California Rental Laws

Written on April 22, 2013 by , updated on September 10, 2017

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

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
  • 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 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.

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2,042 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Larry

    I am leasing a home (8 years) and now the owners want to sell. They have given us 60 day notice and now there agent wants to have open houses and place lock box and have other agents come in and virtually interrupt our day. What rights do we have as we have always been on time on our lease. Since they have given us 60 days can we tell them to wait until we move or we are at their mercy

  • Tami Davis

    Do you still have to pay taxes on rental income if you rent to family? Do you still have to follow all the laws if you’re renting to family? Can you just kick the family member out without an eviction notice or in case of violence a restraining order?

  • bon

    The tenant asked to move in the middle of the month and also ask for pay the rent just per day she occupied, though the agreement is rent per month. Can I reject this request and ask her pay the full month rent?

    Thanks,

    • Mary

      If the tenant received keys mid month, you can only charge for those days. You cannot charge for days the tenant did not occupy. Pro-rate for that month and full each following month – unless you have it agreed upon and in writing.

  • Ana

    When we move in the carpet was dirty, walls, many other around the house, once was professional clean but was unoccupied, the owner was coming to the house with his dog many times staying in the house, when we moved we had to clean even the carpet because was dog hair, we did wrote this in email and pictures to the property managment, now we need to move out because the owner moving in, they asking us to have professional carpet cleaning, we think that isn’t right because the situation with the dirty house, they very aware with all this situation.
    What is our right?

    • Mary

      You are to return the home in the same or better condition than when you received it. If the carpet was not clean when you moved in, you really shouldn’t have to have it cleaned when you move out. If you have documentation/pictures, that works in your favor.

  • Maria Jacobs

    My 6 month lease was up in june, 3 days after i paid my rent the owner said he wants to sell the home. It will go up for sale in August. I have 6 kids.
    I only took the 6 month lease because he said lets give it a trail and she how you keep up the property then we will lease for longer. I told him i was looking for 3yrs or more. And he said good. Now im stuck with no money for a new rental. What do i do?

    • Mary

      He must provide you with proper notices, but he can sell if he wants to. I’m sorry your going through this. Make sure the home is in the same or better condition than when you received it to get your deposit back. Maybe you can talk to him to see if he can help you out in that regard.

  • Kelly

    Is a landlord legally able to charge for their time if they personally complete repairs for damage done by a tenant? If so, what is considered to be a fair and reasonable hourly rate to deduct from the tenant’s security deposit? Thank you.

  • Jul

    In San Diego, CA. A multiple owner partnership in apartments , can one owner be the legal landlord/ property manager on leases without the other partners names and signatures on the leases.

    • Mary

      How is title held? When I write leases in property management, my agreement gives me the authority to sign for them, however I typically have the owners sign – however title is written. What does your agreement with your partners say?

  • Liz

    Hello,

    My landlord just made significant cosmetic repairs to my rental that will prevent me from having full access to the house for 30 days. Am I entitled to a discount in rent due to the inconvenience? None of the repairs were required. Also, workers and contractors were showing up as early as 5:30 AM to start work – yes, it we had hot weather forecasted but they also then took a 2 hour lunch…. I am in CA ….

  • Kelly

    I have rented my house for 15 years. Owners are selling and I just found out it sold today. After 15 years, do I get interest on my deposit? Also, stated in my lease, the landlords were suppose to pay for the water, they never did. Do they have to pay me back from the 2003 – 2017 water bill. Thanks for your help.

    • Mary

      I don’t think California is a state where interest builds on security deposits. You may want to check the Department of Consumer Affairs (landlord tenant section) or an attorney.
      If you knew the lease said landlord pays for water, why did you pay for all these years?

      • Duane and Robert Beach-Barrow

        Whether or not your landlord has to pay you interest on your Security Deposit depends on the city/county/state you live in. Check with your local Fair Housing Counsel or whatever state agency administers Tenant/Landlord issues. As to the water bills, you would have to sue the landlords, but a judge will ask you for proof of the landlord’s name on the bill, the bill amounts, the amounts you paid, and your lease that spells out who pays for what.

  • Jason Lopes

    We are renting a house when we moved in the central air condontioning worked now it has broke down we have 3 children under the age of 7. Land lord said she can not have it fixed because she dose not have the money to have it done. And will not lower our rent. I had to go and pay $700.00 for a swap cooler for the window and she will not take it out of our rent. Is this legal for her and property managment company to do. They are saying yes it is even though it was not our fault the unit broke down the unit is from the 60’s no joke.

  • Debb

    Was living on a 10ac. property caretaking in exchange for rent for over 2yrs. On July 2 received a text from owner with pic of notice of change in terms attached stating as of Aug 1 rent is $400 and we must pay electric for well to have water & water about 30 trees of theirs. Is any of this legal?

    • Mary

      If the terms of your original agreement are up then he can change the terms with proper notification. If the contract is still in force and not month-to-month then he is still bound to the terms.
      Review your contract.

  • Brittney

    Sacramento, CA- My grandma owns her home and her boyfriend is occupying a bedroom, paying no rent, ultilites or food. She has asked him to leave on multiple occasions but he has refused. What rights does she have now? What legal actions should she take? I also have a strange feeling he might he verbally and physically abusing her.

