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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2,413 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Carole and James Weling

    Glendale just passed a retroactive law that freezes rent for three months. — Without any notice to the tenants or the landlord. All tenants paid the new rent. Then a notice came and twp weeks after the notice was received and the rent due the tenants –went back to their old rent.

    Question — is the city of Glendale allowed to have a retroactive law without any due process notice. Even the notice that was given during the holidays had no date. Thanks.

  • Alberto Villescas

    My mom is an older property owner that has not been able to research all the new laws concerning rental property in Los Angeles because she needs a paper copy please help me get it to her Aurora Del Toro, 7847 Birchcrest Road, Downey, CA 90240

  • richard ray

    i was renting a room.the landlord showed up one day and said i had to move out now.i told him thats not the way it works so he called the police. the police came and determined i did live there and told the landlord the proper eviction process. a week later, the landlord and owner showed up with a crew of workers and told me i had to get all my stuff out now because they were boarding and locking up the house.i was forced to move all my property to the driveway and when i returned with a truck to take it it was all gone. my whole life…tools,furnitre,electronics,pictures,…..even my sisters ashes were gone!!! what can i do and is there any lawyers who would help me pro bono?

    • Mary

      You definitely need to go and speak with an attorney – sounds like several violations. Many will give you an initial consultation. I wouldn’t know how to find one that is pro bono, but in many cases they will take a cut if you win.

  • Alex

    I have a tenant that has lived in the apartment for 15 years, but their teen brought a Husky puppy about 4 years ago.
    Now its a grown dog and I am concern about Liability of the dog biting since there are other tenants with kids in the property.
    Am I withing the law to ask the tenant for Liability insurance for the dog, if yes what is a good liability amount? (The property is in North Hollywood Rent control)

    Thank you

    • Mary

      Yes. Send a change in terms notification (with prior notification time) requiring a pet agreement as well as renter’s insurance with the dog included on that policy as well as listing you as the additional interest. $100,000 liability is fairly standard.

  • frank maschkowski

    A lodger at my homeshare just told me ‘in a week to week I am not allowed to request a $150 deposit and last week totalling $300 in california.

    Is this true for any type of rental?

    I am trying to help mothers that are in a financial bind that can not afford a first and last month deposit.

  • karen

    I live in a 2 bedroom, my son is moving out. Can I continue to stay in the unit if I show I qualify to meet the rent rate qualifications?

    Karen

    • Mary

      Depends on your agreement. It’s something you will need to work out with your landlord. It may be a simple addendum or they may have other ideas.

  • Kenneth Reeves

    As a co-signor the Landlord is requesting:

    – my social security number,
    – passport ID number
    – drivers license ID
    – recent Tax Return
    – W9 (three months) and
    – two months of bank statements.

    Is this “normal” for Landlord to request from co-signors?

    The landlord is not a company only an individual(s) that own a few properties.

    • Mary

      It seems a little excessive – many times it’s ID, SS, income verification, credit/background check, but all landlords are different.

      • Jay

        This seems to be the norm in the bay area now… not only can they charge high application fees and rents, they can basically steal your whole identity…

  • Dave dwoskin

    CAN I limit # of tenants to only those named on lease & crédit checked. If another tenant is sneaked in -can I raise rent?

    • Mary

      You can/should limit the residents to those named on the lease. Every person 18+ should be named on the lease. The number of minors should be listed as such. You seem to have a couple of options with an additional resident. Either serve a cure or quit to have the unauthorized resident vacate or have them go through the application process and amend the lease to add the person if all parties agree to all the new terms which could include a rent increase for the additional resident.
      You cannot just raise rent while a lease is in affect- only if the initial term has expired and it’s month-to-month.

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