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I have already moved out of the apartment in question, my landlord is not able to evict/harass me. I moved out early because the apartment became uninhabitable (flooding) prior to my already-scheduled move out date. The corporate landlord is playing hardball and is still trying to collect rent.

Can I sue to protect against them maligning me (for example, to credit agencies)? Is this possible in CA Small Claims court? http://www.lacourt.org/division/smallclaims/SC0011.aspx only lists examples of plaintiffs seeking monetary judgments.

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Usually this is done in the context of a suit for money damages for the return of a security deposit, or in the context of a defamation action when the landlord has made a negative credit report. But if there is no security deposit to return and no inaccurate credit report that has been made, these options aren't available.

You might be able to obtain a declaratory judgment that no rent is owed from a court. but this kind of case would probably be beyond the jurisdiction of the small claims court. A higher trial court would have to address that issue and the litigation in that higher court would be more complicated and expensive, as it would usually be unwise to represent yourself in that kind of lawsuit.

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  • Good to know, I'll be on the lookout. So small claims court DOES handle "credit report inaccuracies." Can you comment on what that looks like. Do I need to have experienced damages or will a dummy ruling in my favor (of say, $1) then enable me to write to the credit bureaus?
    – artdv
    Jan 15 at 21:59
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    The small claims court has jurisdiction over common law tort claims for money damages such as defamation. Proving a defamation case is very hard, although less so in the case of a defamation case against a private individual on a matter that is not a matter of public interest. A statement based upon a disagreement over whether there is default if not defamatory. You can write to the credit bureau and force them to post a response to a report you disagree with in every case without court action but it stays on your credit report. Damages depend on what is proven.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 15 at 22:12
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Did you and the landlord agree that the apartment was uninhabitable and that you would be released from your lease?

If so, then you have very little to worry about.

If not, why did you think you could stop paying rent just because you moved out?

First, "uninhabitable" means more than being unpleasant or inconvenient: it means the property is unsafe or impossible to occupy. While major flooding can cause a property to be uninhabitable until repaired, minor flooding doesn't.

Even if the property is uninhabitable until repaired, you don't have an automatic right to terminate the contract. Just because the landlord might have broken their obligation to provide you with an inhabitable property for a time, that doesn't mean you can avoid your obligation to pay rent. If the landlord' breach has damaged you (e.g. moving costs, temporary alternative accommodation) they must reimburse you for that but you have to keep paying rent.

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  • Dale, I can't imagine there are too many court cases or questions in this forum where the landlord and tenant agree that the unit is uninhabitable (I would go on my merry way). I appreciate the distinction that I do not have the right to withhold rent. However, if the lease is broken (and that's the big if), I could argue that I do not owe rent. (As an aside, my former landlord has not challenged my assertion and I have paid a remaining, small utility balance and I am currently working with their insurer regarding water damage to my items)
    – artdv
    Jan 25 at 20:51
  • For clarity regarding the resolution. Following my original post, the landlord opted not to challenge my assertion and I have since closed out the situation (minus the dealings with the insurer).
    – artdv
    Jan 25 at 21:02

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