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.

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749 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Brandee

    We rented a home 6 weeks ago long distance. We have been miserable ever since. We have had nothing but problems from the day we arrived. The home has a sizable Koi pond we were never made aware of until we received the keys. Our first utility bill was almost $800. We came from a house with a pool and never had a bill this high. We are harassed by a neighbor that complains to our owner over everything from company to visiting friends with a dog, inappropriate language and so on. It is almost daily. She stands and peers through our fence and allows us no privacy. We were asked for more than 2 times the monthly rent and agree to replace all the carpet in order to keep our dog here. $1895 rent, $4150 deposit and carpet replacement. AT this point, we feel pushed to leave this lease agreement and are looking to purchase a home. Can we get out of a lease in these circumstances?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Brandee

      In order to terminate the lease, you have to prove that the landlord is violating the lease somehow, not providing a habitable place to live, or somehow failing to uphold his/her responsibilities.

      You can’t really terminate the lease because you have a bad neighbor. If anything, it sounds like you might enjoy living there more if you worked it out with your neighbor. I also realize that neighbors like that often can’t be reasoned with.

      Check out this guide on LL and Tenant responsibilities:

  • Amanda Odell

    My husband and I have been living in a house for over 5 years. It’s a friend of my husband. It was his moms house (she passed away). But the other night john (the owner) calls my husband and tells him that we need to move ASAP because he needs to sell the house. There is no formal lease, no deposit…..we have never been late on rent either. What is our rights?? Does he have to give a 30 day or longer notice??

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Generally speaking, when there is no formal written lease, it is considered a month-to-month agreement. In CA Civ. Code §§ 1946, the landlord would need to give 30 days notice to the tenant in order to terminate the agreement.

      Please know that I am not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice. Check the link to §§ 1946, and use that to guide you. I hope that helps!

  • Mary Rimachi

    If a tenant is in the unit/sfd over 1 year the notice requirement is 60 days.If the owner expires and the son initiates a eviction proceeding he has to have legal ownership of property so check with County Recorder for transfers of ownership, quit claims, deeds etc) and check California rent control cities by zip code to see if your in a rent control city. If so, then your entitled to relocation costs.

  • Mark Desa

    How long does a person, such as a former fiancee or ex boyfriend have to live in said residence to be considered a “tenant”. I am asking for a family friend who is currently dealing with an abusive ex everything and just last night it turned “physical”. I have talked to the police and they told me that if the person has lived in said residence for more than 4 years and is recieving mail at that address than that is all he needs to prove residency. My friend has recently lost her job, and to make matters worse her daughter was caught having an “affair” with said fiancee.I am trying to just get some direction in which to go. a restraining order has been filed and we are in the process of getting “eviction” notice based on the answer i may or may not get back from here.Thank you in advance to anyone who answers in this matter. Signed “A Concerned family friend.

    • Mary Rimachi

      You need to re-post with more clarity. Who is your friend, the tenant or the victim of abuse? Forget the affair and all that and get to the specifics. What is your zip code, is there a lease? Who signed the lease, who pays the rent, what does the lease say about moving in others, and who are “we” id your asking for a family friend?

  • John walker

    Hi i rented a house for almost 10 years, when I got it the house wasn’t repaired, I just moved in when the other people moved out. The owner now claims I owe him a total of $ 4400 for the repair… I feel like he is exaggerating, the sink is the one installed when the house was built n now he wants it new, n the list goes on. He wants everything new. While we lived there, he never made any remodeling, he made minor repairs but it was because we insisted alot, the fence was falling off, there was gas escaping from a house, the cealing was in bad condition because the roofing was old… He wants to sue me for his money..

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi John,

      A tenant is only responsible for damages above and beyond normal wear and tear. A tenant can’t be charged for normal usage of a sink – especially if it wasn’t new when the tenant moved in. However, a crack or broken piece of porcelain from the sink can be considered excessive damage.

      The landlord also has to consider the normal life expectancy of things. For example, if the carpet was new when you moved in, but needed to be replaced after you moved-out (10 years later), the landlord would have a hard time validating a charge to you for new carpet – simply because the carpet had lived it’s normal/useful life. Most carpets only last 5-10 years, so if the landlord had to replace the carpet, he wouldn’t be able to charge you for any of it.

      Does that make sense. This logic applies to almost any asset in the house.

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice. If I were in your shoes, I would volunteer to pay for anything that I legitimately damaged beyond normal wear and tear, but then I would be happy to go to court over the other stuff.

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer so please don’t consider this legal advice.

