In California, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, California varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. California law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in California
Landlord Responsibilities. Landlords in California are responsible for providing a wide variety of amenities to their tenants, as well as maintaining those same amenities over the course of a lease agreement. Among others, these landlords must provide the following in order for a unit to be considered legally habitable:
- Windows (with security) and doors (with deadbolts)
- Waterproofed walls and roofs
- Hot and cold water
- HVAC equipment
- Gas lines and fixtures (as needed)
- Sanitation facilities
- Trash cans (for routine garbage removal services)
- Safe stairs and railings
- Safe floors
- Accessible fire exits
- Smoke detectors
- A locking mailbox
- Wiring for one phone jack
- Necessary disclosures relating to the presence of hazardous materials such as lead-based paint and asbestos
Generally speaking, these habitability rules apply to single and multi-family dwellings as well as long-term residents of hotels and motels. Also, mobile homes and RV parks share similar provisions under a separate set of rules.
If a requested repair to one of these above amenities is not deemed an emergency, a landlord in California has a “reasonable” amount of time (interpreted as 30 days) to fix the problem. However, in emergency situations, a landlord must act to make the repair with regards to the harm that might come to tenants if the issue is not resolved swiftly.
Tenant Responsibilities. Tenants in California are responsible for keeping their unit clean, according to their landlord’s standards. They may be asked to clean their rented space if it is seen as a hazard or an impediment by the landlord in question. Tenants then have 3 days to address the requested action or face a notice to vacate.
When it comes to repairs, tenants in California are given the power to act with some degree of independence. For example, if a requested repair (in writing, digitally, or over the phone) is not made in a “reasonable” amount of time, the effected tenant may make the repair on their own before deducting the associated cost from a future rent payment. Alternatively, this same tenant can withhold rent until their landlord acts to make the repair in a satisfactory manner.
Evictions in California
In California, landlords may choose to evict a tenant if they engage in one of the following negative behaviors or actions:
- Nonpayment of rent – Following the standard rent payment period, landlords in California are able to serve a 3-day notice to pay rent to non-compliant tenants. Those that still refuse to pay after the 3 day period may receive a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer, at the landlord’s discretion.
- Violation of lease terms – If a tenant certifiably violates a term of their lease, a landlord may issue a 3-day notice to cure relating to the issues. If the tenant fails to rectify the issue at hand, the landlord may formalize their intent to evict them via a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer.
- Illegal Acts – California does not enumerate specific illegal acts that justify eviction. However, landlords that chose to use this as a justification for eviction may do so only after serving the tenant in question with a 3-day unconditional quit notice. If the tenant remains on the property after the 3 days pass, they may continue on with the rest of the formal eviction process.
Evictions without a lease. California bases its rules for providing notice of eviction based upon how long the tenant has rented from the landlord without a formal lease in place. If the tenant is merely renting month-to-month, for example, they are entitled to 30 days of prior notice describing the landlord’s intent to evict them. However, after renting for over a year in this manner, a tenant becomes entitled to 60 days of prior notice.
Illegal Evictions. California allows tenants to withhold rent in order to gain leverage for a variety of grievances against their landlord. This includes assertions of discrimination based upon the following traits on the landlord’s part:
- Place of origin,
- Familial or marital status
- Disability or medical health issues
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Gender expression
Landlords in California can also not evict a tenant as an act of retaliation, specifically if the tenant in question reported a health or safety code violation previously.
Security Deposits in California
In California, tenants receive the following protections when it comes to the payment, maintenance, and use of security deposits:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – California maintains two different statutory limits for the value of a security deposit. Unfurnished property security deposits cannot exceed 2 months’ rent in value, while a furnished property cannot exceed 3 months’ rent in value. This amount does not include any advanced rent that a tenant may wish to pay, up to 6 months in total.
- Interest – While California as a state does not require landlords to pay interest on security deposits, some 15 rent-controlled cities across the state do. Some cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, even dictate the interest rate that must be paid annually.
- Time Limit for Return – Landlords in California have 21 days to return all or part of held security deposits to a former tenant. This payment can be provided in person or by mail but must include an itemized list of repairs if deductions are necessary.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – Landlords in California who fail to return a security deposit within the 21 day window after the end of a lease may be required to pay up to twice the deposits value, plus damages, if the tenant presses the issue legally.
- Allowable Deductions – Deductions may be made by a landlord operating in California for any of the following reasons:
- Cover unpaid rent
- Cover cost of damages that go beyond regular “wear and tear”
- Cover cleaning costs
- Cover future debts incurred by restoring a rental unit to its original state
Lease Termination in California
Notice Requirements. Under regular, non-disputed circumstances, landlords in California are required to provide advance notice of their intentions to terminate a tenant’s lease. Specifically, the state requires that the landlord provide the following amounts of prior notice based upon the length of the tenant’s rental periods:
- Week-to-week – 7 days’ notice is required.
