California Rental Laws

Written by on April 22, 2013

State Flag of CaliforniaThis article summarizes some key California rental 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 a lease, increase rent, decrease services, cause a lessee to quit involuntarily, or bring an action to recover possession 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.

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1,166 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Amy

    I’m low-income women who rent a room at house month-to-month agreement since August 1st 2012. I’ve placed intentionally under a high pressure weather by verbal, emotional distress, due discrimination (Religion, National Origin, Health Condition, and Retaliation) form landlord and her family. I’ve asked the landlord to make repair to my room since last earthquake damage in March 2014. I’ve complaint from consistent nuisance, illegal activities, and unsafe condition due actions from a tenant next me in Sep. 2014.

    It ended up by:
    1) On Dec. 14, 2014, I faced sexual harassment & domestic violations from this tenant who lives at house. I reported the police and they came in and they investigated. Also, I did restraining order and he arrested 5 days. The main instigator for him is the landlord.

    2) Although I’ve lived at this house over 2 years, I got 30 days invalid notice on Dec. 17, 2014.

    3) After the tenant was released, he didn’t receive vacate notice and he still lives at house.

    4) On Jan. 27, 2015, I discovered that federal law is broken and my W2 from mail is stolen. The landlord only can access to mailbox COZ she locked the mailbox. I did report against her.

    5) The landlord allows only this tenant to use the garage as Mechanic shop under my room in order to harm me COZ I’ve severe asthma and allergy. He uses gas, oil, & he does unbelievable noises to disturbed the peace at any time.

    6) He is broke the restraining order 3 times and the cops denied the truth COZ he has criminal record.

    7)The landlord made repair after I complained to code enforcement, and they demanded to correct violation in my room and demanded her to correct ton of violations at house. However, she fixed only my room on Feb. 6, 2015.

    8)On Feb. 26, 2015, I called the cops COZ I couldn’t breathe at all due a huge smell of gas reach my room. Although the smell was so strong, the officers denied it and they called the emergency car because I fell on the floor and I spent whole night there.

    9) On Feb. 27, 2015, I went to the police department and I accused the tenant, the landlord, and her son by instigating a tenant against me and by facing my life to danger.

    10) The police told me that the landlord served me by 60 days notice. I complained to watch commander that the cops denied the restraining order is broken 3 times. The watch commander said that he will not send any officer regards this matter or respond any call in the future. He told me I have to move out because this civil matter not crime.

    My question are:
    1- What is the legal name for my story? Is it harassment, or discrimination, or retaliation?
    2- What are the available legal avenues I have until I get my right?
    3- Do I have the right to stop paying rent for the 60 days?
    4- What are the legal suggestions in my case?
    I’ve every incident documented

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Amy

      I tend to agree with Terri. This clearly isn’t a good environment for you, and if you stick with it, it will likely cause you more stress and money than if you just moved out and paid for a slightly more expensive place.

      For example, all the questions you are asking are actually legal questions. You’re seeking legal advice, and you really need a lawyer to help you out.

      If you can’t afford one, you can try contacting a local legal aid provider, who might do it for free or at least a discount.

  • Kate

    Hello. I moved out prior to my lease end date, but paid my rent in full. The roommates extended the lease one month without my knowledge and left $750 worth of damage and now I have received a collections letter. None of the damage was caused by me, but I didn’t take my name off the lease. Can the apartment still hold me responsible even though I never signed the lease extension? Thank you.

  • Terri

    Amy, start by seriously asking yourself WHY you seem to want to stay there. Why are you fighting to stay in that type of environment. Why not find another room where the atmosphere is healthier.

    • Amy

      I’m looking every day online, but I’m not able to find a place meet my budget. Second, I’ve bad health condition and have surgery in my back which obstacle in my movements. I don’t want stay in this environment or pay any cent for nothing. However, the person who creates this environment is the landlord in order to force me to move out. I am looking to get my right as human has dignity then as tenant. I want the justice no more.

