This article was posted on Monday, Dec 01, 2014

Q:  My wife and I are considering converting our garage into a room to rent for extra income. What are the basic requirements in order to avoid any legal issues?

If you want to convert a garage into a single dwelling unit you will need to apply for a permit. Ensuring that the conversion complies with all applicable code sections and city ordinances will help you avoid the potential pitfalls of fines and penalties, criminal charges, and even jail time. It is important to remember that a kitchen is not permissible in a garage unless you have obtained a permit from the city. Once your plans to convert the garage have been approved by the city, the necessary building permits acquired, the construction completed, and the same is approved by an inspector who then issues a certificate of occupancy, you may then rent the space. If you do not properly convert a garage, you may be liable to the tenant for rent previously paid by the tenant, possible relocation fees, and fines. Also, the city may cite you. You may also have to pay the expenses to repair, legalize, or even reconvert the structure back to a garage.  

Q:  About a year ago, I signed a month-to-month agreement with a young woman to rent my illegally converted garage. My tenant has been paying her rent late for the past few months. I served her with a 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit and she has not complied. What are some of the obstacles I may face if I decide to file an unlawful detainer eviction against her?
Tenants of illegal garage conversions can still be evicted, but the landlord should anticipate additional legal complications. If the matter goes to trial, the tenant can claim that she does not have to pay any rent if the building is not in compliance with building code requirements. The tenant can also sue you to seek reimbursement for all the rent paid due to the fact that the garage is not a legal unit. Thus, if you file an eviction for nonpayment of rent for an illegal garage conversion, it is highly likely that you will lose the lawsuit because you are not entitled to collect rent from your tenant. 

Q:  I received a Notice of Violation from the city regarding my illegal garage conversion. How should I go about terminating my month-to-month rental agreement with my tenant?
As discussed above, the 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit may be deemed defective since you are legally unable to accept rent for illegal units. Depending on your circumstances, a better approach would be to serve a 30, 60, or 90 Day Notice to Vacate on the tenant. If the tenant fails to move out, then you can file an unlawful detainer requesting possession only. Furthermore, you may be responsible for your tenant’s relocation costs. If you end up going to trial, you should receive possession of the property back, but you will not receive a money judgment against the tenant for unpaid rent. Overall, a landlord should be cognizant of the fact that renting an illegal or unpermitted unit comes with great risks and consequences. Care should be taken to adhere to all local building codes and regulations so as to avoid litigation and costs that could easily be prevented. Finally, it is important to remember that violations are time sensitive, and city fees will keep accruing until the problem is fixed. 

Attorney Franco Simone, of the Landlords Legal Center and has been doing evictions for 20 years.  He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego.  Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday- Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM .-  Tel: 619-235-6180, website: or email [email protected]

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