- Month-to-month – 30 days’ notice is required.
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. In most cases, tenants in California are able to legally break their lease early by utilizing an early termination clause within their lease agreement. However, if such a provision is not viable or is not present in the tenant’s lease, they can pursue one of these alternative justifications for terminating their lease early:
- Active Military Duty – federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – California provides a wide range of specifications that without which a rental unit may be deemed “uninhabitable.” Should any of these landlord responsibilities fall by the wayside or fail to be corrected after making a proper request, a tenant may begin to legally break off their lease.
- Landlord Harassment – If their landlord routinely violates the 24-hour prior notice requirement relating to entry, then a tenant in California may have grounds to terminate their lease. These tenants may also assert landlord harassment as grounds for breaking the lease if the landlord ever changes their locks unilaterally or shuts off their utilities without cause.
If a tenant in California is successful in breaking their lease early, they may still be required to pay rent on the property until a new tenant can be found to take over the lease. Landlords in California are required to pursue this type of re-renting in a “reasonable” manner. If they are successful, said landlord must credit rent received from the new tenant to cover their former tenant’s debts on this front.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in California
Rent Increases. California requires different amounts of notice to be provided to tenants in advance of an unscheduled rent increase. These notice amounts are as follows:
- 30 days, if the rent increase is valued at less than 10% of the lowest amount of rent from the past 12 months
- 60 days, if the rent increase is valued at greater than 10% of the lowest amount of rent from the past 12 months
Landlords in California need not provide a specific reason for their rent increase. That being said, a California landlord cannot increase their tenant’s rent as a form of retaliation for exercising their legal rights, which includes (but is not limited to) reporting a perceived health/safety code violation or joining a tenants organization. This same prohibition on raising rent without justifiable cause also applies to matters of explicit or implicit discrimination.
California is home to numerous communities that maintain rent control policies that supersede the state’s requirements for rationalizing rent increases and providing prior notice. Each city’s policies are unique, though, so be sure to check with your local housing authority or city hall if you live in one of these cities and want to know more about rent control and renter protections in your area:
- Beverly Hills
- East Palo Alto
- Los Angeles
- Los Gatos
- Mountain View
- Palm Springs
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- San Jose
- Santa Monica
- Thousand Oaks
- Union City
- West Hollywood
Also, starting January 1, 2020, California as a whole will be subject to certain rent control-type policies as AB 1482, the Tenant Protection Act, comes into force. Among other factors, this statewide law caps rent increases based upon inflation rates and better established jurisdictions for local rent control. More information about this new law and its several provisions can be found here.
Rent related fees. California law generally allows for late fees of a “reasonable” amount to be charged to tenants who fail to pay their rent on time. However, these fees are usually only enforceable if they are written into the lease, specifically.
With regards to charging “bounced check” fees, California landlords have two primary options. They can either charge their bank’s processing cost as a “fee” passed on to the tenant or charge a flat rate, which itself must start at $25 for the first occurrence and then can rise to $35 for each successive occurrence.
Also, all types of rent related fees are subject to local rent control statutes. Be sure to check with your city’s local provisions before instituting a new rent related fee or paying the same.
Housing Discrimination in California
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. California protects a wide number of individuals from housing discrimination under its current statutory code. Specifically, individuals in the following groups may be able to seek recourse through the state for any number of discriminatory practices:
- Ancestry or national origin
- Citizenship status
- Mental or physical disability
- Familial status
- Gender identity or gender expression
- Genetic information
- Immigration status
- Marital status
- Military and Veteran Status
- Primary language
- Race or color
- Sex or gender
- Sexual orientation
- Source of income
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. California enumerates a broad number of housing practices or actions that may be seen as discriminatory by the state’s regulatory authorities. Though not exhaustive, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, in practice, prohibits these following activities when they are being used to exclude a state or federally protected class of people:
- Refusal to sell, rent, lease, or negotiate rooms, apartments, condos or houses
- Representation that a housing accommodation is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when it is in fact available
- Cancelling or terminating a sale or rental agreement
- Instituting policies, practices, terms, or conditions that result in unequal access to housing or housing-related services
- Offering inferior terms, conditions, privileges, facilities or services in connection with the housing accommodation
- Refusing to permit, at a disabled tenant’s expense, reasonable modifications when necessary to accommodate a disability
- Maintaining overly restrictive rules limiting the activities of daily life for families with children, including where children are allowed to play
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in California
Included here are a few more categorical types of regulations that many landlords and tenants in California must keep in mind while maintaining their leasing relationship.
