California Rental Laws

Written on April 22, 2013 by , updated on October 5, 2018

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.

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
  • 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)
  • Payment Methods: Landlord must allow at least one form of payment that is neither cash nor electronic funds transfer, unless tenant has had an insufficient funds payment, or stopped payment on a money order. Then the landlord can require payments to be paid in cash. (Civ. Code §§ 1947.3(1-2))
  • 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)
  • Application Fees: The maximum fee is adjusted each year based on changes in the Consumer Price Index since January 1, 1998. In 2012, the maximum allowable fee is $44.51 (Civ. Code §§ 1950.6(b)). Use Cozy to avoid charging application fees because the tenant pays for the credit report directly.
  • 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). I recommend using Cozy to collect rent online to nearly eradicate late payments.
  • 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: For periodic tenancies only (example: month-to-month), 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.)

    Note: A landlord can only end a periodic tenancy when a property or unit is sold, and not a fixed-term tenancy that has not yet expired.

  • 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:

  • Bed Bugs:
    • A landlord shall not show, rent, or lease to a prospective tenant any vacant dwelling unit that the landlord knows has a current bed bug infestation. (Civ. Code §§ 1954.602)
    • A landlord shall provide a written notice regarding information about bed bugs, to the prospective tenant. The exact language and information can be found in Civ. Code §§ 1954.603.
    • Landlords must notify tenants about the procedure for reporting suspected infestations to the landlord. (Civ. Code §§ 1954.603 (a))
    • Landlords are required to conduct follow up treatment not only of infected units, but all surroundings until bed bugs are eliminated. (Civ. Code §§ 1954.604)
    • Landlords are required to notify tenants within two business days of receiving the pest control operator’s findings after an inspection. (Civ. Code §§ 1954.605)
  • Accepting 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 once it is developed and approved. (Health & Safety Code §§ 26147 and Civ. Code §§ 1941.7)
  • 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)
  • Ordnances: Landlord must disclose the locations of former ordnances (weapons and artillery)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) (Guide: How Landlords can Prohibit Smoking)
  • 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 14 days notice and proof of victim status. (Civ. Code §§ 1946.7(d)) 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). If a tenant has provided notice of a suspected bed bug infestation, or has made an oral complaint to the lessor regarding tenantability (Civ. Code §§ 1942.5(1)). 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.
  • Daly City requires all property managers or landlords/owners who do not live in a shared rental to get a business license (§ 5.16.050(a))

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2,373 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Thomas

    Hi.

    In December, 2017, I rented a room from someone with a curtain for a door with the verbal promise a physical door would be installed on that room within 90 days of me moving in.

    After getting nothing but excuses month after month, I finally had enough and moved out October 1st 2018; seven months past the agreed on completion date.

    I really feel that I was lied to so I would move in, and they had no intetion of ever installing the door.

    Do I have any recourse against this landlord who obviously lied to me?

    • Mary

      You moved out already? What are you wanting? If you were still there I would suggest the repair and method. Move on.

  • Ellisse Herrera

    If a landlord has a house where they rent out all the rooms. Are they allowed to charge the tenants for a monthly maid service? Also the text written notice was only given within 6 days for the amount to be paid. Is there a 30 day requirement for this? The landlord also sometimes stays on the couch and comes in without notice. The room the landlord used to occupy was recently rented out. what laws would cover these situations?

  • Alexandra

    Our tenants signed a one year lease. Three months later they verbally notified us that they are moving out and verbally agreed to pay the rent until we find other tenants. No written notice or move out date has been provided yet. The unit is not under rent control and is in a high demand area in CA. We have not increased their rent in 4 years. Are we required to advertise the unit for rent for the same amount as current lease? Or can we increase the rent? My concern is that we will have difficulty renting the unit during holiday season and our current renters will claim that it is because of the rent increase and refuse to pay the rent going forward.

    • Mary

      Does you lease specify they must provide written notice? You should request it in writing as well as an expected move out date for advertising purposes. Also request best times for them for your ability to show the unit. You can also post a 24-hour notice to enter.
      Because they are in a year lease they are held liable for rent – at their current rate, until the unit is re-rented or the lease expires (depending on what your lease says). You are not supposed to collect double rent.
      You can advertise the unit at whatever rate the market will pay – since you are not under rent control.

