California Rental Laws

Written on April 22, 2013 by , updated on April 11, 2019

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)
  • Security Deposit Interest: No statewide statute, but 15 (or so) localities have rent control ordinances that require you to pay interest, including cities in the San Francisco Bay Area and 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) California law allows landlords to withhold a portion, or all, of a security deposit for four reasons: 1) unpaid rent; 2) to clean the rental unit after the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in; 3) to repair of damages beyond normal wear and tear, and; 4) to pay the cost of resorting or replacing furniture, furnishings, and other personal property damage beyond normal wear and tear. The lease or rental agreement must specify that the security deposit can be used to pay these costs.
  • Require Written Description/Itemized List of Damages and Charges: Yes. If repairs and cleaning costs are less than $126, receipts and documentation are not needed to accompany the itemized list. (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 deposit, 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)
  • Payment Methods: Landlord must allow the tenant to pay rent using a form of payment that is not a cash payment or an electronic funds transfer payment. If the tenant had an insufficient funds payment or a stopped payment on a money order, the landlord can then require that rent 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 notice 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: Late fees are 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. The application fee cannot exceed $30. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.6(b))
  • Prepaid Rent: The 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: The landlord can charge a fee equal to the actual bank fee or 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 the tenant cannot use this remedy more than twice in a 12-month period. (Civ. Code §§ 1942(a))
  • 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 Re-rent: 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.
  • 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: The landlord is required to give 30 days notice. The 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 is sufficient if ALL the following are true:
    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 opened an escrow account with a licensed escrow agent or real estate broker, and
    3. The landlord gives 30-day notice within 120 days of opening the escrow account, and
    4. The landlord must not previously have given the tenant 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.)(Civ. Code §§ 1946.1) (handbook)

    Note: A landlord can only end a periodic tenancy when the property or rental 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: The tenant has three days to remedy the lease violation or landlord can file eviction. If the violation has not been corrected by that time, the landlord can file for eviction. The landlord can also terminate the lease for subletting without permission or due to illegal activity happening on the premise. (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(3) and 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 any vacant dwelling unit to a prospective tenant if the landlord knows the unit 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 surrounding units 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: The landlord must 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 the 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. The landlord must also provide a formula for dividing up utilities when utilities are split among multiple tenants. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.9)
  • 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)
  • Pest Disclosures: At lease signing, the landlord must disclose any pest 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, as well as any warnings associated with them. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.8, and Business and Professional Code §§ 8538)
  • Smoking: If the landlord limits or prohibits smoking, the 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 of domestic violence. (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 the 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: Landlords may 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 statewide 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))

State agencies & regulatory bodies

Housing Authorities

Realtor and landlord/tenant associations

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2,478 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Shelly

    My now ex partner and I signed an 18 month lease for a home in Menlo Park, Ca 2 months ago. We broke up a month later and it has gotten to be quite an ugly battle. She is trying to kick me out so she can have someone else move in to help her with her business. If she can’t kick me out, she still wants an additional person to move in. We each split half the rent, even tho she has moved in her mother who is fighting cancer. I told her there will be no one else moving in to this house. What are my rights as I am paying equal rent even tho she has her mother living here and not on the lease?

  • Brittni Cook

    RENEE ELLIS SINGLETON OWNER RENATA ENTERPRISE AND ROBIN ROWLEY HAVE AND WINT STOP HARRASING ME……GREG SINGLETON AND AND ROBINS HUSBAND LEE WERE CAUGHT WITH DRUGS…LIED AND DECIDED TO TELL ROBIN I SUPPLIED THE DRUGS, WHICH IT WAS MY BROTHER AND HER BROTHER. FAST FORWARD TO HARRASSMENT…..AUGUST 2017 A CITY WATER NOTICE STATING 3 days TO PAY OR SHUT OFF APPERARED so I called Renee Ellis SINGLETON which leads me to written evidence stating to change water bill to my name AS I DID THE NEXT DAY. ROBIN ROWLEY SUED ME FOR WATER BILL BACKPAY FROM THE DAY I MOVED. AS OF TODAY SEPT. 9 2019 I WAS NOTIFIED BY CREDIT KARMA OF A COLLECTION BY ROBIN FOR $1,894… I HAVE PROOF FROM CITY OF MODESTO I SWITCHED AN PAID $200 DEPOSIT! I WANT TO SUE THEM

    • Mary

      I’m not quite sure what’s happening here. I’m not sure if you’re looking for an attorney, a police officer, or a realtor knowledgeable in property management.

  • Bruce

    Hi there All, I’ve got a unique situation here, perhaps someone can help me out. I first discovered Airbnb when I unexpectedly found myself seeking temporary housing, so I made a 3 month reservation at local residence. My host was agreeable to my wanting to stay one more month, so she wrote up a short term lease just for the month of August. Lease states security deposit is to be refunded within 48 hours of my moving out on Aug 31st. I paid $735 for 1 month’s rent plus a $250 security deposit. It’s now Sept 10 and I have yet to receive my refund. (Yes, she has my forwarding address). She also received a $150 cleaning fee from me for the Airbnb portion of my stay. With zero damage, on what basis could she possibly keep my $250 deposit?