Landlord Entry. Landlords in California are only allowed to enter an occupied unit if they have provided the leased tenant with notice of their intent 24 hours in advance. While California’s statutory code does not specify how this notice must be delivered (in writing, digitally, or over the phone), it does note that this 24 hour rule applies to almost all types of non-emergency entry (including for maintenance purposes).
Also, California landlords are still able to enter a leased unit at any time for emergency reasons.
Small Claims Court. California empowers its landlords and tenants to resolve their disputes civilly through their small claims court system. To that end, tenants and landlords can bring cases (except evictions) for damages or payments amounting to $10,000 per case. However, landlords can only file cases amounting to $2,500 or more twice in a single year.
Mandatory Disclosures. Landlords in California must be prepared to provide their tenants with several types of mandatory disclosures prior to initiating their lease. These include the following:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Bed bugs. Landlords must provide written information about bed bugs to all new tenants, using language specified in Civ. Code §§ 1954.603. Among other details, this documentation must describe the appropriate procedure for reporting suspected bed bug infestations, as well as testing procedures that the landlord must take on their tenants’ behalf.
- Mold. Prior to finalizing a lease, a landlord must provide documentation about any known mold in a rented unit or the general vicinity. Landlords may also be required to distribute state-provided information guides on the same topic.
- Pests and Pesticides. Landlords are required to disclose the presence of any known pest in or around a rented unit prior to finalizing a lease with a new tenant. This includes describing which types of pesticides have been used to abate the problem.
- Common Utility Use and Payment. Landlords must disclose how utility fees paid to them are applied, both to the tenant’s own residence and to any common areas. This disclosure must detail how these costs are divided up (including the formula used to accomplish the final billed amounts).
Changing the Locks. While any action amounting to a “lockout” is prohibited, landlords in California are obliged to change a tenant’s locks under certain circumstances. Specifically, tenants who attest to being a victim of domestic abuse or sexual harassment can request a lock change at any time during their lease.
Leasing Language. Landlords and tenants in California may legally negotiate a lease or a sublease in any of the following languages:
In a situation where a prospective tenant does not speak or read English well enough to understand a lease agreement’s provisions as written, their landlord must provide them with a full translation of the same document in one of the above languages. This translation must be provided before the lease agreement is signed, even if the tenant does not request the translation outright.
Cash Rent Payment. Under regular circumstances, California forbids its landlords from requiring their tenants to pay their rent with cash. However, a landlord in California is empowered to institute such a requirement on a case-by-case basis when a tenant’s check has been dishonored or “bounced” in the last three months.
To institute such a policy, landlords must provide written notice that details why the policy is being implemented. Also, if the addition of this alternative payment method changes the provisions set forth in the original lease agreement, the landlord must provide this written notice within a certain period of days before it goes into effect (based upon the length of the lease’s rental periods).
Landlord’s Sale of a Rental Unit. In situations where a landlord sells a rental unit or building while it is still occupied under an active lease agreement, any and all tenants therein are entitled to remain until the conclusion of their lease. However, the new landlord may still ask them to move out, provided that give enough prior notice of their intent. In either case, a tenant is still entitled to the return of their security deposit at their lease’s conclusion (regardless of who acts as their landlord at that point).
Foreclosure and Notice to Quit. Under current California law, tenants are entitled to 60 days’ of advance notice to quit when their rental unit or the property it exists within has been foreclosed upon. This differs from federal standards for the same situations, which call for 90 days of advance notice when a foreclosure is finalized. As such, California currently honors the federal standard and uses it for gauging whether or not a post-foreclosure notice was provided in a timely manner.
Local Laws in California
Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.
Los Angeles Landlord Tenant Rights
LA is one of many cities in California that maintains a variety of local landlord tenant laws, including those pertaining to rent control. LA’s rent control policies only apply to buildings built after 10/01/1978, however, and currently applies to around 653,090 units across the entire city. More information on what LA’s Rent Control Ordinance covers can be found on the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department website.
San Francisco Landlord Tenant Rights
San Francisco also maintains local provisions relating to landlord tenant relations. Most notably, San Francisco’s Rent Control Ordinance (simply known as the “Rent Ordinance”) covers matters relating to when and how a tenant can be evicted, with or without cause. It also details the several reasons why and how rent can be increased on the ~ 172,400
Units covered by its jurisdiction. More info on this RSO can be found on the San Francisco Rent Board website.
San Jose Landlord Tenant Rights
San Jose is another major California city with its own local provisions relating to rent control. While these provisions only cover around 39,009 units in the city currently, they do prevent landlords over those units from increasing rent at rates higher than 8% over certain periods of time. More info on this topic can be found on the City of San Jose website.
