. 

    Common Misconception When Filing a Complaint Against a Landlord 

    Keep in mind that your landlord tends to be the responsible party and not the property manager or apartment complex

    Your landlord is the individual or business listed on your lease agreement as the “property owner” or “landlord” even though you may normally interact with the property management company or the apartment management. However, if you think that the apartment complex or property management company is responsible, you can learn more on how to file a complaint against an apartment complex

    What are “Uninhabitable Conditions” in California

    According to Civil Code Sections 1941.1 and 1941.3, Health and Safety Code Section 13113.7, and Health and Safety Code Sections 17920-17928, the following are considered uninhabitable living conditions:

    • Ineffective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including broken windows and doors.

    • Plumbing facilities that are not in good working order, such as lack of hot and cold running water or a sewage disposal system.

    • Gas facilities that are not in good working order.

    • Heating facilities that are not maintained in good working order.

    • An electric system, including lighting, wiring, and equipment, that is not in good working order.

    • Buildings, grounds, (such as a garden or a detached garage), etc. that are unclean and unsanitary, with debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin present.

    • Lack of adequate garbage disposal.

    • Floors, stairways, and railings that are in poor repair.

    Option 1: Contact Your Landlord and Report a Complaint Directly

    For some issues, it may be worth speaking to the landlord directly. For example, if you have never had issues with your rental apartment before but now have complaints over common spaces, voice those concerns directly via email. It is better to keep your complaints in writing to have a paper trail in case you need to refer to it in the future. 

    If they ignore your informal requests via email, consider writing a formal letter, like a demand letter or complaint letter. Even though letter writing is “old school”, many times formal letters are taken more seriously than emails or phone calls. Formal letters also help you outline your requests in a clear way and help decrease miscommunication. For example, if your landlord refuses to return your security deposit, send a security deposit demand letter requesting your security deposit back. 

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter to a landlord? Check out our demand letter tool.

    Option 2: File a Complaint with the Appropriate California Agency

    California tenants, and residents of most states, are protected under their state’s landlord/tenant laws. If you believe your rights are being violated by a landlord or property management company, you may report these complaints to the following California agencies. 

    File a Complaint With the California Civil Rights Department of Fair Employment and Housing 

    The California Civil Rights Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing California’s fair housing laws, which apply to landlords, property management companies, real estate agents, builders, mortgage lenders, etc. Use the link here to review the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. 

    The DFEH allows tenants to file a complaint if they have suffered:

    •  housing discrimination

    • harassment, or 

    • retaliation.

    To file a complaint with the DFEH, gather all the necessary information about the incident you intend to report. For example, the address of the apartment complex, your contact information, your landlord’s contact information, etc. 

    There are 3 ways to submit your complaint to DFEH: 

    • Online. File a Housing Intake Form against a landlord online by creating an account and using the interactive Cal Civil Rights System, CCRS.

    • By Mail. You may also file a Housing Intake Form by printing out and mailing the form to 2218 Kausen Drive, Suite 100, Elk Grove, CA 95758. You may also email the form to 

    • By Phone. Submit a complaint by calling the Communication Center at 800-884-1684 (voice), 800-700-2320 (TTY), or California’s Relay Service at 711.

    File a Complaint With a Specific California County or City Agency 

    Below are examples of some county and city agencies that handle tenant complaints against landlords: 

    Check to see if your county or city has a Housing Council or organization that helps tenants with their landlord complaints. 

    Option 3: File a Complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 

    You can also consider filing a complaint about housing discrimination or landlords who receive assistance from the federal government to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).

    HUD is responsible for national policies and programs that address America's housing needs and enforces our fair housing laws, but also does much more. For example, HUD runs the Multifamily Housing Complaint Line, which enables tenants of HUD-insured and -assisted properties to report complaints such as:

    • poor maintenance, 

    • dangers to health and safety

    • mismanagement, and 

    • fraud.

    Below are instructions for how to report a bad landlord to HUD:

    • To report a bad landlord to the Multifamily Housing Complaint Line, call toll-free at (800) MULTI-70 (800) 685-8470) / TTY (800) 432-2209.

    • Complaints of housing discrimination are handled by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (an office under HUD) at 1-800-669-9777.

    Option 4: File a Complaint With the Better Business Bureau (BBB)

    The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a non-profit organization that acts as an intermediary between consumers and large landlords. It's important to note that individual landlords are not typically listed on the BBB. In fact, the BBB does not take complaints from one individual against another individual so if your landlord is an individual, they likely won’t accept your complaint. The larger the landlord you rented from, the more likely they are to be found on the BBB. 

    Reasons why a landlord would respond to a BBB complaint: 

    • Landlords know that the BBB rating can be a significant factor for renters when deciding where to rent.

    • If the landlord is accredited with the BBB and they don't respond to a BBB complaint, its accreditation may be revoked, and the complaint becomes part of its BBB profile.

    Learn how to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

    Option 5: Consider Suing in Small Claims Court 

    Filed a complaint with any of the mentioned organizations or government agencies at the state or city level but haven't been able to resolve your issue with the landlord? It may be time to consider suing your landlord or apartment complex in California small claims. 

    Here are some of the most common small claims lawsuits against landlords:

    You may file a small claims lawsuit in your local small claims court as long as there is not a better court to handle your case. For example, if you are facing an eviction, this type of case is not normally filed in small claims.  

    You can learn more about suing in small claims in our Guide to California Small Claims (or if your rented unit was located outside of California, check out our 50-State Guide to Small Claims). 

    California Small Claims Quick Facts


    $10,000 if you are an individual, $5,000 if you are suing on behalf of a corporation or LLC

    Cost to File

    $0- $75

    Cost to Serve Lawsuit

    $0- $125

    Hearing Dates

    Hearings are scheduled 30- 75 Days after filing. 

    Virtual Hearings

    Many courts have the option to attend the hearing virtually. 


    Free mediation is available in many courts after the lawsuit is filed. 

    Main Forms 

    Lawsuit, Proof of Service, Fee Waiver

    * Court filing fees and serving costs are $0 if a judge approves your application for a court fee waiver.

    Up next: 8 Tips on How to Win in California Small Claims

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a complaint letter to a landlord? Check out our demand letter tool.


    Camila Lopez

    Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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