California Landlord Tenant Laws

Written by on April 22, 2013

State Flag of CaliforniaThis article summarizes some key California Landlord-Tenant laws applicable to residential rental units.

We’ve used the Official State Statutes and other online sources cited below to research this information and it should be a good starting point in learning about the law.

With that said, our summary is not intended to be exhaustive or a substitute for qualified legal advice. Laws and statutes are always subject to change, and may even vary from county to county or city to city.

You are responsible for performing your own research and complying with all laws applicable to your unique situation.

If you have legal questions or concerns, we recommend consulting with the appropriate government agencies and/or a qualified lawyer in your area. Your local or state bar association may have a referral service that can help you find a lawyer with experience in landlord-tenant law.

This research and information is current as of April 22, 2013

Official Rules and Regulations


Security Deposit:

  • Security Deposit Maximum: Two months’ rent for unfurnished dwellings; 3 months’ rent if furnished dwellings. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5 and 1940.5g)
  • Security Deposit Interest: No state-wide statute, but 15 (or so) localities have rent control ordinances that require you to pay interest, including Los Angeles. (reference)
  • Separate Security Deposit Bank Account: No Statute
  • Pet Deposits and Additional Non-Refundable Fees: Not Allowed (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5m)
  • Deadline for Returning Security Deposit: 21 days (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5g)
  • Security Deposit can be Withheld: (handbook)
    • For unpaid rent;
    • For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in;
    • For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests; and
    • If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.
  • Require Written Description/Itemized List of Damages and Charges: Yes. Receipts and documentation not needed to accompany the itemized list of repairs if repairs and cleaning cost less than $126. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5g 4A)
  • Record Keeping of Deposit Withholdings: No Statute
  • Failure to Comply: A bad faith claim or retention by a landlord may subject the landlord to statutory damages of up to twice the amount of the security, in addition to actual damages. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5(l))

Lease, Rent & Fees:

  • Rent is Due: Unless there is a contract to the contrary, and the lease is for less than one year, rent is due at the end of the month. Most leases state that rent is due at the beginning of the month. (Civ. Code §§ 1947) and (Civ. Code §§ 1962)
  • Rent Increase Notice: 30 days if rent increase is less than 10 percent of the lowest amount of rent charged during the last 12 months. 60 days if rent increase is more than 10 percent of the lowest amount of rent charged during the last 12 months. (Civ. Code §§ 827(b)(2-3))
  • Late Fees: Allowed, but they must be “reasonable” and obey rent control laws, and are only enforceable if specified in the lease. (handbook)
  • Prepaid Rent: Landlord is allowed to collect one month’s pre-paid rent (first month’s rent) plus two or three months’ security deposit. (handbook)
  • Returned Check Fees: Equal to the actual bank fee. Or landlord can charge a flat “service” fee which is $25 for the first occurrence, and $35 for each occurrence thereafter. (handbook)
  • Tenant Allowed to Withhold Rent for Failure to Provide Essential Services (Water, Heat, etc.): Yes, because the property is under the “implied warranty of habitability.” (handbook)
  • Tenant Allowed to Repair and Deduct Rent: Yes, but not more than the cost of one month’s rent, and tenant cannot use this remedy more than twice in a 12-month period. (Civ. Code §§ 1942)
  • Landlord Allowed to Recover Court and Attorney’s Fees: Yes (Civ. Code §§ 789.3d)
  • Landlord Must Make a Reasonable Attempt to Mitigate Damages to Lessee, including an Attempt to Rerent: Yes (Civ. Code §§ 1951.2)

Notices and Entry:

  • Notice to Terminate Tenancy – Fixed End Date in LeaseNo notice is needed as the lease simply expires. I recommend giving 60 days notice anyway.
  • Notice to Terminate Any Periodic Lease of a Year or More – If ALL tenants have lived there longer than a year, the landlord is required to give 60 days notice. (handbook)
  • Notice to Terminate a Periodic Lease – Month-to-Month: Landlord is required to give 30 days notice. Tenant is required to give 30 days notice. (Civ. Code §§ 1946)
  • Notice to Terminate a Periodic Lease – Week-to-week: Landlord is required to give 30 days notice. Tenant is required to give seven days notice. (handbook)
  • Notice to Terminate Lease due to Sale of Property: 30 days notice if ALL of the following are true: (Civ. Code §§ 1946.1) (handbook)
    1. The landlord has contracted to sell the rental unit to another person who intends to occupy it for at least a year after the tenancy ends.
    2. The landlord must have opened escrow with a licensed escrow agent or real estate broker, and
    3. The landlord must have given 30-day notice no later than 120 days after opening escrow, and
    4. The landlord must not previously have given you a 30-day or 60-day notice, and
    5. The rental unit must be one that can be sold separately from any other dwelling unit. (For example, a house or a condominium can be sold separately from another dwelling unit.)
  • Notice of date/time of Move-Out Inspection: 48 hours (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5(f))
  • Eviction Notice for Nonpayment: Three days (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(2))
  • Eviction Notice for Lease Violation: Three days to remedy lease violation or landlord can file eviction (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(3)). Landlord can also terminate the lease for subletting without permission or illegal activity on the premise. (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(4))
  • Required Notice before Entry: 24 hours (Civ. Code §§ 1954a)
  • Entry Allowed with Notice for Maintenance and Repairs (non-emergency): 24 hours (Civ. Code §§ 1954a)
  • Emergency Entry Allowed without Notice: Yes (Civ. Code §§ 1954b)
  • Entry Allowed During Tenant’s Extended Absence: No (Civ. Code §§ 1954)
  • Notice to Tenants for Pesticide Use: No Statute
  • Lockouts Allowed: No (Civ. Code §§ 789.3b(1))
  • Utility Shut-offs Allowed: No (Civ. Code §§ 789.3a)