  • Anne

    I had a 6 month lease agreement that I had to terminate in month 5 and vacate early. The landlord was able to rent my apartment and the new tenant moved in on the 6 month of my lease. The landlord still collected my rent for month 6 even though she rented the apartment and the new tenanted moved in that month. She claimed that under the lease agreement I was still obligated to pay for the unfulfilled month left on my lease. Isn’t she collecting rent twice here? She has been made whole by finding someone to rent my apartment without lapse.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Anne,

      Generally speaking, a landlord is not allowed to double dip on the rent. Rather, a landlord has the responsibility to mitigate damages to the tenant per Civ. Code §§ 1951.2.

      Please know that I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take this as legal advice. My suggestion is to read the statute in full, then talk to a lawyer if you have any questions, and then ask the landlord for the money back (via a demand letter). If she refuses, you could consider taking her to small claims court.

      • Anne

        Thank you for all the responses to my inquiry. I had a follow up discussion with the property management company (“PMC”). They indicate that this is a “lease break fee” and therefore should not considered as paying rent. Per the PMC, a tenant signs a lease agreement, they are responsible for the break of the lease (remaining payments) and this is not collecting double rent. Even though the PMC is able to rent the unit to mitigate their loss, they are still entitled to the “break fee”.

        It may be semantics, but it appears they may have found a way around the Civil Code for collecting rent twice.

  • Vikki

    I am taking applications for new tenants for a one year lease agreement. I have an unmarried couple with a two year old baby who are both working and very much want the place, and have filled out an application, knowing I will do a full credit check. The man does not have an SS#, but claims he is in the process of getting one. He has a drivers license number, vehicle registration, a place of employment, previous place of employment of 8 years, banking information but will not give me any proof because of the “process”. He says his lawyer says he cannot give me that information. I have asked for all the above information, yet how did he get all of it without showing a bank, DMV, employer, etc, proof of legally being here? I explained I will be part of a legally binding agreement, the lease, and must know I am not doing anything illegal, and that his lawyers must understand that.

    Any suggestions? She is legal, but does not make enough to pay the rent if he bails.

    • Sythnia Moore

      Wow, uhmm did he offer or allow you to talk to his lawyer because something just doesn’t sound right there. If you have an attorney I would consult with your attorney because if they choose to skip out on the lease you may not have any legal recourse against them if you don’t have the proper information to go after them. Good luck on whatever you decide

      Please note this is not legal advice just my personal opinion :)

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Vikki,

      I’m agree with Sythnia. Something just doesn’t seem legit. I would be concerned that his lawyer and bank statements are fake.

      While you can’t discriminate in CA on citizenship status, you can say that a credit report is required as part of a complete application. If they are unable to complete the application, then you can’t consider them seriously and have to reject it. It’s the only fair thing to do. Those that can’t submit a completed application, can’t be considered.

      However, if you’re comfortable with them as tenants, then you could require them to add a co-signer, who would have to go through the same review process. I always suggest making the co-signer a blood-relative, because generally speaking, a relative will know if they are scammers. If they can’t produce a relative who trusts them enough to co-sign, how on earth could you trust them?

      As Synthia said, it would be wise to consult an attorney (your attorney) if you are seriously considering these applicants. If you have other applicants, you can just say that they completed the full application first, and therefore you had to select them.

      I’m also not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice – so use it at your own risk :)

    • Mary Rimachi

      How would you know he has a job and bank account with a SS No, to confirm the person with these is the same person? As for his lawyer, thats nonsense! Make sure your not in a rent control area or else you may have the scammers as tenants AND then you will have real problems.

      • Vikki

        Thank you all. It’s a small town where the rental is, I could dig to find information, but as Lucas mentioned, and I have read, I must be careful about discrimination. I am not in a rent control area. I was provided ID, and pay stubs, with taxes removed, but the number put under SSN was different at each place. I did read that you can obtain a US drivers license without an SSN, and work, filling out an I-9 form, and getting a different type of number until a SSN is assigned.

        I am curious why the girlfriend with an SSN, is not married to him, with a two year old child together. They both want to be on the lease.

        I have no lawyer, and in a small vacation driven town, it is very hard to find good tenants. It’s tough, as I am on low income due to very tough circumstances, and four different lawyers failed me during that time.

