California Rental Laws

Written by on April 22, 2013

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.

This research and information is current as of April 22, 2013

Official Rules and Regulations


Security Deposit:

  • Security Deposit Maximum: Two months’ rent for unfurnished dwellings; 3 months’ rent if furnished dwellings. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5 and 1940.5g)
  • Security Deposit Interest: No state-wide statute, but 15 (or so) localities have rent control ordinances that require you to pay interest, including Los Angeles. (reference)
  • Separate Security Deposit Bank Account: No Statute
  • Pet Deposits and Additional Non-Refundable Fees: Not Allowed (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5m)
  • Deadline for Returning Security Deposit: 21 days (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5g)
  • Security Deposit can be Withheld: (handbook)
    • For unpaid rent;
    • For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in;
    • For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests; and
    • If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.
  • Require Written Description/Itemized List of Damages and Charges: Yes. Receipts and documentation not needed to accompany the itemized list of repairs if repairs and cleaning cost less than $126. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5g 4A)
  • Record Keeping of Deposit Withholdings: No Statute
  • Failure to Comply: A bad faith claim or retention by a landlord may subject the landlord to statutory damages of up to twice the amount of the security, in addition to actual damages. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5(l))

Lease, Rent & Fees:

  • Rent is Due: Unless there is a contract to the contrary, and the lease is for less than one year, rent is due at the end of the month. Most leases state that rent is due at the beginning of the month. (Civ. Code §§ 1947) and (Civ. Code §§ 1962)
  • Payment Methods: Landlord must allow at least one form of payment that is neither cash nor electronic funds transfer, unless tenant has had an insuffienct 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: 30 days notice if ALL of the following are true: (Civ. Code §§ 1946.1) (handbook)
    1. The landlord has contracted to sell the rental unit to another person who intends to occupy it for at least a year after the tenancy ends.
    2. The landlord must have opened escrow with a licensed escrow agent or real estate broker, and
    3. The landlord must have given 30-day notice no later than 120 days after opening escrow, and
    4. The landlord must not previously have given you a 30-day or 60-day notice, and
    5. The rental unit must be one that can be sold separately from any other dwelling unit. (For example, a house or a condominium can be sold separately from another dwelling unit.)
  • Notice of date/time of Move-Out Inspection: 48 hours (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5(f))
  • Eviction Notice for Nonpayment: Three days (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(2))
  • Eviction Notice for Lease Violation: Three days to remedy lease violation or landlord can file eviction (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(3)). Landlord can also terminate the lease for subletting without permission or illegal activity on the premise. (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(4))
  • Required Notice before Entry: 24 hours (Civ. Code §§ 1954a)
  • Entry Allowed with Notice for Maintenance and Repairs (non-emergency): 24 hours (Civ. Code §§ 1954a)
  • Emergency Entry Allowed without Notice: Yes (Civ. Code §§ 1954b)
  • Entry Allowed During Tenant’s Extended Absence: No (Civ. Code §§ 1954)
  • Notice to Tenants for Pesticide Use: No Statute
  • Lockouts Allowed: No (Civ. Code §§ 789.3b(1))
  • Utility Shut-offs Allowed: No (Civ. Code §§ 789.3a)

Disclosures and Miscellaneous Notes:

