In a written statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California has issued a warning that it is illegal for landlords to demand sexual-favors from tenants. A copy of the Statement can be found here. If a tenant finds themselves in this situation, there is legal recourse available including obtaining a civil restraining order. In addition to criminal liability, a landlord who sexually harasses a tenant may find themselves facing civil liability as well.

Although the U.S. Attorneys’ Office statement brings up an issue of sexual favors, often times in the landlord-tenant area, parties agree to things that may not be “rent” as “money.” For example, a tenant agrees to mow the lawn for a reduced rent of $100, or a tenant gives a landlord a microwave worth $200 in exchange for a rent waiver of $200. Although these sort of agreements are common, they should be well documented.

During a time that many tenants and landlords may find themselves cash-strapped, it is important that any agreement for rent payments be in writing. If a landlord and tenant come up with a payment plan, it should be in writing and should reflect payments of money (i.e. checks, money orders, cash, etc.) and not for services or goods. It is generally not a good idea for landlords and tenants to exchange personal services (including those of a non-sexual nature) and personal property in lieu of rent. For example, a landlord and tenant should not agree that the rent of $500 is forgiven because the tenant has given the landlord a stove worth about $500. If a landlord and tenant do make some sort of agreement, it should be clear what the landlord and tenant are agreeing to.

During this time when tensions are running a little high, written documentation is key. If you have any questions or concerns about a payment plan being drafted by a landlord or tenant, please contact Attorney Anthony Marinaccio at 818-839-5220.