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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1,638 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Louisa Campagna

    I see in the above article written in 2013 that although the 2012 Fair Housing Handbook of California recommends a landlord accept the first qualified applicant it is not law. Is this still the case? I’ve been told by a fellow landlord that we are now required by law to take the first qualified applicant.

  • Wilson Sy

    To Whom It May Concern,

    Please advise if tenant has lived in the house for more than 5 years, when he moved out, can landlord to charge him partial of painting fee? Or nothing? Thank you for your quick reply.

    Wilson Sy

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Wilson,

      Since the average paint job really only last 5 years or so, the paint that’s there has probably used up it’s normal life expectancy. In that way, even if it’s scuffed up, it has no value for you to claim damages against. However, if there are massive holes in the walls, then you could certainly force the tenant to pay for those to get fixed.

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

  • Valerie


    What is the notice requirement to evict a tenant who had a lease agreement but it was up in Sept and has lived on a month to month since then? I, the owner, am recently divorced and I am going to move into the home.

  • Fred

    I have a tenant that has been at the same location for many years (+20yrs). Can the security deposit be increased? If yes how much can it be increased and/or are their any laws or regulations I need to follow in regards to security deposit increases such as how days of notification needed etc.?
    Original security deposit was only $400.00

  • Fred

    I have a tenant in California that has been at the same location for many years (+20yrs). Can the security deposit be increased? If yes how much can it be increased and/or are their any laws or regulations I need to follow in regards to security deposit increases such as how days of notification needed etc.?
    Original security deposit was only $400.00

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Fred,

      Generally speaking, a 1 month’s deposit is the standard. When the rent increases, the deposit should be increased too. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll create a gap in the deposit which won’t cover 1 month’s rent.

      As with any rent increases or lease changes, they can only happen at renewal time. If you have a month-to-month tenant, then generally only 30 days notice is needed. Check the links to the statutes above, and please know that I’m not a lawyer.

  • Mindy Jo Cruz

    Can a landlord post a notice to charge $60 per person, to a tentant for allowing their guest to swim while visiting? No written agreements were passed out nor signed. No one but the tenants shall swim.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mindy,

      I don’t know. Generally all fines need to be posted or stated in the lease. Your situation is very specific to you, and only a lawyer can really tell you if it’s legal.

  • Elfreda Strydom

    I have water damage to my property due to a broken pipe. Once repairs starting the place will become inhabitable. Tenant is requesting that I (landlord) relocate her and pay for the costs until the unit is repaired. Can I give this tenant notice and terminate the lease?

  • Josh

    I think you should clarify the “Notice to Terminate Lease due to Sale of Property” section. It says that 30 days notice is required to terminate a lease if the landlord is selling the property to someone who intends to occupy it.

    In 1941.6, that provision for 30 day notice is written out as an exception to the normally required 60 day notice to terminate a lease to a tenant who has occupied the dwelling for a year or more.

    I think you should make clear that a landlord cannot use the sale of the property to terminate a longer-term lease before that lease expires.

  • julie


  • Frank G

    My property manager will rent my house to a group of students. I’d prefer not to have a house share situation but I’m told I have no choice, legally. The parents will be on the lease as well which is how the students are qualifying. Am I legally required to rent to those who want to house share?

  • Maria

    Please HELP ME I REALLY NEED HELP this manager is driving Me CRAZY PLEASE HELP

  • accident attorney

    There is noticeably a bundle to find out about this. I assume you made certain good points in options also.

  • Brian From Richmond, CA

    I was in the process of selling my vacant rental when squatters moved in! I called the cops and the squatters provided a fake lease and the cops came to the conclusion that they were “scammed” into giving a deposit and moving into a vacant rental (although there was a For Sale sign present at the property). They moved in middle of June and it has been a month now. During that time, I had served them a 3-day notice to quit, then an unlawful detainer. The named persons on the lease have been served. There are also unnamed occupants in the property and their 10-day notice to answer expires next Wednesday on 7/20. I plan to file a default judgment and the writ of possession on Thursday, 7/21. Is there anything else I am missing here?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Brian

      Sorry to hear about the squatters! Eviction procedures do vary from county to county so if I were you:
      1. I’d ask the court clerk if there were any other steps you missed
      2. Or talk to a lawyer in your county

      Good luck, I hope it goes smoothly and quickly for you.

      • Brian From Richmond, CA

        Thank you Lucas. I will check with the county clerk this coming Thursday.

        In the meantime, I told my story to a local property manager (who will remain unnamed). He said that since they are squatters and probably don’t have money to file complaints to the city, that I should just turn off the utilities (power and water) and report the property to the City Building Code Enforcers (I think that’s the proper name). Since the property is not habitable (no power and water) it is therefore a condemned property, and the police can be called in to remove them from the premises. Is that something I can do?

        I feel so violated at the moment that these people are in my property and are using my resources for free. I just want them to leave. :(

  • Karen mulder

    I am living with my sister in law and family. I paid $600.00 for rent and $200.00 for bills. She want me out of the room within 2 months I don’t have that kind of money to paid rent and paid for apartments. So did decide not to paid any rent so I can move. I have no Private went I go to the bathroom because the bathroom door is broken like 3months now. What is my rights I live in ca.

  • ruth davis

    if there is 2 owners on a rental property can just one of them sign a legal eviction or do they both have to sign the eviction

  • Phillip Eng

    I have a studio apartment on my property that I would like to rent out. It is located over the garage, detached from my house.

    The property is zoned R1. The city records indicate that it was built in 1984. It is not considered to be a property under the RSO (rent stabilization ordinance of Los Angeles).

    Do I have to register with the Housing Department to legally be able to rent the studio apartment out?

  • Paul

    My Girlfriend has lived in the house for 10 years. The landlord is selling the property on escrow and the realtor gave us a 60 day notice today, that starts the same day of notice is this legal. Since we have 60 days to move is she required to continue paying rent or can she hold onto her money for another place to rent?

  • Paul

    My Girlfriend has lived in Ca in the same house for 10 years. The landlord is selling the property on escrow and the realtor gave us a 60 day notice today, that starts the same day of notice is this legal. Since we have 60 days to move is she required to continue paying rent or can she hold onto her money for another place to rent?

  • Andrea


    I was served an unlawful detainer last night. I was never served or mailed a three day notice to quit or pay rent. When I asked leasing agent about that she lied and said she had a copy that the 3 day notice was posted on my door. I am answering the lawsuit with a UD-105, stating i was never given the three day notice properly. Do you think this will help me ? I tried to pay rent and they tacked on another 860.00 to my rent. I cannot come up with all the money needed to pay their fees. Any thoughts?

    Thank You!


  • Chelsea

    I need help with an issue. My family and I just moved into a top floor apartment almost two months ago, and we have 3 children between the ages of 6-9. We received a complaint from our downstairs neighbors that we are too loud, so we did everything possible to make sure we keep noise levels down and was told by management a couple weeks later that we have made a huge improvement. Well now, the complaints are starting again. The problem is it is summer and 100 degrees outside so we spend most of the days inside. Now the lady below us is banging a broom or something on her ceiling. I just have a feeling we are going to get another notice. Did I mention that it is 4pm. The lease says res noise levels are 24 hours….Can they legally evict us?

  • Rishi Arya

    My lease states we are allowed guests for 14 days total (not consecutive) for the term of our one year agreement. Is this legal? I’ve heard it has to be a certain number of CONSECUTIVE days from other people with their lease agreements.

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