    • Mary

      Typically landlords have 21 days to refund your deposit but having it in writing that it will only be 48 hours there is an issue. If you caused a lot of damage or there are a lot of other charges the you should at least get a security deposit disposition letter and invoices for costs. You may want to consult with an attorney.

      • Bruce

        Hi Mary, thanks for answering. I forgot to mention I’m in California. As stated in my query, no damage was done to her property at all during my entire 4 month stay there. As I see it, my host/landlady has lost her ability to tell the difference between being an Airbnb host and landlord/lady. For example, when my 30 day lease ended on 8/31, she told me to be out by 11am as a new Airbnb person was checking in at 3pm that day. If lease agreement exists, no matter the length, should I not be entitled to have entire last day to remove all my belongings and vacate premises for good? If she allowed no time at all for clean up, can she still withhold ANY part of my security deposit when she already received a $150 cleaning fee through Airbnb?

        • Mary

          I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of an air b&b. They kind of run like hotels so I get the be out by 11. I don’t know the fine print on the deposit but it sounds like she should have had it back to him you in the time she specified. You should consult with an attorney

          • Bruce

            That’s just the thing, Mary, you’re right. Typical stays at an Airbnb location are treated just like real B & B’s are, with standard check in and check out times. In my case, it did not end as an Airbnb visitor, it ended as a rent paying tenant. I was there as an Airbnb customer for only the first three months, and as such, I was required to pay her an up front $150 cleaning fee while initially making my reservation. If my check out date had been on July 31st, I most definitely would’ve had to be out by 11am, but it wasn’t. August 31st was actually my last day there because a lease agreement had been written allowing me to remain there as a rent paying tenant for only just one month, beginning August 1st. Does that help you at all??

  • Bruce

    By my paying her an up front cleaning fee of $150, I would not have been responsible for cleaning had I checked out on July 31st as an Airbnb customer, correct? But I checked out on August 31st as a rent paying tenant, not an Airbnb visitor. Tenants are required to clean up before they leave or they risk losing all or part of their security deposit. She already received a $150 cleaning fee before I even arrived there, and then she received an additional $250 security deposit from me on August 1st when I became her short term tenant. The point I’m trying to make is, regardless of what time of day I left or what condition the room was in, can she legally “double dip” by withholding my refund when she already got paid $150 cleaning fee?

    • Mary

      Well Bruce – your argument seems reasonable. Have you discussed it with your landlord? You could consult an attorney and they would be able to give you options.
      Landlords are supposed to supply invoices for security deposit charges over $126. They have to be justified in their charges.
      http://www.hcd.ca.gov/manufactured-mobile-home/mobile-home-ombudsman/docs/Tenant-Landlord.pdf

      • Bruce

        Hi Mary, thanks for the response as well as your support. I’ve been waffling how to handle my landlord. Logic says that if she agreed in writing to refund my deposit within 48 hours of my moving out (on 8/31) then she should’ve already done so, but the mere fact that I still haven’t received it tells me she’s up to no good. I was going to send her a standard form letter of demand last week, but then I thought maybe I’d be better off waiting until the standard 21 days are up as in a long term lease. With today being 9/17, I’m only 4 days away from that, so now I’m going to send her my own letter on 9/21 basically stating, since I’ve received nothing from you in the mail, please issue me a full refund or meet me in small claims court.

        • Bruce

          I forgot to answer your questions. No, I have not been in contact with her as of yet. I always feel I’m much better off keeping quiet as a mouse and wait until the 21 days are up before starting something. And no to the attorney question also simply because I cannot afford one. I’m more than familiar with the whole invoice in lieu of refund thing. The only reason I can think of as to why she feels justified in keeping my deposit would be the inconvenience I caused her by not vacating the place by 11am that day. Would that be legitimate grounds for withholding my entire deposit? How could she prove that anyway? Thanks again.

          • Mary

            I hope you can get it all worked out. Sometimes simple communication can get things worked out.

            • Bruce

              Well Mary, I ended up choosing a middle of the road approach, meaning, I still sent her a certified letter anyway, but a “nice” letter. Nice schmice, she responded by sending her own certified letter filled with all sorts of lies specifically aimed at tarnishing my reputation. She claims she did send me a letter within 2 days of my moving out as to why I wouldn’t be receiving any refund money at all, refund monies I hadn’t even asked her for. Truth is, I never received a 1st letter from her and if she hadn’t gotten the certified letter I sent her 23 days after my moving out, I never would’ve heard from her at all. So do I pass “GO” and directly on to Small Claims Court, or try to reason with her one more time B4 I do? Thank you Mary.

              • Mary

                Well, sounds like you did your best to be civil. Make sure you have your ducks in a row and all your evidence.

  • Christopher

    I’m having to break my lease and move out of state (California). My landlord must make a reasonable attempt to re-rent the unit a quickly as possible, and I am obligated to continue paying rent until it’s once again occupied. But if the landlord postpones putting the unit back on the market for a couple of weeks in order to renovate the unit, rather than making it immediately available for a new tenant, am I still responsible for the rent during the time period of the renovation in which the unit is unfit to be occupied?