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Vikki,

          Check out our free guide on Tenant Screening. It’s packed with answers and might help put you in the right mindset. Its’ not really relevant as to why they aren’t married, but something else about it smells fishy.

          The Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening:

          You could also try contacting a local legal aid provider, who might do it for free or at least a discount. Just google “Legal aid [YOUR COUNTY/CITY NAME]”

  • Nitin Jindal

    On Friday, HOA served by tenants ‘Unlawful Detainer’ notice and having a Service dog. The tenant spends around 15 days in hospital and as per HOA if the tenant is in hospital the Dog has to go with her. The dog can’t stay home and the tenant is in violation of HOA’s No Animal Rule

    One tenant has left 2 years back because of this nonsense and not they are harassing my new tenants.

    5th day is tomorrow and to reply to this unlawful detainer is going to cost me $225. I still went to the court and they won’t allow me to reply to it and tenant is right now in Hospital (Intensive Care Unit)

    What should I do?

    Can they really evict my tenant? Is this even legal or human?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Nitin,

      It’s good to hear from you again. I’m sorry the HOA is causing issues. How is the dog able to survive if it is left inside the house for 15 days straight? There might be a health code violation there.

      To be honest, I’m not sure what you should do. I would certainly try to reason with the Board members if I were you. Ask for a hearing, and plead your case for sympathy. If they don’t budge, then they will have to take your tenant to eviction court – where he/she could reason with the Judge. Personally, I don’t know a single judge who would evict a person because of the service dog. It would create a media frenzy and give the judge a discriminatory reputation.

      But either way, if they proceed with the eviction, you should talk with an attorney for sure.

      • Nitin Jindal

        Hi Lucas,

        Thanks for the guidance. The dog is left with her son. He is 19 years old. The husband is also home for sometime, when he is not in hospital.

        The HOA board consists of only One guy and he owns 6 units (out of total 12). His family has harassed all home owners in past and he is doing the same.

        They use HOA funds for all this.

        For now, I will pay $225 and reply to this notice. This will give me enough days to hire an Attorney before court date.

        Thanks Again


        • Lucas Hall

          Wow, so the HOA is a dictatorship! It’s time to start the impeachment process.

          Also, I suggest checking your Association Bylaws, because all the HOA’s that I belong to have a restriction from allowing one person to own more than 1 or 2 units. The purpose to prevent one person from having too much power.

          If the Bylaws prohibit it, you could get him thrown out, or at least reduce his voting and decision power.

  • Charles Bradley

    Hi, I’ve been renting a home for almost 6 years. My lease is up August 21 2015. We have asked for a working sprinkler system from the 1st day we moved in. We have also had things break down from time to time. They have fixed them it takes a couple of weeks but finally gets done. We have a daughter that lives in another state she is very ill we have to move back to help take care of her. I’m leaving April 1 the rest of my family is moving June 15.we told our landlord by phone and text. We live in a very desirable area. We sent a 90 day notice and told them that the can’t be taken care of with out there help along with a plan to let them show the 2 weeks before we move. On our original walk through the house was dirty thing broken down. These things have not been fix. The landlord is know mad that were breaking lease. They will no problem renting this home whether it’June August or any other month. Now they are calling us lies and getting nasty with us. We are going to pay rent. Help

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Charles,

      Most likely, you would still be responsible for the rent until a new tenant is found. You can’t just break a lease whenever you want – no matter how much notice you give.

      However the landlord does have to make a reasonable attempt to mitigate damages to lessee, including an attempt to rerent (Civ. Code §§ 1951.2).

      If the place is in a good location, like you say, then you shouldn’t have to pay for much extra rent. Plus, unfortunately, you’ll probably have to clean it up really well if you want the landlord to have a good chance as finding new tenants. If you keep it messy, then it will turn away applicants, and then it will take longer to find replacements.

      If you don’t continue to pay the rent, the landlord might take you to small claims court, which could severely hurt your credit if he is awarded a judgement.

      Good luck to you! I hope your daughter gets better. Hang in there, and try to help you landlord re-rent it. Please know that I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

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