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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1,016 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Michele

    Hello, I’m curious to know if Apartments are required to do certain updates after “x” amount of time. For example replacing single-pane windows. The more I pay attention, the more I notice how crapy the apartment looks. With all its low-cost updates. Crappy baseboards, peeling paint everywhere. It’s ridiculous. How can I approach the landlord to make this look nicer? Can I ask to do it myself and debut from rent?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Michele,

      I’m not aware of any state-wide statutes that require a landlord or property owner to make updates after a specific period of time. Generally speaking, a landlord or owner is responsible to ensure habitability, and that all amenities that were working at the time of lease signing, continue to work throughout the lease.

      You can certainly ask to make some repairs yourself – on your own dime. For things like painting, if the landlord agrees that it should be done, perhaps they will pay for the materials, if you put in the labor for free. Otherwise, its usually just easier for landlord to paint between tenancies – every 5 years or so.

  • P. Marie

    Hi again!
    I went with a friend to legal aid to have a lawyer look @ a new lease my LL wanted me to sign. But a new issue arose.

    When LL said they were coming with the new lease, I had asked them to drop it off so I could have time to look at it. When they brought it, they said “you can read it in 15 mins”. I said I wanted to have my lawyer look @ it first. They demanded I have it signed in 24 hours. I said that I needed my lawyer to look @ it and didn’t know his schedule, but I would let them know. They told me my yr lease lapsed and I didn’t have any rights. (I found out that’s not true) Apparently, THAT DAY they mailed me a 90 day notice (as per date in letter).

    Do LLs have to give you x amt of time to look over a lease? If you ask for a reasonable amt of time to look it over, or to have a lawyer look@ it, can they kick me out for it??? It’s that legal? Or can that be considered retaliatory because I sought legal counsel for help?
    Thank you!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi again!

      I’ve never seen a statute that regulates the amount of time to review the lease. Rather, you should consider your existing lease. Without a new lease (or renewal), a tenant must vacate when their old lease is up. If your old lease expires, you either have a move out, or sign a new lease.

      It’s poor form that the landlord was delayed in getting you the lease, but you need to do what’s right for you. If you want a lawyer to look at it, then you should do so, but realize that the renewal might have an expiration – as does your lease. If they try to take back the renewal, then you could definitely hire a lawyer to fight it. But you also can’t stay in a unit if you don’t have a lease to live there.

      I really don’t see what the big deal is. You would think the landlord would want to keep you, and as long as you only take a few days, it shouldn’t be an issue. After all, they were slow to deliver the lease.

      They can ask you to leave if your lease has expired, and you don’t have a new ratified contract. Without a lease to secure your right to occupy the lease, then you don’t have a right to be there. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any rights at all. They can’t just cut off the utilities or change the locks (which is so very illegal). But rather, they should make up their mind. Are they offering a renewal or not!

      It sounds like you need to talk to a lawyer about more than just the renewal.

    • Mary Rimachi


      • P. Marie

        Hi, Mary. It was a 90 day notice to move out. I’ve been here over a year, so in order to evict me, they would have to give me 60 day notice with “just cause”, meaning they have to give good reasoning to give me the boot. 90 notices to move don’t require “just cause”.
        By the way, I spoke to a lawyer with fair housing. They violated a few federal laws. And giving me that lease, but then mailing me a 90 day notice the same day as they gave me the lease IS considered retaliatory action. Plus trying to charge me “nonrefundable pet fees” after I notified them of their status as companion animals and sent in required documentation.
        We’re going to file formal complaints with fair housing / hud, and some other stuff they suggested. Good news? The LL/prop mgmnt can be compelled to go to classes to learn about these laws, how to do non-discrimination housing etc. This is REALLY good for any future tenants and the owners. Educating them about this will help all involved. :)

        • Mary Rimachi

          Under CIVIL CODE 1942.5 a a LL may not obtain possession if a tenant has made a complaint to an offical agency regarding tentability isssues. The LL is prohibited from filing a UD actionf for 180 days from the date the complaint was lodged and when the LL had notice of the complaint.Sect. 8 tenants are entitled to a pre-eviction hearing and if you live in a rent controlled property LL must pay tenants PRIOR 2 ANY EVICTION FOR NO CAUSE RELOCATION COSTS.

  • Terri

    Can I give my tenant staying in my granny flat a 30 day notice to leave? It is a furnished unit and month to month. The tenant is depressed and may have suicidal tendancies and was just released from a short hospital stay. It is affecting me wondering about him. Otherwise pays rent on time and quiet.
    What should I do?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Terri,

      As with all month-to-month leases, a Landlord is required to give 30 days notice from the date rent is due. (Civ. Code §§ 1946). No reason (or no-cause) is needed to terminate the lease – that’s why it’s called a month-to-month.

      Please know that I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t consider this as legal advice.

  • LaKersha

    My LL (since 12/5/14) just asked if I would move to another unit so they could remodel the one I’m in. Can I refuse? I really don’t want to move.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi LaKersha,

      It’s nice to meet you.

      Generally speaking, unless your existing lease grants them the right to relocate you, then you have the right to refuse – especially if it’s just decor updates. With that said, if there is a repair that needs to happen to insure the quality of the unit, then you should comply with the request. For example, if the bathroom floor is rotten and needs to be replaced so the tub doesn’t fall through the floor.

      You could always refuse, but keep in mind, if you are in a month-to-month agreement, the landlord might just terminate your lease, and then proceed with the renovations anyway. If you become a problem for the landlord, he/she will probably not renew your lease when it expires, and then do the renovations then. By holding your ground, you will likely not get a renewal offer.

      I hope that helps you make a decision. Please know that this is not legal advice, and I am not a lawyer.

  • Nitin Jindal

    Thanks LL for quick replies. Another question

    I served my tenant a revised 3 day notice on 13th Jan by regular mail, registered post and in person(only asking for rent). On 19th Jan, She texted back that the rent is on the way and she also send me copy of money orders receipts.

    Today is 29th Jan and I haven’t received anything. She is blaming it on Postal department and only willing to pay for Feb rent next week.

    She gave 1.5 months of security deposit and that covers her rent till 14th Feb.

    Should I file eviction case tomorrow? What should I do?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Nitin,

      Yes, I think she is lying to you. If I were you, I would file for eviction immediately. When doing so, make sure you don’t accept any more rent from her, and that you bring proof of the 3-day notice with you when you go to file the eviction.

      I would be surprised if she actually attempts to pay you for february. The past is the best predictor of the future.

  • EN

    I’m trying to find out what constitutes a legal apartment in CA (Marin County).
    Does each unit have to have a unique mailing address (unit # etc.)? If not, would it mean the unit is an illegal unit?

    • Mary Rimachi

      An apartment, is part of the property which is subject to the law. What determines if a unit/apt/ or space you occupy ha a CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY for the Occupancy “USE”. If you have a oFFice in a building it is only “legal” for office “USE” AND CANNOT BE “USED” for a rental to tenants as a residential dwelling.
      Another determinant of what is :lega: is the nature of the property.If itis a single family dwelling, or a condo (having title) duplez, etc. In L.A. Calif. the agency where this info is provided is the Dept. of Bldg. & Safety.

      They also determine if a apt. is legal if it is up to Code or not (SAFETY ISSUES, CONSTRUCTION OR STRUCTURAL DEFECTS ETC.)

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi EN,

      Mary is correct. Typically it’s the Certificate of Occupancy. But that is only awarded after you file for the license, get an inspection, and pay a fee. Contact your local housing authority to see what the requirements are to get a COO.

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