A rental agreement exists in the state of California when there is an oral or written agreement to exchange rent for residing in a property. According to California law (CA Civil Code 1940-1954.05), tenants have certain rights, including the right to a habitable dwelling or due process for evictions.
Landlords also have rights, such as the right to collect rent and to collect payment for property damages that exceed normal wear and tear.
Note: These rights exist regardless of a rental agreement stating otherwise.
Landlord Responsibilities in California
California landlords are required to provide a habitable dwelling and must respond to repair requests in a “reasonable” amount of time, which is normally interpreted as 30 days (or sooner for emergency situations). If they do not, then California tenants may withhold rent or make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from future rental payments.
California landlords are responsible for providing a wide number of amenities to tenants.
|Windows and doors||Yes|
|Gas lines and fixtures||Yes|
|Trash cans and garbage removal||Yes|
|Stairs and railings||Yes|
|A locking mailbox||Yes|
|Phone jack wiring||Yes|
|Necessary disclosure of hazardous materials||Yes|
Landlords are not permitted to evict tenants in retaliation for exercising their housing rights (i.e. filing a health or safety complaint).
Tenant Responsibilities in California
Apart from paying rent in a timely manner, California tenants must:
- Keep the unit in a clean and habitable condition.
- Keep fixtures clean and sanitary.
- To use the rental unit only for living, sleeping, cooking, or dining purposes only.
- Make small repairs and maintenance.
- Not disturb other tenants or neighbors.
Evictions in California
Landlords in California are empowered to evict tenants for the following reasons:
- Nonpayment of Rent – If a tenant fails to pay rent by the due date then the landlord may serve a 3-Day Notice to Pay. If rent is still not paid after those 3 days then the landlord may file for eviction.
- Lease Violation – If a lease violation occurs then the landlord may issue a 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit. If the tenant fails to fix the issue then the landlords may file a Summons Complaint for Unlawful Detainer.
- No Lease/End of Lease – If tenants hold over or stay in the rental property after the rental term has expired, a landlord may evict a tenant. If a month-to-month tenant has lived in the rental unit for less than one year, a landlord must provide the tenant with a 30-Day Notice to Quit. If a month-to-month tenant has lived in the rental unit for a year or more, the landlord must provide the tenant with a 60-Day Notice to Quit. No notice is required if it is an expired fixed-term lease or if the rental unit is part of a job package and the tenant loses or quits their job.
- Foreclosure – If the rental property is being foreclosed upon, the tenancy shall end by giving the tenant a 90-Day Notice.
- Illegal Acts – If a landlord has documentation of illegal activity occurring in the dwelling unit, then they may file a 3-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit. If the tenant does not leave, then the landlord may pursue formal eviction. California law does not explicitly enumerate illegal activities that warrant an eviction.
It is illegal for California landlords to evict a tenant in retaliation or for discriminatory reasons.
Security Deposits in California
- Standard Limit/Maximum Amount – 2 months’ rent.
- Time Limit for Returns – 21 Days (3 weeks).
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a California landlord wrongfully withholds rent then they may be liable to pay up to twice the deposit value plus damages.
- Allowable Deductions – Unpaid rent, cleaning costs, repairs for damages that exceed normal wear and tear, fees for restoring a unit to its original state.
Lease Termination in California
Notice requirements. If a California tenant on a periodic lease wishes to terminate their lease, they must give the following amounts of notice.
|Rent Payment Frequency||Notice Needed|
Early termination. California tenants may legally break a lease early for the following reasons:
- Early termination clause
- Active military duty
- Uninhabitable unit
- Landlord harassment
California tenants who break a lease early may still be required to pay out the remainder of the lease term. California landlords are required to assist in the re-renting process in a “reasonable” manner.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in California
- Rent control. As of January 1, 2020, all of California is subject to rent control provision as outlined in AB 1483 the Tenant Protection act. This law caps rental rates based on inflation and establishes jurisdictions for local rent control. More info on this law can be found here
- Rental increases. Rental increases in California are capped based on inflation rates. This figure is different for each jurisdiction. Landlords must give 30 days’ notice if the rent increase is less than 10% and 60 days’ notice if the rent increase is greater than 10%.
- Rent-related fees. California landlords are allowed to charge “reasonable” late fees as long as they are outlined in the lease agreement. The state limits returned check fees to $25 for the first bounced check and $35 for each occurrence afterward.
Housing Discrimination in California
Protected groups. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against tenants on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, familial status, or disability. This rule does not apply to owner-occupied homes or homes operated by religious organizations.
California state extends additional protection to tenants on the basis of ancestry, citizenship status, mental disability, gender identity/expression, immigration status, marital status, military and veteran status, primary language, sexual orientation, and source of income.
Discriminatory acts & penalties. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act highlights the following behaviors as potentially discriminatory when directed at a member of a protected group:
- Refusing to rent, sell or lease on a bona fide offer
- Falsely denying unit availability
- Canceling a rental agreement
- Instituting policies that result in unequal access to housing
- Offering inferior terms, conditions, or privileges
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled
- Maintaining overly strict rules for families with children, including where children can play.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in California
Landlord Right to Entry in California
California landlords must give at least 24 hours’ advance notice before entering an occupied unit. The law does not specify how this notice is to be delivered, but writing is the most common. California landlords do not need permission to enter for emergencies that threaten the health and safety of the tenant.
