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

Details:

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 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 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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810 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Amy Amunategui

    Hi, I have changed my mind about renting a house in Sacramento California.

    I have seen the house once shown by the owner’s relative. I have talked to the owner only through phone, text and email. through these correspondences, we have agreed on all the terms, etc. he sent me the lease agreements and all other documents for me to sign and send back to him. I haven’t done so yet, nor have I made any payments to him. We agreed to meet on my scheduled move in date for me to give him my payments and deposits and for him to hand me the keys.

    But now I have changed my mind because I have seen a better place. Are our email and phone correspondences binding? will I have any problems getting out of the agreement? I am thinking I will not have any problems because I haven’t signed the lease nor given any form of payment, but I wanted to make sure and I am not familiar with California laws having lived in a different state all my life and have lived in my own house, not a rental, most of the time. Your advice would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Amy,

      It’s my understanding that nothing is binding until you sign the lease. Sometimes, a landlord will require a holding deposit, to take the unit off the market while you go through the application and leasing process. If you had provided that deposit, and then backed out of the deal, you would likely lose the money. However, lucky for you, you haven’t given him any money yet.

      If you’re going to change your mind, nows the time.

      With that said, I don’t live in CA, nor am I an attorney. Generally speaking, a tenant is free to change his/her mind, with no consequence, prior to signing the lease or providing any money.

      I hope that helps.

  • Karen Adams

    Hi, We rented a townhome in Sunnyvale, CA. During our move out/clean up the oven made a big poof and sparked during the self cleaning. The landlord wants us to pay for the damages/possibly new oven by withholding the amount (determined by GE repairman). Is this our problem? He owns the oven? thanks!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Karen,
      Unless you were cleaning the oven in unusual or abusive fashion any damage caused by the self-cleaning cycle would likely be considered normal wear and tear.

      Generally speaking, a landlord cannot withhold money from the deposit for normal wear and tear.

      Further even if you did break the stove, he can’t charge you the full replacement cost because he’s already used up some of the general life expectancy. He can only charge you for the years of life that you stole from the appliance by breaking it.

      Please know that these are just generalizations and not legal advice. I’m not a lawyer and if push comes to shove I suggest contacting a local attorney in your area to get legal help.

      • Karen Adams

        Thanks, well said. I felt the same way and wanted another opinion as I am too close to the situation. This is a great forum and appreciate the help. Karen

  • Donna

    What is the maximum rent a landlord can charge a tenant for a property in a 55+ community in California?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Donna,

      Unfortunately, I don’t know. However, I very much doubt that this is a state-wide rule. If such a rule even exists, it would be at the county/city level. Rent rates differ greatly from city to city, so please check with your local rent control board.

    • Mary Rimachi

      The max rent depends on if you are subject to any rent control ordinances or not. It could be market value or subject to law or ordinance. Where do you live?

  • Russ

    My tenant is pet sitting for a local vet. Can I begin eviction without 3 day notice?
    Thanks
    Russ

    • Mary Rimachi

      ABSOLUTELY NOT. 3 DAY NOTICE TO CURE OR QUIT IS WHAT YOU SERVE THEM.Unless you have a provision in the rental agreement allowing for this you would not be able to evict them based on this otherwise you can only with a three day notice.

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