Disclosures and Miscellaneous Notes:

  • Landlord Must Accept First Qualified Applicant – The 2012 Fair Housing Handbook of California says on page 24, “The landlord should take the time to check out the information and make a selection based on the first qualified applicant(s),” although there is no statute to support this. It’s recommended but not law.
  • Copy of Lease: Provide a copy of the rental agreement or lease to the tenant within 15 days of its execution by the tenant. (Civ. Code §§ 1962(4))
  • Utilities: Landlord must disclose if utilities that service tenant’s unit also service other areas (such as common foyers), and disclose the manner in which costs will be fairly divided up. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.9) Landlord must also provide a formula for dividing up utilities when utilities are split among multiple tenants.
  • San Francisco Utilities: Landlords must provide heat that can maintain a room temperature of 68 degrees. This level of heat must be provided for at least 13 hours, specifically from 5-11 AM and 3-10 PM.
  • Move-In Condition: Landlord is not required to provide a Move-In Condition Checklist for the Tenants to complete. However, it is recommended and extremely helpful should you ever go to court over physical damages to the dwelling.
  • Mold: Landlord must disclose, prior to lease signing, knowledge of any mold in the dwelling that exceeds safety limits or poses a health concern.  Landlord must distribute a State Department of Health Services consumer handbook. (Health & Safety Code §§ 26147)
  • Demolishment: If a landlord or agent has applied for a permit to demolish a rental unit, the landlord must provide written notice to prospective tenants before accepting any money. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.6)
  • Ordinances: Landlord must disclose the locations of former ordinances in the neighborhood. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.7)
  • Sexual Offenders: Landlords are required to include the following language in the lease:
     “Notice: Pursuant to Section 290.46 of the Penal Code, information about specified registered sex offenders is made available to the public via an Internet Web site maintained by the Department of Justice at Depending on an offender’s criminal history, this information will include either the address at which the offender resides or the community of residence and zip code in which he or she resides.” (Civ. Code §§ 2079.10a)
  • Pests Disclosures: At lease signing, Landlord must disclose any pests control contracts or disclosures received by pest control companies.  If the premise is being treated for pests, landlord must disclose the pesticides used and their active ingredients, and any warnings associated with them.  (Civ. Code §§ 1940.8, and Business and Professional Code §§ 8538)
  • Smoking: If the landlord limits or prohibits smoking, landlord must include a clause that specifies the areas on or in the premise where smoking is prohibited. (Civ. Code §§ 1947.5)
  • Proof of Domestic Violence Status: Landlord is entitled to proof/documentation of domestic violence status of the tenant if the tenant claims they are a victim. (Civ. Code §§ 1941.5, 1941.6, 1941.7)
  • Locks: Landlords must change the locks if requested by a domestic violence victim and proof of court order is given. (Civ. Code §§ 1941.5 and 1941.6)
  • Special Treatment: A victim may terminate a lease with 30 days notice and proof of victim status. (Civ. Code §§ 1941.7) A landlord cannot end or refuse to renew a tenancy based upon the fact that tenant or a member of tenant’s household is a victim of a documented act of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161.3)
  • Abandoned Property: The rules are lengthy and specific, please read Civ. Code §§ 1965, 1980 to 1991.
  • Retaliation: Landlord must not terminate or refuse to renew a lease to a tenant who has filed an official complaint to a Government Authority, been involved in a tenant’s organization, or exercised a legal right. Courts will assume “retaliation” by landlord if negative action is taken on the tenant within 180 days (six months) after any of the prior tenant actions. (Civ. Code §§ 1942.5) It will also be considered retaliation if the landlord acts negatively within six months after any of the following:
    • Using the repair and deduct remedy, or telling the landlord that the tenant will use the repair and deduct remedy.
    • Complaining about the condition of the rental unit to the landlord, or to an appropriate public agency after giving the landlord notice.
    • Filing a lawsuit or beginning arbitration based on the condition of the rental unit.
    • Causing an appropriate public agency to inspect the rental unit or to issue a citation to the landlord.

Court Related:

Business Licenses:

  • Business License required: No state-wide statute, but local cities and counties may have regulations and requirements. Check with your local governing authority.