  • Duane and Robert Beach-Barrow

    We began renting a condominium on 10/1/2016, for $954/month, and paid a $2000 Deposit and First Months Rent, even tho we did not take possession until October 15th. The landlord notified us that when the lease renews on 10/1/2017, the rent will increase to $1000/month. We are planning to move on 10/1/2018. The unit has Grey Wall-To-Wall carpet on all floors except the kitchen that is at least 10 years old. When we move out next year, are we required to have the carpet cleaned? The carpet was professionally cleaned before we moved in.

    • Mary

      You are typically required to return the unit in as good or better condition than when you received it. Since the carpet was cleaned when you moved in, you should have it cleaned when you move out. Save the receipt.

  • James

    I’m living w my parents for last year so no contract but I’ve paid in checks and over paid when they asked for money all in checks . I even paid my moms bail when she was arrested. There been issues n now they say I have to leave in 3 days . I’m California anything I can do ? Asap please help my backs to a wall. Thanks in advance

  • Jackie

    I have a tenant that allowed his gf to move in with him without our permission…she started receiving mail at the house which I believe establishes recidancey How do I get her off of my property.?

    • Mary

      If she’s not on the lease and the lease has requirements regarding unauthorized tenants you could serve a cure or quit notice.

  • Marie

    I have family members living in my rental. I am not charging them rent and have never charged them rent. They came out to stay with my brother to help one another but stayed with him for several years over original 6 months. I never charged rent. During this time I moved them from one of my other properties to this one because of my brothers condition and needing a wheelchair. My brother passed this last October but allowed his adult kids to stay to help prepare for their move and heal from their loss. When I mentioned selling in 6 months- I got a little push back. As we get closer to Jan, it might get ugly. If so can I follow the California rules for eviction without a rental agreement?

  • Allen

    If i have month to month lease but the landlord selling his place.. The day of rent, i was at work and wasnt home…so when i got back later that day, i was greeted with a 60 day notice… A few days go by and he texts me that the reason he gave me the notice was because he plan on selling… Aslo he mentions that im late paying rent…i told him i was gonna pay on rent day(he left 60 day notice, but he never came by or called…anyways he comes by again asking for rent…im confused and say if if i pay the rent then i might be short on first and last for new spot…anyways long story short… He tries kicking me out a week to two before time, and today i get thenotice of unlawful detainer eviction… What should or can i do

    • Christine McMillan

      Alan, I am in the same boat. If I don’t pay them at least 1300.00 of the 2600.00 for the two months they are filing an eviction today. And, I have my Mother that is disabled. There is no way I can pay that and be out on time. What do I do???

    • Mary

      You can try to talk to your landlords to make arrangements. 60-day notice or not, you have to pay rent.

  • JEN

    ilive in an apartment complex and a couple of month ago there was a note on my door saying they were going to do some repairs so i made sure i was going to have someone at my place so when they showed up someone would be there for them,they never came.just the other day i notice someone was in my apartment i ask around the complex and was told yes they were in my apartment.i was upset because there was no work order left letting me know.The next day i went to the front office and ask why wasn’t i notified someone was coming in she said they went in on friday,but my door was work on monday.The next day i get a warning note on my door for having a small bbq pit my kitchen in a corner. it’s small i can carry it. i been told they do that alot.

  • Mary

    My nephew is living with us and his “problem child girlfriend” but my husband wants them out on Friday. They said we have to give them 30 days because they have mail here. Is this true? Is there nothing we can do?

  • Angie

    My mom has a tenant that is an older woman, she has become a hoarder and keeps bringing trash and other items to the rental. My mother has made attempts to get the woman’s children to help with the situation ( the children no longer live at home) including her youngest daughter who recently moved out about 6 months ago. They have made no attempts to help. The youngest also comes by randomly to steal recyclables from her mother while she’s at work. Not sure what legal action we can take since her kids ignore my mother’s attempts to contact and her youngest still get mail here. You advice is appreciated. Thank you.

  • Michael Fine

    In California, I had a guest become a tenant. After they choose to move out, how long is it until they lose their rights to be a “tenant” under California law.

  • rich

    I have a one year lease with a fixed end date. After that date, do I need to renew the lease or does it automatically become a month to month agreement with all the same terms and conditions of the original lease? I live in Ca.

    Please advise…

    thanks!

  • Yaroslav

    Hello, сan I rent an apartment and retake it in short-term lease to others?

  • Renee Tousant

    My month-to-month tenant gave me a two days notice and moved out September 2, 2017 and has rent paid until September 18, 2017. She kept the the house and gate key as well as the parking sticker. She asked for her deposit back and was told she will not receive her deposit until she does her walk-through and returns the keys as well as the parking sticker. She was also told she is technically still living here since she still has the keys even though she has removed her belongings from my home.
    She has two packages arriving in the mail at my house this week and wants to pick them up at some point in the near future.
    Since she moved out, can I legally change the locks before September 18? Any legal advice would help.

    Thank you!

    Renee

    • Mary

      You may want to ask an attorney, but if she hasn’t returned keys I would think she’s still a tenant. You could post a 14 day notice of belief of abandonment and change the locks at the ends of that period if there is no response.

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