California Rental Laws

Written on April 22, 2013 by , updated on March 2, 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)
  • 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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2,248 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Patricia

    The tenant I agreed to have for 6 weeks only is now upset that I am mentioning the fact that the end date is firm and I expect her to do as agreed. I feel that she lied to get in house and had no intention of honoring our agreement although I cannot prove it. I am sick about this. Now she says I am harassing her, that I didn’t disclose in my ad about the fact that I use marijuana for pain relief (only once) and a litany of other complaints chiefly that I am violating the Implied Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment & Failure to Disclose. She wrote a notice as evidence that I was making things up, delineated her complaints and indicated I was violating her rights as a tenant and that I failed to disclose important information. Am I vulnerable?

  • Angie

    The new owners of my building (LA County) posted a notice on everyone’s door that electrical panels are being replaced inside each unit and all residents AND their pets MUST be out of our homes from 8:30am to 6:00pm every day for 7 business days. No compensation or rent reduction was offered. I have pets and children – can they legally require this? I’m still waiting to hear back from an adjuster from my Renters Insurance but wanted to know if this type of expectation is legal? The notice says “upgrades are being done” and “electrical panels are being replaced”. There is no verbiage of it being a “necessity” or “repair”. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

    • Gail

      If the panels are failing then it is necessary. What I don’t understand is why it is taking 7 days. They should be able to switch those out in 1 -2 days. They are making the repair during your work hours. So as long as they are not being put out of your home overnight I don’t believe rental compensation is required. You have to understand that your landlord is trying to make important repairs for your comfort. It is important to give equally ~ tenant and landlord, to make an amiable environment. Sometimes tenants think landlords are banks and that just isn’t true. Maybe some are, but it is not the majority . Entitlement society is wearing a lot of good decent people down that are just trying to help others. Be free to talk to mgmt or owner

  • Kathleen Graham

    I have been renting a room located at 424 W. Elm Street in Oxnard CA. The owner is now asking us to vacate the premises on 06/15/2018 and has mentioned something about cash for keys in the amount of 1500 please help

    • Mary

      I wish I knew all of the ins and outs of renting a room. I would think proper notice would have needed to be given, but that could explain the cash for keys. $1500 sounds enticing. There are some sites to help you find a room for rent in that area like trulia.co

  • Peter E Harter

    Can a prospective landlord require the prospective tenant to purchase insurance to cover possible future damages to his property?

    • Mary

      I require my tenants to have renter’s insurance. It’s inexpensive ($12-$20 per month) and protects the renter and landlord.

  • Bri

    I have trouble with my apartment building manager, she gave my personal Num. to the maintenance guy because I complained about he coming after the hours noted to do his fixings. He yelled and hang up on me. The manager also called to accused us of having bed bugs because we had our carpets cleaned professionally. I sent an email to a main manager, but he just gave me lame excuses. I told him about the false accusations of “bed bugs” in my appt. He explained to me that there was bed bug sighting in another unit and so that is why she was asking, but failed to send letters out to any tenants. (Which is a lie otherwise they would’ve sent out letters.) I need help, we don’t feel comfortable and feel singled out. Please give us advice. Thanks

    • Mary

      What exactly is the problem? Do you have actual maintenance requests? Or trying to file complaints? Sounds like maybe your differences in personalities are making for less than friendly interactions.

      • Bri

        He was just suppose to change smoke detectors. The apart. Manager is unprofessional instead of letting him know not to come after Noted he’s. she gave him my # so he and I can figure it out. The manager also told 2 men to go to my mothers house to change lightbulbs w/o notice. My mom didn’t want to let them in because she’d never seen them before but they wouldn’t leave until she did. I told the manager and she ignore me.The maintenance man was already acting like a jerk, one of the pipes was leaking onto my car, i him let him know if he can please fix it, he told me to move my car in a rude way. Even though I had told him several different times. These people just think they can treat people how they want since we’re the renters.

        • Bri

          I meant after noted hours. So he was suppose to come from 8-3 and came around 4:30. I was already at work menacing he needs to come another day and that’s not ok, because I have to be at home avail from 8-3 again when he should’ve finished that day. So it’s not like I’m complaining I think it’s reasonable for me to be upset.

        • Bri

          I meant after noted hours. So he was suppose to come from 8-3 and came around 4:30. I was already at work meaning he needs to come another day and that’s not ok, because I have to be at home avail from 8-3 again when he should’ve finished that day. So it’s not like I’m complaining I think it’s reasonable for me to be upset.

          • Mary

            Sounds like they’re just rude and unreliable. That’s unfortunate. However, there is no real recourse for rudeness, except for telling management- who doesn’t seem to care. I understand your mom’s apprehensiveness to not letting strangers in. Why are they changing lightbulbs? Maybe you should change them for her.

  • Bill

    Our landlord presented us with a 15% rent increase of on June 2nd, 2018 for July 1st , 2018. California Civil Code 827b states (paraphrased) for a rent increase of 10% or less, 30 days notice is required, more than 10%, 60 day notice is required. He is clearly in violation of 827b. July 1st isin’t even 30 days.

    My question is where do I report the violation? I can’t locate any definite resources anywhere. Thank you in advance.

  • Joan

    I’m a new owner just take over a 4-plex apartment, and I gave the existing tenents the House Rules Addendum, and ask them to sign and return by deadline. But one tenant is very incorporated, and didn’t return the sign copy for two weeks now. What should I do?