  • Fred

    I’m on a month to month lease. One lessee moved out and we found a new one. she said she went through the application process and signed a lease with the landlord. she moved in and has been directly paying her portion of the rent to the landlord. I have since found out she never signed a lease! If I decide to give my notice and move out do I have any legal exposure for the other person who actually never signed a lease?

  • Alex

    We have a pair of tenants in our apartment complex that have been complaining (by e-mail) about chipped, cracked linoleum flooring in their kitchen space – purportedly there are jagged edges and dirty gaps. It is a rent controlled unit in LA, and they have been there 1.5 years so far (and have been good tenants otherwise.)

    1) Am I obligated to repair this – does that qualify as circumstance were landlords are obliged to repair them (looking mostly at “well-maintained floors, etc.” clause)?
    2) Am I on the hook for the cost, or is there are way to pass the cost, in part or in full, to the tenants? If I am on the hook for the full cost, during repairs, would they be able to defer rent until it is complete?

    Thanks!

    • Mary

      Obligated? Depends I guess. Is the floor posing a safety hazard where a tenant can trip? Or is it just old and worn with some knocks and scratches? A tenant’s description and a landlords vary. With the way you describe and not seeing the floor itself – sounds like you should replace it.
      As for who pays – did the tenants damage relatively new floors? If so you could charge a pro-rated amount based on remaining useful life. If the floors are just old or poor quality and deteriorating then you’ll have to cover the cost of replacement. Install should only take half a day (if replacing with rolled vinyl). I’m not sure what your lease specifies or what rent control laws specify regarding prorating rent for these types of situations.

  • terry

    my landlord gave me a notice 10.29.2018 to enter nov.5,2018 but the notice does not state the reason to enter and there is no emergency. the code and paper 1954 is unmarked. I don’t like this because she entered in july srinklers again may for smoke alarms again in sept to inspect the unit. now she wants to come in again and the form she gave me is blank nothing marked like thee others were. she acts like she can come any time she wants. called the state in ca. told her and she said the landlady has to have a reason if nothing is marked she said I do not need to leave her in and if she trys to enter to call the police. what do you think.

    • Mary

      I’m not an attorney and you called the state for the right answer. A reason and approximate time does need to be specified. Be sure you’re present at the time of when she wants to enter and you don’t have to let her in. Try to call her and express your concerns and that notice was not served in accordance with the law.

      • terry

        hello mary, just wanted to say thank you, can she try to evict me for standing my ground by telling her she has too have a reason stated to enter on the form, if she trys I guess I should hire an attorney, right.

        • Mary

          Evict? Are you in a lease? I think she would have to give you a cure or quit for a lease violation. Are you month-to month? Then she could end your tenancy with enough notice.
          Try being cordial first. You don’t want hostility with your landlord, but you also don’t want to have them take advantage.

          • terry

            mary i am not in a lease been here for 5 years, like i said im not leaving the landlord in because the form 1954 has no markings. there are 7 windows on the form and none are marked i am exercising my rights. if she trys to evict me for this, not letting her in ill hire an attorney.

            • Mary

              I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to imply the landlord could evict you for this reason. From your description it appears that you are within your rights to not let them in. What I meant was because you are on a month-to-month, the landlord can terminate you tenancy for any reason with enough proper notification.
              Eviction and ending tenancy are two different things.

              • terry

                mary i am on a yearly lease, on the 29 when she gave me this notice, i wrote her a letter concerning this matter of what the state of ca. said to me, that i dont have to let her in if she did not state the reason on the 1954 code. i put it in her mail i even put the countys number on the letter so she could call herself. im just tired of her coming into my apartment it seems like she targets my section. shes been here 3 times since may . im 64 handycaped had 6 surgerys including open heart. i am going to talk with an attorney about this, i put this company on bbb and also yelp and posted the document. i have never been late on rent or caused trouble. i have people below me blasting music and smoking dope, told her 4 times they still do it.

  • Jon

    Hello, my question is if I have lived in a rental unit on the side of a home , does the landlord need a written eviction to evict or is a verbal eviction during a argument legal? Thank you in advance.