  • John walker

    Hope you can help thanks

  • Eddy

    Landlord rented to me without a rental agreement. Home is part of a trust where he has now designated a new trustee. The new trustee has demanded a rental application which I promptly returned incomplete. There is now a third request for a rental application, the last one was only missing our social security #s. I feel this has now become harassment. I’ve been living there for over 4 years never late on rent. Why do they want my ss#? Isn’t this invasion of privacy in California?

    • Mary Rimachi

      Normally the purpose of asking for SSN is to run a credit check PRIOR to renting. Since your in already and loyal rent payor it makes no sense for them to ask for the only purpose they can ask for, to rent/lease to you. SO, if you comply and fill out the rent app what can they do to you? Evict you?If you reside in a rent control city they are prohibited from evicting you for these reasons w/o paying you relocation costs so go online and search rent controlled cities California and plug in your zip code.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Eddy,

      Similarly to your situation, a New York Supreme Court Justice ruled that a tenant is free to decline the request to provide a SSN.

      Here’s a excerpt from this article:

      In a 17-page ruling on Feb. 28 rejecting a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a tenant who was threatened with eviction if she failed to give her Social Security number to her landlord, Justice Diane A. Lebedeff of State Supreme Court in Manhattan also said that the landlord’s claim to be entitled to the Social Security number as a condition of renewing the lease was deceptive.

      Justice Lebedeff said in her ruling that the question was whether, in a relationship between two private citizens – a landlord and a tenant – the state’s consumer protection law protected the tenant’s Social Security number from disclosure as confidential information.

      “A Social Security number is prima facie privileged information,” the justice wrote, adding that “while the privilege must give way as required by statute, regulation or court order, in ordinary circumstances, the person who holds the Social Security number appears to be free to decline disclosure.”

  • Bill Bonynge

    I moved into a rental property in July and in August my next door neighbor is undergoing a major remodel. Does the landlord have to disclose the remodel to me upon signing the lease? The noise,people and vehicles are disturbing a quality of life.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Bill

      Unless your landlord owns the unit next to you, he/she has no control over what happens over there, nor can predict it. At best, if the neighbors are doing renovations at odd hours, this is a noise complaint with your local police dept.

      • Bill Bonynge

        If the landlord knew of the construction project before we signed the lease don`t they have to disclose it prior to us signing the lease under the residential rental agreement?

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Bill,

          Maybe, but I’ve never seen a statute that requires a disclosure such as that. Though unethical, I’m not sure if it is against the law. A local lawyer would know better than I.


    HI. We just moved out of our rental house that we have been living in for almost 5 years. When we moved into our house it was not very clean…but adequate. the carpets were filthy which we cleaned our selves at move in.
    My husband and I cleaned our rental house to very excellent condition in my opinion and now our property management company wants to charge us to send someone out to reclean the house, which makes no sense especially since the house has structural damage from the earthquake and for being 30 years old and the foundation is shifting causing structural cracks in the wall. This does not seem right to me.
    what can they charge me as far as cleaning in concerned?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Sharai,

      Generally speaking, a landlord can only hold money from the deposit for damage beyond normal wear and tear. The property must be returned to the condition it was when you moved-in, minus any normal wear and tear.

      There’s not really a limit to what a landlord can charge, but rather he/she can charge for whatever damage the tenant causes beside normal wear and tear.

      I hope that helps.


        When you see items like “reasonable cleaning fees” what are they considering to be “reasonable”? Our property management company has tried to screw us over since day one and I just want to be prepared into what they are legally allowed to charge me for. They told us we had to replace all the lightbulbs and said that if there were any burnt out bulbs that there was a charge of $60. Now that seems quite wrong in my opinion.
        They are trying to get every penny from our deposit. Saying that our stove wasnt cleaned and that we needed to clean the drip pans when we in fact bought brand news ones so theres no chance that those need cleaning. We drove by the house and saw that they left all the light on so if they try chanrging me $60 per light they have another thing coming. What they are doing seems wrong.

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Sharai,

          Generally speaking, a tenant is responsible for lightbulbs. With that said, $60 does seem like a lot, but if you know about it, then it provides motivation to DIY.

          If your landlord (or mgmt. company) tries to wrongfully withhold your deposit, you can take them to small claims court. 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))

          Please know that I am not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice. It’s always wise to consult an attorney before filing legal proceedings.


    I have been renting an apartment for 9 years, with a month-to-month lease and I desperately need the apartment painted – is the landlord required to paint, or at the very least share the expense of re-painting my unit? My lease only states that I need prior written notice and approval of remodeling, paiting, etc. Please advise, thank you.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Christine

      A landlord is allowed to use his/her best judgement as to when a place needs to be painted. I’m not a lawyer but I have never seen a statute that forces a landlord to paint (apart from lead-based cases).

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