California Landlord Tenant Laws

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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

Details:

Security Deposit:

  • Security Deposit Maximum: 2 month’s rent for unfurnished dwellings; 3 month’s 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 for: (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. Landlord is also required to give advanced notice of deductions prior to the actual withholding.  Receipts and documentation not needed to accompany the itemized list of repairs if repairs and cleaning cost less than $125. (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 1 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% of the lowest amount of rent charged during the last 12 months.  60 days if rent increase is more than 10% 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 1-month’s pre-paid rent (first month’s rent) + 2 or 3 month’s 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 1 month’s rent, and tenant cannot use this remedy more than twice in a 12-month period (Civ. Code §§ 1942)
  • Landlord Allow 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 7 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 you the 30-day notice no later than 120 days after opening the 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: 3 days (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(2))
  • Eviction Notice for Lease Violation: 3 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 thirteen hours, specifically from 5:00 – 11:00 AM and 3:00 – 10:00 PM.
  • Move-In Condition: Landlord is not required to provide a Move-In Condition Checklist for the Tenants to complete.  Although, 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, the 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 www.meganslaw.ca.gov. 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 that smoking is prohibited. (Civ. Code §§ 1947.5)
  • Proof of Domestic Violence Status: Landlord is entitled to proof/documentation of domestic violent 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 & 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 your tenancy based upon the fact that you or a member of your 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 (6 months) after any of the prior tenant actions. (Civ. Code §§ 1942.5) It will also be considered retaliation if the landlord acts negatively within 6 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.
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Discussion...

  1. Hello, So I moved down to Santa Cruz Ca early this year and ended up living with this terrible roommate! The landlord is his friend and has not forced this guy to move out. I have been physically assaulted and am verbally harassed constantly but this guy still lives here. I never signed a contract I’m on a month to month in where I was told utilities were included including wifi when my housemate shut all this off my rent ended up increasing because I was forced to get an internet provider. I can’t really afford another place to go right now and was wondering could he force me to move out because of his friend? Could I take any action against that? Also ideally, Is there anything I can do to make this terrible housemate leave?

    • Hi Melissa,

      You have to file domestic abuse/violence charges against the roommate. This would give you special rights (including lease termination for you). Since you’re on a month-to-month anyway, theres not much benefit other than creating a record and history for later use. If you were to get a restraining order, you might be able to force the other roommate to leave, but you’d have to talk to an attorney about that.

      Keep in mind, your landlord can terminate your lease (with no reason needed) with 30 days notice simply by not renewing it.

      If you feel threatened or in danger, your first step is to call the police.

      As for wifi, you are responsible for it unless your lease specifically says the landlord must pay for it. But since you don’t actually have a lease, then it’s up to you. Cable and wifi is not an essential utility so your landlord has no obligation to provide it.

  2. My husband and I were on a month to month lease for over 18 months. We are both on the lease but were approved based on his income. I am a home maker.
    He left me and gave our land lord 30 days notice. I never recieved written notice from the land lord and never gave my own notice. I haven’t been able to find a place. Can my land lady kick me out?

    • Hi Jaiden,

      I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I can’t speak to the details of your specific lease, nor am I a lawyer. What I can tell you is that typically, when a lease is signed with multiple people, there is joint and several liability. This means that notice to one tenant is the same as giving notice to all. It means that you and your husband are treated as one entity.

      Here’s an article that explain it: http://www.landlordology.com/what-is-joint-and-several-liability/

      To answer your second question, a landlord MUST go through the formal eviction process with the courts in order to evict you. Even after they win the case, only the sheriff/police can come to move our belongings out of the house and lock you out. If the landlord tries to shut off the utilities, change the locks, or physically move your stuff; that’s call a “self-help” eviction, and it’s against the law.

      Now, I don’t recommend being evicted, because it will go on your record, but holding-over a property for a few weeks is better than being on the street. Try your hardest to find a place to live asap, but don’t put yourself in danger.

  3. Under what conditions is it ok for a landlord not to pay relocation fees to the tenant? If a unit is an illegal unit, and the tenant continues to live in that unit, are there any penalties? Also if the unit is illegal and a tenant makes construction changes on the unit (for example, putting in a new door lock) is the landlord somehow protected or can the landlord use this in court?

    • Hi Lori,
      Relocation Fees: It depends on the circumstances.

      Illegal Unit: How are you defining “illegal”? What defect is making it illegal in your eyes? If a government authority is condemning the unit, you would have to move. If the landlord is legally able to terminate the lease, and you stay, then you could be evicted, even if the unit is illegal.

      Locks: A tenant is not normally allowed to change the locks without the landlord’s permission. The landlord should also have working keys to his/her property. Other, major construction changes such as creating walls, or adding a deck, are usually prohibited too.

      In the end, you’re going to have to seek advice from a lawyer in your area (which I am not), or your county/city government our housing authority. The kinds of questions you are asking are regulated at the county/city level.

  4. My landlord recently changed all the locks in the building from locking doorknob and deadbolt to deadbolt only locks. In place of a knob it’s a handle that does not lock.
    The key broke off in the deadbolt yesterday and now the door can’t be locked from the outside at all, which means if you leave the door is unlocked. They said they will come out and fix it, and I have someone there, but i want to know how many door locks is the landlord required to provide by law??

    • Hi Dawn,
      The short answer is: I have no idea. Honestly, I don’t think there is a law that regulates this. The landlord is simply required to ensure that the property can be secured, which can be accomplished via one deadbolt (if working properly).

      I hate to say it, but if your landlord subscribes to Landlordology, he might have switched the locks because of me: http://www.landlordology.com/tip/remove-self-locking-door-knobs-prevent-lockouts/

      The reality is that things are going to break, including locks, and everyone just has to be patient while the landlord fixes it. However, if the lock isn’t fixed within 48 hours, then you should make a big fuss about it.

  5. I entered a lease with another individual. I paid the entire deposit, the landlord is now trying to give a portion of the deposit to the other individual. Is he allowed to do that, shouldn’t he refund the entire deposit to the individual who made the cashiers check out?

    • Hi Kristina,

      That would make the most sense, but it’s usually not required.

      In most residential lease (but I can’t speak to yours), there is “joint and several liability” which means that all tenants are treated as a single entity.

      Read more: http://www.landlordology.com/what-is-joint-and-several-liability/

      If a landlord communicates a message to one tenant, it’s the same as communicating it to all tenants. Likewise, if he receives $500 towards rent, it’s not “from” an individual, but rather from the group. So, if the landlord gives the deposit back to one, it’s like giving it to the entire group.

      As a landlord, I only want to write one deposit refund check, but I put the names of all the tenants on the To: Field. That way, at least all of them have to sign the check in order for it to be deposited – and it forces them to work it out.

      Perhaps you could suggest taking this approach to your landlord, thereby preventing any funny business with your old roommate?

  6. Elissa Gaynor says:

    The terms of my current month-to-month lease are being updated to increase the rent using an addendum. It includes the language, “Landlord will notify Tenant of any change to rental amount and can raise rents at any time given 30 days notice.” I know that if the rent is to be raised more than 10% (not the case this time, but who knows what might happen in the future), then the notice required is 60 days. If I sign the lease with this language, does that negate the requirement for 60 days notice?
    Thanks.

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