San Diego Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of San Diego maintains a “just cause” ordinance that requires landlord to justify move out requests provided to tenants who have been part of a leasing relationship for 2 or more years. They also require a 60-day notice to be provided to these tenants, regardless of the justification used. More information can be found on the City’s Housing and Community Development Services website.
Fresno Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Fresno does not have any extra landlord-tenant laws that exceed the standards set by the state of California. However, they are notably stricter when it comes to enforcing city codes and ordinances that govern the conditions in which housing properties are maintained. This guide from the City can help landlords in particular understand the stringent legal interpretations utilized by Fresno’s Neighborhood Services unit.
Sacramento Landlord Tenant Rights
Sacramento has recently enacted a rent control ordinance, known as the Sacramento Tenant Protection and Relief Act. Its provisions cover almost rental housing in the city built before 1995 and provides protections against excessive year-to-year rate hikes. This Act also requires landlords who wish to evict a tenant to provide a justifiable reason prior to initiating the process. The Act’s specific provisions can be read here, while more information on its application can be obtained through the city of Sacramento’s website.
Long Beach Landlord Tenant Rights
Starting in the fall of 2019, the city of Long Beach instituted a “Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance” that requires landlords of multi-family rental units to “provide relocation assistance payments” to tenants displaced from their unit for a reason that was not their fault (such as a natural disaster). These payments can be valued at up to $4,500 and can also be triggered when a tenant receives notice of an impending rent rate increase of 10% or more. The details of the ordinance can be read here, while more information on its application can be read on the city of Long Beach’s website.
Oakland Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Oakland maintains its own rent control ordinance known as the Tenant Protection Act (TPA). This ordinance limits how much a tenant’s rent rate can be increased on a yearly basis using a rate based upon the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Oakland also maintains a Rent Adjustment Program (RAP) that covers other types of rental housing. The core provisions of both programs are detailed here, while the city of Oakland can be contacted for more information about how these programs are administered.
California Resources for Landlords & Tenants
There’s a lot to know if you want to be a landlord or a tenant in California that is well-informed on their rights and responsibilities. These following resources will take you beyond the basics and empower you to seek out assistance when any aspect of your landlord-tenant relationship comes into dispute.
Note: California recently passed a collection of new housing legislation that takes effect January 1, 2020. As such, many of these resources are in the process of being updated to include new provisions, particularly those relating to statewide rent control policies. Be sure to check the California Department of Housing and Community Development website on a regular basis for updated guidance on maintaining legally sound landlord-tenant relationships.
A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities – This guide, published by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, provides consumer-friendly information about how the state’s housing laws apply to both landlords and tenants. This guide covers nearly every dimension of a legal landlord-tenant relationship in the state, including before, during, and after a lease. This guide also address productive methods for problem solving, including the proper methods for carrying out evictions and requesting repairs.
California Tenant Protection Act AB 1482, Tenant Advocacy Tool Kit – This tool kit, produced by the tenant advocacy group Tenants Together, is designed to inform California tenants on their new rights under a recently passed housing regulation package. This tool kit addresses a wide variety of topics relating to these new laws, including new standards for “just cause” evictions and new restrictions on rent increases.
Rent Control Ordinances by City – This resource includes links to simple digest pages describing each of the local ordinances relating to rent control across California. Each of these linked pages includes critical information that a tenant moving to California may find useful, including what types of housing are covered by a local rent control ordinance as well as what grounds a landlord may use to raise their rent.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a landlord enter without permission in California?
Landlords in California can only enter without a tenant’s permission when an emergency situation is active. Otherwise, a California landlord must provide their tenant with at least 24 hours of prior notice to comply with the state’s privacy laws.
How much notice does a landlord have to give a tenant to move out in California?
California landlords must give differing amounts of notice when they intend for their tenants to move out. For example, tenants in week-to-week and month-to-month lease agreements must be given at least 30 days’ notice in order for a move out request to be honored. However, long-term tenants (of one year or more) or those with a fixed end date on their lease are entitled to 60 days’ notice on this front.
Is California a “landlord friendly” state?
No, California is not particularly “landlord friendly.” Instead, this “tenant friendly” state provides prospective renters with a great number of protections from unilateral landlord actions as well as discrimination, both before and during the course of a lease agreement.
What are a tenants’ rights in California?
A California tenant’s rights are numerous, especially compare to their fellow renters in other states. For example, California’s tenants have a more expansive right to equal access in housing, thus allowing more individuals to file grievances if they feel that they have been unjustly maligned during the leasing process. California tenants also have the right to withhold rent indefinitely if their landlord chooses not to fix an issue relating to their unit’s essential habitability.
Can a tenant change the locks in California?
On their own, a tenant in California cannot change their own locks. However, a landlord may change their tenants locks for a number of reasons, including if that tenant provides proof that they have been a victim of domestic abuse.