California Rental Laws

Last updated on July 12, 2016 by

Join RHA.orgThis 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


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: 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:

  • 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 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 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) 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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1,662 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Linda

    I had called the sheriff because my landlady was entering my place when I wasn’t there, when they came out they ran my name and found a warrant for me from 3 years ago. I went to jail for 20 days and when I got out I couldnt return to my place because she already rented it out and she wouldnt return my belongings, she said I owed her money but it wasnt money from rent that she said I owed. So I had no place to live, no clothes, none of my things. Can she do this?

    Thank you

  • Chet

    Hi – I have rented out a ground-floor condo in CA and recently we had a leak from the ceiling in the bathroom due to a plumbing problem from upstairs unit. The HOA is looking into the problem and has asked my tenant to not shower in that bathroom for two days. The tenant is asking to prorate the rent for 2 days for this reason. Is this fair and legal? It’s not my negligence or fault that the leak happened. I will be deficient of funds to pay mortgage if I were to prorate. Please advise.

    • Brian

      You own the property and are responsible for any repairs and you should prorate or get the tenant a isn’t unfair to you but not being able to shower in your own home is bite the bullet

  • Al Gonzalez

    My privacy was violated by my tenant. My USB drive was missing from my room, I saw what looked like mine in his laptop. didn’t think it was mine until I went to my room to check. It was gone from the spot I know it was at, 2 days later it showed up on that exact spot. I asked him and he said yes it was him and he had to barrow it to save his dissertation before it got lost and he was on a time crunch. He said he didn’t see anything or download anything .I don’t believe him as the noise I heard his laptop making comes from downloading 32G of data vs uploading a document. I now don’t trust him in my own home. He has also now refused to clean, a rule stated on the lease or face eviction. Can I terminate his lease for these reasons? live in CA

  • ashley

    i moved into my home in february its been almost six months. i put all bills in my name in february. ive been here with my four kids since and never had an issue. today a woman and the police showed up saying shes owned the house since january and i need to be out by this saturday. this woman recently knocked on my door asking for my landlord said it was an old friend of hers now shes here today sayin she bought the home from my landlord. she said she did this!in january. she wonte ven give me til the first. what can i do

  • Romie

    I let my homeless friend use my shed temporary i have belongings in there i made it clear sleep and get out. He has taken over i am serving him a 3 day notice can i enter my shed

  • Dustin

    Been renting a place for a year, year lease ended a couple months back. I have yet to sign the new lease but I have been paying the new renting price per month. Am I still bound to this place for another year or can I give notice of leave without penalty? Property management informed me that I can’t leave without penalty. Doesn’t seem right since I haven’t signed paper documents let me know if I’m wrong…

  • Phil

    Landlords can charge pep deposits. It can’t equal more than the amount of first and last month’s rent. (They can also still require first month of rent even if the deposit is equal to the first/last month.) So this article is wrong about the pet deposit and probably has misled a lot of people. As long as the total deposit doesn’t equal first and last month’s rent (and your actual first month’s rent has to be paid along with that) they can have itemized deposits.

    If your rent is $500/month. They can charge you $1000 plus $500 to walk into the door. That $1000 can be itemized. Which is what a pet deposit would be part of so you can have a pet deposit as long as the total deposit is no more than twice the rent.

  • Shelbi

    The property management company of my apartment complex has agreed to release us from our lease. We have been discussing this process via email. I asked them to email the paperwork regarding our early release and they responded saying that our emailing is record of our agreement. Should there be paperwork for us to sign? I feel like having no paper work and just emails is not a smart idea.

    • Q

      I’d get it on paper because it’d release both parties from eventual obligation that may arise in the future. Even if the e-mail could be proof of your agreement, it may not sever any legal obligation towards your landlord or vise versa. It’s the professional thing to do.

  • Zhee

    Hi Lucas,
    I have a question. I’ve been living in my apartment for over 4 years. After 5 months I started paying the rent late along with late fees my manager was very ok with this, being that my work keeps me away sometimes for up to 21 days.
    All of the sudden she gives me a 60 day notice to move out, when I tried talking to her and told her I had made arrangements for someone to go by and pay my rent on time, she , and I quote “No way you have to move out, I’ve already collected a deposits and the new tenants are ready to move in.”.
    Then she said don’t call, don’t knock on my door , don’t approach me, I want no contact with or from you.
    I am never home,, I’ve had absolutely zero issues since day one, is she on her right doing this?

  • Kim

    We have a TRO against our neighbors for 6 months – we also have court declarations (5) complaining about the noise/parties from other tenants here and surrounding neighbors, (which is a violation of our ‘quiet enjoyment)’. We have put security cameras up with our landlord’s consent. Now our neighbors landlord has started showing up at our property taking photos.. sending letters to our landlord accusing us of harassing her tenants and trying to evict us. She refuses to evict her tenants. We even have her emails in the court system now telling our landlord we should move and to leave her alone… Can we file a complaint against her?

  • mick

    I am in California-Our apartment management office tapes increase of rent notices to front doors. The info on the notice includes First/last name apartment number of tenant their previous rent amount and the increase/due date. The wind blew my upstairs neighbor’s notice to my porch and assuming it was blown off my door, I picked it up and read it. It was not in an envelope, just a paper which was taped to the door. Is this kind of action a violation of tenants privacy, identity, or personal information. All this info is available to anyone picking up a piece of paper. His info is none of anyone’s business and I fear mine will be floating around soon with this reckless practice. Is my landlord breaking the law?

  • paul

    I have tenant that we are wanting to update the carpet to both our benefit. we provied a work schedule and estimate for the time to be finished. we have provided a hotel and food allowance of 75 dollars a day. the hotel is about 9 miles from unit but closer to her work. the company we hired will move around her items and cover up everything that could get dust. (we re changing out carpet to a wood like tile.) she says she does not trust anyone we hire to mover her things. she says she has asthma and wants to hire a restoration company and choose a different hotel at our expense. the hotel we picked is equal to the one bedroom condo. aaa approved. what else can we do. its promised the unit will be returned as before, clean and neat. thankyou

    • Q

      It doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. I’d probably let her know that if she wants the stuff moved by another company and a different hotel, she’d have to cover the difference. If she agrees, then draft up two contracts on a computer, both sign it and keep one each.

  • chrisiden

    i just sold my home recently for under market value in return that i Lease out the mother in law unit on property for fixed rent of 500 dollars for Two years.
    so now after three months the new owner has decided to flip the house and has a potential buyer who wants to buy it but wants me to leave.
    my two year lease is fixed, not month to month and i am even paying half the utility bills that are still in my name because i am handicapped and senior citizen.
    so my question is can the new owner evict me because he wants the home and my unit for his family???
    i read something about cash for keys at another site and make up the difference of what a similar unit would cost in the area minus the rent i pay currently.
    whats my options if any?

  • Sam

    I applied to move into apartment were my friend stays. In Leasing office manager asking me for the valid USA id, i dont have any driving license or State ID. I have an valid other country passport and ssn. But he is denying to move into apartment without valid US government issued id.
    So we can’t get home anywhere in USA without the valid USA ID card?

  • Terri

    My unit had a water leak while my tenant was away. The damage is severe and will take about 3 weeks. I will prorate the rent, but it won’t cover alternate accommodations, but that’s all my insurance will pay for. Am I obligated to cover the cost?

    Thank you

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