Small Claims Court in California
California small claims court will hear rent-related cases amount up to $10,000. However, landlords can only file up to 2 cases amounting to more than $2,500 in a single year. The statute of limitations for written and oral contracts in California is 4 years and 2 years respectively.
Mandatory Disclosures in California
California landlords must provide these mandatory disclosures to their tenants (if applicable):
- Lead-Based Paint – Landlords that own homes that were built before 1978 must provide information about concentrations of lead paint.
- Bed Bugs – Landlords must provide written information about bed bugs using language specified in Civ. Code §§ 1954.603. This document must provide info about how to report bed bug infestations.
- Mold – Landlords must provide documentation about any known mold.
- Common Utility Use and Payment – Landlords must disclose how utility fees are applied and must detail how they are divided up.
- Asbestos – Disclosure applicable to any building built before 1979 where the owner has knowledge of asbestos.
- Meth and Fentanyl – Disclosure applicable to any property where the landlord has knowledge of a possible drug contamination AND remediation has not completed.
- Sex Offender Registry – Prospective tenants have the right to access information relating to the sex offender registry, to protect tenants, this right must be disclosed.
- Demolition Permit – Disclosure applicable to any property with plans for demolition that will affect tenancy.
- Military Ordnance -Disclosure applicable to any property within one mile of known ordnance location with explosive risk.
- Death- Disclosure applicable to properties with a non-HIV or AIDS-related death in the past three years.
- Pest Control– Applicable to units where pesticides are applied.
- Flood Zone – Landlords must disclose if the property is in a known flood zone.
- Smoking Policy – Applicable to any property imposing a smoking policy.
Changing the Locks in California
California landlords are not allowed to change locks unilaterally as a form of evictions (i.e. “lockouts”). Tenants who are the victim of domestic abuse or sexual harassment can request lock changes at any time during their lease.
Lease in California may be written in the following languages:
For tenants who do not speak English well enough to understand a lease agreement, landlords must provide a lease agreement in one of the above languages.
Cash Rent Payment
California landlords are generally forbidden from requiring tenants to pay rent in cash. If a landlord wants a tenant to pay in cash, they must provide written notice of why the policy is needed and whether this policy changes any terms in the original lease agreement. The landlords must also provide written notice before this change goes into effect.
Landlord’s Sale of a Rental Unit
If a landlord sells a rental unit or building while it is still occupied by leased tenants, all tenants are entitled to stay until the lease is up. The new landlord can ask them to move out if they give enough prior notice of their intent. Either way, the tenant is still entitled to the return of the security deposit.
Foreclosure and Notice to Quit
Tenants are entitled to at least 60 days’ advance notice to move out if their unit has been foreclosed. This is different from the federal standard of 90 days. California uses the federal standard to gauge whether or not a post-foreclosure notice was provided in a timely manner.
Local Laws in California
Los Angeles Landlord Tenant Rights
LA has specific local laws, including those pertaining to rent control. LA rent control policies only apply to buildings built after 10/01/1978. More information on these rules can be found on the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department website.
San Francisco Landlord Tenant Rights
San Francisco also maintains local landlord-tenant provisions. San Fran’s rent control ordinances outline when and how tenants can be evicted, either for or without cause. More info can be found on the San Francisco Rent Board website.
San Jose Landlord Tenant Rights
San Jose is another city that has local landlord-tenant provisions. San Jose law prevents landlords from increasing rent higher than 8% over periods of time. More info can be found on the City of San Jose website.
San Diego Landlord Tenant Rights
San Diego city ordinances maintain a “just cause” provision that requires landlords to justify evicting tenants who have leased for more than 2 years. These rules also required a 60-day notice to be provided, regardless of the justification. More info can be found on the City’s Housing and Community Development Services website.
Fresno Landlord Tenant Rights
Fresno has extra landlord-tenant regulations that put stricter measures on housing conditions. This guide can help landlords understand their rights and responsibilities under these local regulations.
Sacramento Landlord Tenant Rights
Sacramento has the Sacramento Tenant Protection and Relief Act that covers rental housing in the city built after 1995. This law prevents excessive year-to-year rent hikes and also requires landlords to justify raising rental prices. The Act can be read here and more info can be found here.
Long Beach Landlord Tenant Rights
Long Beach has the “Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance” that requires landlords of multi-family units to provide relocation assistance payments for tenants that have been displaced through no fault of their own. These payments can be valued up to $4,500 and can be triggered when a tenant receives notice of rental increases of 10% or more. More details can be found here and on the city of Long Beach’s website.
Oakland Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Oakland has rent control ordinances that limit how much landlords can raise rent on a yearly basis using a rate based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Oakland also has a Rent Adjustment program that covers other types of rental housing. More info about these programs can be found here and you can contact the City of Oakland for more information on administration.
Additional Resources for California Renters
In addition to the below, check your local county and municipality for additional landlord-tenant regulations. To learn more, please refer to the below digital resources.