  • Landlord Must Accept First Qualified Applicant – The 2012 Fair Housing Handbook of California says on page 24, “The landlord should take the time to check out the information and make a selection based on the first qualified applicant(s),” although there is no statute to support this. It’s recommended but not law.
  • Copy of Lease: Provide a copy of the rental agreement or lease to the tenant within 15 days of its execution by the tenant. (Civ. Code §§ 1962(4))
  • Utilities: Landlord must disclose if utilities that service tenant’s unit also service other areas (such as common foyers), and disclose the manner in which costs will be fairly divided up. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.9) Landlord must also provide a formula for dividing up utilities when utilities are split among multiple tenants.
  • San Francisco Utilities: Landlords must provide heat that can maintain a room temperature of 68 degrees. This level of heat must be provided for at least 13 hours, specifically from 5-11 AM and 3-10 PM.
  • Move-In Condition: Landlord is not required to provide a Move-In Condition Checklist for the Tenants to complete. However, it is recommended and extremely helpful should you ever go to court over physical damages to the dwelling.
  • Mold: Landlord must disclose, prior to lease signing, knowledge of any mold in the dwelling that exceeds safety limits or poses a health concern.  Landlord must distribute a State Department of Health Services consumer handbook. (Health & Safety Code §§ 26147)
  • Demolishment: If a landlord or agent has applied for a permit to demolish a rental unit, the landlord must provide written notice to prospective tenants before accepting any money. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.6)
  • Ordinances: Landlord must disclose the locations of former ordinances in the neighborhood. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.7)
  • Sexual Offenders: Landlords are required to include the following language in the lease:
     “Notice: Pursuant to Section 290.46 of the Penal Code, information about specified registered sex offenders is made available to the public via an Internet Web site maintained by the Department of Justice at Depending on an offender’s criminal history, this information will include either the address at which the offender resides or the community of residence and zip code in which he or she resides.” (Civ. Code §§ 2079.10a)
  • Pests Disclosures: At lease signing, Landlord must disclose any pests control contracts or disclosures received by pest control companies.  If the premise is being treated for pests, landlord must disclose the pesticides used and their active ingredients, and any warnings associated with them.  (Civ. Code §§ 1940.8, and Business and Professional Code §§ 8538)
  • Smoking: If the landlord limits or prohibits smoking, landlord must include a clause that specifies the areas on or in the premise where smoking is prohibited. (Civ. Code §§ 1947.5)
  • Proof of Domestic Violence Status: Landlord is entitled to proof/documentation of domestic violence status of the tenant if the tenant claims they are a victim. (Civ. Code §§ 1941.5, 1941.6, 1941.7)
  • Locks: Landlords must change the locks if requested by a domestic violence victim and proof of court order is given. (Civ. Code §§ 1941.5 and 1941.6)
  • Special Treatment: A victim may terminate a lease with 30 days notice and proof of victim status. (Civ. Code §§ 1941.7) A landlord cannot end or refuse to renew a tenancy based upon the fact that tenant or a member of tenant’s household is a victim of a documented act of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. (Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161.3)
  • Abandoned Property: The rules are lengthy and specific, please read Civ. Code §§ 1965, 1980 to 1991.
  • Retaliation: Landlord must not terminate 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) 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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1,514 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Rachel

    My parents recently purchased property which I solely occupy and we agreed on obtaining a roommate for the spare room. The room has been rented for a year now at $700. She signed a lease with me only, and I want to start a rent increase. She has always been month-to-month and I want to increase her rent to the max. What can that amount be? How much notice do I give her? 60 days?

    Also, by early next year we wish not to have the room rented anymore. What steps do I, we need to take? Do I give her 60 days notice now, 11/30?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Rachel

      The max is typically what the market will allow, unless you are in a rent control area. Don’t try to increase the room to 1500 if it will actually only rent for 1100 on the open market. Check out the link to the statute on rent increase in the article above.

  • Anna Melillo

    My tenant gave notice on 10/18 that she’d move out end of November. She is paid through Nov.30. I rented the unit starting Dec. 1 based on her move out date. Then she moved Nov. 15 and left the keys. She now wants the remainder of the last half of the month claiming she gave 30 days notice. I think she is liable as I held the unit for her through her initial move out date and the new tenant made plans accordingly and can’t move in early. What do you advise?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Anna

      If she were my tenant, I would not give back any rent. Her original notice was for the end of Nov. period. I can’t regain that time lost, nor can she change her mind and expect to get money back.

  • Rebecca Norris

    Hi there!

    We gave our tenant a 60 day notice to vacate on October 28th and have only just heard from her today, November 18th. She is saying she will be moving out Dec 1st. Everything I have read says that Dec rent is still due but my husband is worried about upsetting her. I like to stick to the law and have been a landlord for 12 years. How best to handle a situation like this?

    Thanks so much!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Rebecca,

      Dec rent is ABSOLUTELY DUE since she didn’t respond with a 30 day notice! The tenant can’t just decide move out whenever and expect you to refund the money or for her to not pay.

      With that said, you should try to find a replacement as soon as possible, and refund her the overlap rent. But even if she were to give you official 30 day notice today (nov 18), the earliest she could be released from her responsibility is Dec 18. See what I mean?

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Dennis Socha

    My ex wife was staying in the house I was sole owner of during divorce and separation and the mortgage payments to the bank directly. She informed me she was going to quit paying rent and stay there until the bank took the house back or filed foreclosure. She lived there for 13 months and failed to pay $1690 per month for a total of $21,970. She challenged me to evict my children and basically held me hostage over the issue. When she moved out she used the money she saved to buy the house she now lives in.

    I have held off any action to preserve my relationship with my children, the youngest of whom is turning 18 in December and graduating high school in May 2016.

    I no longer wish to hold off on acting on this issue.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Dennis,

      Sorry to hear about the situation, but please don’t blame yourself. It sounds like she is the root of this problem.

      Since $21K is well over the Small Claims limit, you’d have to go to a higher court. For that, you’ll need a lawyer.

      Good luck to you.

      • Dennis Socha

        I don’t know how much a lawyer would cost me. Would I be better off filing the small claims maximum than paying a lawyer?