Helpful Videos

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675 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Carrie

    To the security deposits rule: “Require Written Description/Itemized List of Damages and Charges: Yes. Receipts and documentation not needed to accompany the itemized list of repairs if repairs and cleaning cost less than $125. ” I believe it’s actually $126 (

  • Bogdan tanasa

    I live in Chicago and planning to relocate to San Diego, in about 6-8 months. I will sell my property, a condo, and I want to prepay the rental lease for 12-15 months in San Diego. At the time of moving, I will probably have no job. My question is if my plan is possible, or it is a case by case situation and I’ll have to find a landlord that accepts that ?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Bogdan

      Congrats on your decision to move to San Diego!

      According to the CA handbook: A Landlord is only allowed to collect one month’s pre-paid rent (first month’s rent) plus two or three months’ security deposit.

      I’m sure you could find a landlord who would accept it, even though they are not allowed, but I highly advice you against it. The reason is that you simply don’t know what the situation will be like in 6 months. What if the place becomes infested with roaches, or there is a flood that renders it inhabitable. I’m not a lawyer but I always recommend putting the money aside in your own separate bank account, and not giving that much cash to a landlord all at once.


  • alicia

    If you have a family member living with you at your residence but not following through with the rental agreement and you give them a 30 day notice can you have them removed from the property after the 30 days or do you have to go to the courts and file a legal eviction? I need this family member out he is selling my property! We served him on the 25 th of last month. Thanks

    • Mary Rimachi

      Your post is confusing. You say the family member is selling your property and you say he has a agreement with you. What are the Terms&Conditions of this Agreement and who is the legal owner of the property?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Alicia,

      It’s nice to meet you.

      If the family member has a rental agreement with you, and he’s not an owner of the property, then you should treat him like any other tenant who is violating their lease.
      1. Terminate their lease with proper notice
      2. File an eviction lawsuit if he doesn’t vacate.

      If he doesn’t have any ownership in the property, then he can’t sell it.

      If the situation is more complicated than that, I suggest talking to a locally licensed attorney. I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • ledah quintanilla

    My landlord is refinancing the house we are currently renting. She said that if she gets a lower appraisal than she will make us pay the difference by raising our rent. 1) Can she do that? 2) If we’re in a year lease, can she raise our rent in the middle of this time period? 3) If she can do this, do we have the right to break our year lease and give a 30 day notice to vacate without repercussion?

    • Mary Rimachi

      Good ?. If you are in a rent controlled city there is fixed limit (%) of the amount of additional rent you can be charges under any circumstances. What is you zip code? AS to can the LL pass her costs/loss of on you this would be dictated by the any provision in lease if one exists. If they raise your rent absent this condition then the LL is on violation of the lease.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Ledah,

      Apart from being in rent controlled situation, here is my opinion:

      Q1: She wouldn’t be able to raise your rent, regardless of her appraisal, unless the lease allows her to do so.

      Q2: If you have a fixed-term lease, with a fixed price for the entire term of the lease, she can’t just raise the rent in the middle of the lease. That would defeat the purposed of signing a fixed-term lease. The lease would specifically have to give her the right to raise the rent.

      Q3: You can’t break the lease just because she asks for more money. Since she can’t force you to pay more (assuming the lease doesn’t give her special rights), so what cause would you have to break the lease? By abandoning the lease, you would be one violated it, not her.

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. I’m just a landlord trying to help.

  • PeterP

    Hello all,
    I am tenant in Riverside,Ca and I have 1 year lease. One of the conditions of the annex to the contract states that any other person living in the house more than me and my wife would required plus $100. We had a child and landlord wrote us requesting the plus on the rent. Does that clause meet the law? When I saw it before signing the contract I thought it would apply to a new person ( a friend for instance) that would move to live with us….never thought that it could apply to a growing family.
    Thank you in advance for your input.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Peter,

      I don’t know if that clause is within the limits of the law, but I do know that I have never heard of a statute prohibiting it. To me (I’m not a lawyer), it just seems like a normal conditional provision in a lease…if you want to add a person to the lease, you must pay and extra XXX.

      A lease is simply an agreement for XX people to rent a place at XX price for XX months. If that changes, then other terms can change as well.

      When we had our daughter, I was so angry when hotels (every hotel) charged us for the extra person, even though she would sleep in a travel crib in the corner of the room. But, those was their rules, take’um or leave’um.

  • Tom

    Our tenants have moved out but opted not to allow a pre -move-out inspection a right to which we informed them when terminating tenancy. When we collected their keys, we found that the hardware on some of the doors was changed and no longer matches the rest of the house, window screens were broken, a range which previously worked was taken out of the kitchen and left on the back porch in a non-working condition, a glass shower door that was recently replaced with new is now unhinged, etc. The tenants had lived in this property for 10 years. Is repair or replacement of any of these items warranted to deduct from their security deposit? How do I prorate the cost of a new range? Tenants told me that they were using their own range instead.

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