    • Mary

      Eviction and terminating tenancy are two different things. Notice to end tenancy must be done in writing. In a month-to-month agreement if you have lived there less than a year then 30 days notice is required. More than a year a 60-day notice is required. Eviction gets handled through the court and many times the sheriff will do the lockout when the eviction is final.

  • John

    I signed a contract with a tenant to become a subtenant to rent out one of the rooms at a 2 bedroom place. We had 3 people and the original tenant was living in the living room. It was to my knowledge that he had no source of income and I believed me and the other tenant were paying for his part of the rent as well. But since I already signed a contract under him, I had no choice to keep on paying the regular payment agreed upon. However I called him out on that issue and asked him to show me proof of payment for the entire rent he is paying. He refused and with 2 months left, I just left without paying. Couple months down the line, he acted as if he terminated the issue with the landlord, which he lied about to serve me court papers.

  • Laurie

    Mary, is there a reason my posts dated (10/2 & 10/4) have not been responded to, yet everyone else has received help? Thank you for your consideration.

    • Mary

      Well, when I have some extra time I come in and take a look. Some things get missed and some are a little more challenging that require a little research. Please keep in mind that this isn’t my site. I do however like to help people in these situations as it is the field I work.
      I’ll go back and find your comment and see if I can offer up a solution.

  • Alycia

    If I have to cancel my landlord’s pest control appointment on the day of, because I made a mistake, can they charge me a fee?

    • Mary

      I’m not sure what the law would say, but don’t most people charge a fee for last minute cancellation? It’s quite a waste of time when you schedule something and then the other party cancels last minute.

  • Luis Ruiz

    on 11-5-18 I gave my tenant, a letter of other tenant, and neighbor complaint of safety endangerment, and destroying neighbors fence and our property, because of his hoarding living style. gave him until 12-1-18 to remedy problem. After that do I give 30day or 60day eviction notice?

    • Mary

      If the notice to Cure or Quit was served properly then the tenancy can be terminated. 60-day if they have resided over a year. Eviction is for the court. It’s a lengthy and costly. You can serve notice to end tenancy and get all your paperwork together for eviction. If they don’t vacate before the end of the notice you can proceed easily with eviction. You may want to consult an eviction attorney.

  • Seth Mellott

    Hello,
    Can a landlord charge me a break lease fee equal to the amount left on my lease? I understand they must try to lease the property, that minimizes the impact to me, but my land lord wants to charge me a flat fee (with no refund if they find someone to lease the place to before my old lease expires).

    • Mary

      What does your lease say? If it says there’s a flat fee – then that’s the penalty. If it’s charging rent then they can charge rent until it re-rents or the lease expires.

  • Lauren

    my fiancé & I just relocated to LA 2 months ago & we are having problems w landlord. neighbors told us he was an irrational addict that allows his drug buddy to squat in one of the units. Squatter is a concern of safety and told landlord someone is living w us (not true) but do have a friend over regularly. landlord has started to harass us via texts and is profane and vulgar. He is trying to enforce no guests (in a private unit) & recind use of attached yard as punishment but yard is part of the lease. Does he have this right? Guests are not outlined in the lease, or long they can stay. We are quiet, working stiffs, so noise issues, etc. w friend. His bipolar behavior came as a response to a maintenance call for no hot water & tub flood

    • Mary

      Wow. You have a lot going on there. I don’t see how a landlord can bar you from having guests. If a yard is included in the lease you should have to right to enjoy it. A landlord can not ‘punish’ you for acts he doesn’t like. He can serve you notice to cure or quit for lease violations including residents not on the lease (which is not a guest). If there truly is an unauthorized person trespassing in one of the units call the police. If the landlord allows him to be there then there may not be much you can do. His use of profanity does not violate anything but if you think it is harassment, it could be a police matter. If you feel unsafe you should consult an attorney to maybe find a way out of your lease.

  • Christina

    I am scheduled for a sheriff lock out in a few day but I have to be at work that day , I intend to have everything out of the apartment by then, is there any reason I need to be present for the lock out ?

    • Mary

      I’m not positive, I don’t think you have to be there but why did you let it get to lockout? Just don’t expect to get back into the unit once the sheriff has been there.

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