        • Lucas Hall

          I’m not sure – it would depend on the lawyer. Keep in mind, you can always roll the costs of the lawyer into the lawsuit – as “legal costs”.

          Further, you might be able to avoid all this if you tell your ex-wife: “Listen, you can either pay me $20K now (or work out a payment plan), or you can pay $40K when I win the judgement in court + legal fees. It’s your choice…”

          She just might come up with the money.

  • Angelo R

    I have a question, I’m a tenant, sole renter for a privately owned apt. Complex, I’m currently renting a 2 bedroom apt by myself, is there a state law on how many tenants are allowed in a certain sized apt complex? Also what would be the legal requirements besides odviously talking to the landlord to go about adding a roommate or two, to my current lease? Also my landlord is lacking on upkeep of the complex, what can i do if my landlord goes months without fixing an issue that i continously keep reporting to them? Should i get a building inspector involved or do i have the right to stop paying rent in CA until they decide to fix the issue

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Angela,

      Occupancy rules are set at the county level. The most common rule that I’ve seen is two people per bedroom, but it really can vary quite a bit. You’ll have to check your local county code enforcement office to find out.

      With that said, a tenant is generally not allowed to let someone move-in without the landlord’s permission. Most leases have strict rules on that, and it could be a lease violation if you move in an unauthorized tenant.

      Whether or not a landlord has to fix a problem depends on the severity of the issue, and if it reducing usability or habitability. If you think the repair issue affects habitability, then you certainly could contact the local housing authority or code enforcement office.

      Check the statutes above re: rent withholding (it’s up there). Sometimes you can, but I recommend you talk to a lawyer first. If you withhold rent for something small like a leaky faucet, you might cause your lease to get terminated.

      Good luck. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Monica

    By law do you need a co to rent. My landlord never got one and is now trying to throw me out. I just fixed the whole apartment up and now says he wants to sell. Does my security deposit need to be on a bank account also. Not sure the laws here thanks

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Monica,

      CO laws are determined at the county-level. You’d have to check with your local county government to see if a special CO is required to be a rental.

      The state laws on security deposits are mentioned in the first section of this article.

  • Tony G

    I have a California tenant who has indicated they will be breaking the lease early – without cause. I have tried to work out an agreement where they pay some of the remaining rent and I forgive some. They did not acknowledge my offer. They texted me that they will be moving out this week. They said they have changed the locks which is a violation of the lease and not previously disclosed. If they leave their keys for me and inform me they have vacated the house can I legally retake possession and re-rent the house when possible? Also, their rent is paid through the end of the month so they would be leaving before their current month’s rent is done. Would this be considered an abandonment or a surrender? Thank you

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Tony,

      All I can say is that if the tenant informs me that they are moved-out, and left the keys, then I would certainly retake possession, change the locks, and try to find a replacement. I would have the proof needed to assume that they aren’t coming back.

      After I got settled with a new tenant, I would settle up the security deposit with the old tenant, and then file a small claims lawsuit if he still owed me a bunch of money.

      You wouldn’t have to give back any rent unless they gave proper notice – which they didn’t. The day they move out is irrelevant. The only day that matters is the official last day of their lease or the day that a new tenant starts paying rent. If the new tenant starts paying rent before the month is up, then yes, I would refund any overlap (assuming you don’t have other expenses caused by the abandonment).

      Good luck to you. I hope this helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Kelly in Cali

    Im trying to mail “security” deposit to former tenant. He Keeps texting to “come by” and pick it up. Ive asked for forward address 3 times. Wont give one.
    I know him, and if I do that he will be a day late and I will wait around and waste a day, I know him. Plus, I just want to move on. I told him the law was 21 days, but it would only take me probably 10 days. He was texting me after 4 days. So far he wont give me a mailing address, I just want to move on.
    Also I’ve told him to put in a change of address, but he insisted he won’t be getting any mail here. He’s been gone for six days hes got two pieces of mail, from when he had emergency surgery. I don’t wanna start getting collection agency mail, cause that may be where its headed.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kelly

      That’s a tough situation. He’s acting that way because he feels like he can.

      I think you just need to be tough with him. If I were in your shoes, I would say that I only return deposits via certified mail. He has to have some where you can send it – even if it’s just a friend or family members house. Then, he’ll be the one to wait around for the postman. You can even give him a tracking number for the letter.

      But if you did want to give it to him in person (just to be done with this), be sure to have him sign a receipt that shows he said “this deposit is settlement in full, without recourse”.

      I hope this helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Sheakia Rolland

    I’ve been in my rental for six years now wanted to know if the carpet is considered normal wear and tear i was going to ask the landlord to replace the carpet i clean the carpet every six months but its starting to buckle and tear i think it’s cheap carpet will i have to replace the carpet or are they obligated

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