    Thanks.
    Joan

  • Michael

    I have a verbal agreement that her brother that’s a know gang member cannot live in the building after years of abiding by the agreement she decide to allow him to stay. Do I have a legal right to serve an eviction

    • Mary

      If he was not on the lease and is not a visitor then it would appear she is breaking her lease by having unauthorized residents. Hopefully you have a written lease agreement. Verbals are binding, but hard to prove. Always get it in writing.

  • Jeannie

    Pet Rent: 1. rental agreement does not state pet rent specifically, but additional rent of $X; does this count as “regular” rent for purposes of rent increases? Or should it be considered Pet Rent?
    2. If rental agreement does not specify one way or the other, can landlord charge pet or additional rent?

    • Mary

      I’m not sure that California allows for “pet rent”. (You May want to check with an attorney). Pet deposits are ok as long as it is refundable (all deposits must be refundable) and within the legal limits. 2 times rent for unfurnished. If the pet is a registered service animal then no additional deposit can be charged.
      The lease should flat out say the rent amount due and when.

  • Lori

    Hi, I have a daughter that is a college student. She and two other girls , which are also college students have rented a condo. Two of the girls signed the lease on 6/22/18 and the other girl signed on 6/26/18. Today is the 15th day and they have yet to receive a copy of the lease. Have emailed numerous times and spoke to. Still no lease. Also our third girl had to email the prop mang company to get the lease to her so she could sign. What is their legal right? They do not know how much they need to pay when the move in or remember what they had to signed off on.

    • Mary

      They are definitely entitled to a copy. Have one of the girls go to the PM in person and request a copy. If they don’t provide one the have them formally write a letter and send it certified mail.

  • Annie

    Our AC unit was out two days then fixed but then went out again, and now needs to be replaced. A (not really working) portable AC unit was delivered but only made the apt hotter. It will now roughly be 7 days with no AC, hoping it gets fixed in a few days. Since this utility is out of service and no real useable option is being provided, can we get a rent credit, roughly for the days that we did not have AC.
    It’s during a heat wave and no options of being put into a hotel at the apt expense and renters does not cover it. The treatment from the maintenance team has been rude, and the property manager has been very hostile. I have been in the apt for over 7 years with a few property managers and maintenance crew and its never been like this

    • Mary

      I’m not an attorney, but Cooling is not required in California. However, in some areas where the temps are regularly above 100 sustained then it could be considered habitability. You say heat wave – what are the temps during the day?

      • Annie

        It’s been a week now with no ac and it’s roughly 90s in the apt. Other disturbing issues have come up. The handy man was caught taking video in my apt by my sister. And I brought up that a washing machine has been broken for over 6 months and was then immediately fixed. There was also a massive mess in the gym for over a week and once I put that almg in my complaint it was cleaned up. I feel there is negelgence from management and it’s never been like this.

        • Mary

          Sounds like they are no longer good at taking care of the place. What is the temperature where you live – not just inside your apartment.

          • Annie

            Temp is currently 90
            This is the 3rd property manager this building has had and it’s never been this bad.
            I’m supposed to talk to her in Redon after work tomorrow

  • Chuck Huggins

    Some of the information in this post is obsolete. California Civil Code 1946 now states that a landlord must provide a 60 day notice period to a tenant who has been residing at the property for more than a year. The 30 Day notice period still applies to those tenants who have been residing at the property for one year or less.

  • Danny

    Can a landlord raise the rent in a rent-controlled unit if one of the tenants moves out, and a new one comes in? These tenants have occupied the 2-bdrm unit for 8 years and are month-to-month. They’d like to switch one one roommate for another in one of the rooms but keep the terms of the lease the same.

  • MJ

    I live in a studio apartment which should be a one bedroom but the landlord locked me out of the bedroom.

    I’m about to get married, my spouse would like to live here at least 6 months of the year (he’s overseas) but my lease says only 1 person occupancy. I cannot find what the laws about this are here. San Francisco said it can be 2 people to a studio.

    I would request occupancy for him but they already ignored my requests to extend my lease and they’ve been retaliatory since purchasing the building, trying to tenants to move out, taking me to court twice (I won).

    • Mary

      If your lease says that you are the only one to be residing in the unit then you will need to get approval from you landlord to have him added to the lease.

      • MJ

        Thank you, Mary.

        What I’m interested in are State loop-holes/occupancy rights when it specifically concerns a spouse because not all lease verbiage is compliant with state law. I just found a few things for California, one of which said if a landlord doesn’t respond in 14 days, legally, it’s considered an approval. Another says a landlord is required to accept a spouse unless they cannot meet financial obligations (unlikely since the original tenant obviously did) and can’t pass the background check.

        I wasn’t finding specific information from the RSO tenant guide so I’m turning to State Law.

        • Mary

          You said getting married right? I wonder if it could be a discrimination thing? (You would have to check with an attorney to know for sure). He can pass a credit/background check to their guidelines? Be sure to send your request via registered mail you you receive a delivery receipt. Be sure to keep written records and copies of everything.

          • MJ

            Thank you, Mary.

            He’ll pass a BG check. My rent is super cheap which is why I fight to keep this place. That’s why I learn the law and quote it in letters. I’ll send it registered but not mention the 14 days.

            Re: Max. Occupancy
            The law I saw said something like it’s overruled by federal law that landlords can’t use it against a family which we would then be.

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