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Landlords in California who negotiate a lease primarily in Spanish undertake special obligations under Civil Code Section 1632.  This law requires that:

1.  landlords who rent units for more than one month

2.  who are engaged in a trade or business

3.  who negotiate the lease primarily in Spanish

4.  must provide an accurate, unexecuted, Spanish translation of the lease to the proposed tenant before execution of the English version, and

5.  post prominently in Spanish, at the place where the leases are regularly executed, a notice that the landlord is obligated to provide such a Spanish translation.

          This law does not apply to the landlord who proposes a rental agreement on a month to month basis.  The law applies to leases for a fixed term, such as for six months, one year, and so on.

          The landlord must be engaged in a “trade or business.”  It is difficult to understand what, if anything, the legislature had in mind for this language.  Renting residential rental units is clearly a business, even if the landlord is a little old lady who only rents out one spare cottage in the back.  It probably implies the landlord’s involvement in the business on more than this very casual and incidental basis.  The little old lady is probably exempt, but the reader of these columns would be well advised to comply, especially as compliance is not difficult or expensive.

          The lease must have been negotiated primarily in Spanish.  It does not matter that the tenant is fluent in both Spanish and English, it is the language of communication during the negotiation which matters.  However, if the tenant supplied an adult translator, of his own choosing, fluent in both English and Spanish, which translator had no relation whatsoever with the landlord, then the Spanish translation need not be supplied.

          The landlord covered by the statute must supply, before actual execution of the lease agreement, an accurate, unexecuted Spanish translation of the agreement.  If the landlord has a rental office at which agreements are ordinarily executed, he must post a notice in Spanish that such translations will be provided.  Not only must a Spanish translation of the lease be provided, but any subsequent documents materially changing the terms of the lease, such as accords, novations, modifications, and notices of change of terms of tenancy, must also be accompanied by a Spanish translation.  Notices required by statute but not affecting the term of the lease, such as eviction notices, are not affected.  The burden to assure the translation is accurate is on the landlord.  The Department of Consumer Affairs is charged with the obligation to provide verification of the Spanish translation, for a fee, but the landlord may not publish the fact that the Department has verified the translation, and the legislature has made Consumer Affairs as irresponsible as all other agencies in the event of error.  Since the object is to be able to say that a disinterested person of impeccable objectivity and credentials has reviewed the document the landlord would probably be better off engaging the services of a bilingual law student to do the job.  Priests and ministers are also excellent resources.  If the landlord is negotiating in Spanish, he is probably dealing in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.  Priests and ministers are highly and broadly educated men capable of doing just such a job, and if they are posted to that neighborhood they are undoubtedly bi-lingual.  The writer once had occasion to have a legal pleading translated into Tagalog.  Finding no one locally willing to do the work, he contacted a Catholic priest who was a Philippine native.  When initially offered compensation for his work, he demurred, but upon an offer of a reasonable donation to his church’s poor box, he eagerly undertook the job and did it quite well.

          Having provided the Spanish translation and executed the rental agreement, the following is the result:

1.  It is the English version of the contract which specifies the rights and duties of the parties.

2.  The Spanish translation is not controlling, however

3.  In the event of a material disparity between the English and Spanish versions, the tenant may, at his option, rescind the English lease.

4.  The tenant is still obligated to pay the reasonable rental value of the property, and, presumably, with the rescission of the lease, he would become an occupant under a month to month tenancy.

           In the event of failure to comply, the tenant has the right to rescind at any time.

           Of course, in the event of rescission, the tenant could move out.

            For the landlord who deals primarily in Hispanic neighborhoods and negotiates with his tenants in Spanish, compliance with Civil Code Section 1632 is not costly as the expense of preparation of Spanish translations can be spread over a large number of documents.  Compliance will only enhance relations with those tenants whose command of English is not yet sufficient to give them the confidence which the landlord assumes his English fluent tenants have in his honesty and fair dealing.

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