  • Haley de

    My building was recently bought, and new owners reached out with following email:
    “If your lease stipulates that you require renters insurance and you do not have your own coverage, we can enroll you in our program for $12.50/month. If you have your own renters insurance, please reply to this email with a copy of your policy within 7 days.
    If proof of insurance is not submitted by 10/3/19, we will auto-enroll you in *company’s* Renter’s Liability Insurance Program.”
    Is this allowed? my lease does not stipulate that I have to have insurance, are they allowed to just enroll me, or force me to to get renters insurance? Any advice on the matter will be greatly appreciated!!!

  • Haley

    The building I live in In Oakland was recently bought, and new owners reached out with following email:
    “If your lease stipulates that you require renters insurance and you do not have your own coverage, we can enroll you in our program for $12.50/month. If you have your own renters insurance, please reply to this email with a copy of your policy within 7 days.
    If proof of insurance is not submitted by 10/3/19, we will auto-enroll you in *company’s* Renter’s Liability Insurance Program.” my lease does not stipulate that I have to have insurance, are they allowed to just enroll me, or force me to to get renters insurance? Any advice on the matter will be greatly appreciated!!!

    • Mary

      If you lease is still in affect and does not stipulate then send that to the new owner. You should really get a policy. The owner’s Insurance does not cover your belongings! I require it of all my tenants.

  • Steve

    I am going to be vacating my duplex soon. Two summers ago, I installed a ductless A/C unit for our open area style living room/kitchen, with our landlords permission. I told the landlord that I would remove the unit upon vacating the premises when the time comes. The landlord agreed.
    Now that we are leaving, I am thinking of offering the A/C unit to her for a price, taking into consideration depreciation of course. The unit works amazingly well, and cools the entire home. If the roles were reversed, I would see it as an opportunity to increase rent for the next tenant, as the vast majority of rental homes in So. CA do not have any type of air conditioning. As a landlord, would you do this?

    • Mary

      I have had several occasions where tenants have done this. When improvements are done well many landlords have been receptive and willing to pay something. Some have done negotiations, I’ve also had a few that didn’t want to pay anything. Talk to you landlord and hopefully you two can come up with a reasonable number.

  • Cecilia A Chism

    I Just moved from Texas to California. My husband rented an apartment 3 month ago. We got married a month ago. Yesterday we went to the apartments office to add me on the lease. Today I got a phone call from the apartment manager and she told me that I can not live here because I owe to another apartment complex back in Texas. The manager told me to go live with a family member until I can pay what I owe . I have no felonies , nothing on my record. I want to know if what they are doing is legal. Thanks

    • Mary

      Since your spouse already qualified in his own and is a resident it seems there is no justification to deny you. You could fight the decision. You should try to calmly reason with your landlord. If that doesn’t work you may want to speak with an attorney in the matter.

  • Carleton Fong

    My mom has a duplex in Calif that she wants to sell. What are the laws regarding notification of tenant to leave rental unit so she can sell duplex?

  • Ashley

    are pet fees allowed still in CA as long as the tenants don’t have an emotional support or an assistive animal?

    • Mary

      In terms of what? Additional deposit is ok within the legal limits. I think additional rent is ok as well.

      • ashley

        an additional monthly fee to the rent. CAA suggests not to do it, but I don’t see anything stating anywhere that it is not ok or illegal to do it

  • Lovely Soule

    My boy friend moved in with a friend under the GOING TO HELP HER GET OUT OF DEBT FRAME OF MIND .
    ITS BEEN 7 MO.NOW .THE FIRST COUPLE OF MONTHS HE PAID 350$ RENT $100 PGE AND ON THE SIDE GAVE HER 300$ A MO.TO KEEP HER BUISSNESS AFLOAT , THEN SHE LIST BUISSNESS , HIS SON CAME IN THE PIC. GAVE HER 500$ TOTAL FOR HIS OWN ROOM . NEVER HAPPENED , HE LEFT MY BOY FRIEND NOW IS BEEING ASKED TO PAY HALF OF EVERYTHING SHE OWES =$650 and she has not even paid the rent one time do we /he have any rights

    • Lonely Soule

      Also , we have repaired. Several problems but now the biggest is rodent in festation and minor rot/BLK mold , she is not even the owner , the owner has failed to pay taxes for several years and the property is getting ready to be taken by co. What are my rights, ??

      • Mary

        I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. Sounds like your boyfriend moved in with a woman and voluntarily gave her money. Also sounds like to property has maintenance issues and the possibility of being taken for failure to pay taxes. Sounds like he should have moved by now. Is he on the lease? Is there a lease? What is your role in this? What are you wanting out of this deal?

  • Lovely Soule

    Also , we have repaired. Several problems but now the biggest is rodent in festation and minor rot/BLK mold , she is not even the owner , the owner has failed to pay taxes for several years and the property is getting ready to be taken by co. What are my rights, ??

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