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Landlord/ Tenant Laws for the State of California 

Essential State Specific Landlord/ Tenant Laws For California


At a Glance

“Eureka”


  • Not required but highly recommended.
  • Generally cannot exceed 2 months rent.
  • Must be returned within 21 days of tenant moving out unless it’s being used to cover unpaid rent or damages.
  • Not required but highly recommended.
  • Generally cannot exceed 2 months rent.
  • Must be returned within 21 days of tenant moving out unless it’s being used to cover unpaid rent or damages.

  • Required for tenancies longer than 12 months.
  • Highly recommended to have a rental agreement for all tenancies.
  • Required for tenancies longer than 12 months.
  • Highly recommended to have a rental agreement for all tenancies.

  • Must be a reasonable estimate of costs incurred by late payment
  • No required grace period in California.
  • Must be a reasonable estimate of costs incurred by late payment
  • No required grace period in California.

  • Required to provide at least 24 hours notice before entering the property.
  • The above rule is waived in the case of emergencies.
  • Required to provide at least 24 hours notice before entering the property.
  • The above rule is waived in the case of emergencies.

  • California passed statewide rent control in October 2019.
  • San Francisco and Los Angeles have additional independent rent control laws.
  • California passed statewide rent control in October 2019.
  • San Francisco and Los Angeles have additional independent rent control laws.


  • 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. 
  • 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. 

State Motto: Eureka


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1: California Laws on Deposits

Whilst California doesn’t have a legal requirement specifying that landlords collect a deposit it is advisable that landlords do for the two following reasons:

  • First, they allow landlords to quickly assess a tenant’s financial stability. 
  • Second, the help landlords ensure compensation when it comes to property damages or missed rent payments.

In California, a landlord can withhold a security deposit for three reasons:

  • If the tenant owes unpaid rent
  • If there is damage caused by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear
  • If the apartment is dirty

For the above reasons you’ll find that most landlords in California do collect a security deposit. The normal security deposit amount is one month’s rent. Though a portion of landlords set it higher. 

Maximum Security Deposit Amount: (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5 and 1940.5g)

  • Two months’ rent for unfurnished dwellings; 3 months’ rent if furnished dwellings. 

Interest Earned on Security Deposit: (reference)

  • California state law does not require landlords to pay interest on security deposits. However, some cities (such as Los Angeles and San Francisco) do require landlords to pay interest on security deposits. 
  • In most of California’s large cities, there is a rental board that is responsible for deciding what the interest rate will be.

Commingling of Security Deposit

  • No statute but for ease, it’s often a good idea to keep the deposit entirely separate from other funds.

Returning the Deposit: (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5g)

  • Landlords have 21 days after the tenant moves out to return the deposit.

Deposit Receipt

  • No statute. However, to avoid potential legal confusion we recommend you do the following:
    • The rental agreement should state the amount and location of the deposit; the agreement should also state the purpose of the deposit.
    • If the landlord must pay interest on the deposit, then the rental agreement should also state the interest rate the tenant will earn on the deposit.
    • If the landlord changes the location of the deposit, the landlord should notify the tenant in writing of the new location of the deposit, why the landlord moved it, and when the landlord moved it.

Withholding Deposit: (Handbook)

  • Unpaid rent
  • Damage to the property
  • Cleaning of the rental unit when the tenant moves out.

An itemized list of damages and charges must be supplied to the tenant if any of the deposit if being withheld. Receipts and documentation are not needed however if the amount in question is under $126. (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5g 4A)

Failure to Comply: (Civ. Code §§ 1950.5(l))

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. 

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2: CA Rental Agreement Laws

Lease Agreements

Rent is Due: (Civ. Code §§ 1947) and (Civ. Code §§ 1962)

  • 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. 

Payment Methods: (Civ. Code §§ 1947.3(1-2))

  • The Landlord must allow an alternative form of payment whether that’s cash or electronic transfer.
  • If the tenant has had made a partial or insufficient payment, or stopped payment on a money order then the landlord can require payments to be paid in cash. 

Rental Agreements

  • California requires landlords to have a rental agreement for tenancies of 12 months or longer.
  • Oral agreements are technically “legal and enforceable” if the term is less than one year, but it is hard to prove what the terms are in a verbal agreement. 
  • It’s advisable to have a written rental agreement to make it easier to setle potential future disputes regardless of the length of the rental term.

Lease, Rent & Fees

Late Fees: (Guidebook)

  • Late fees are allowed in California. However, they must be “reasonable”. On top of this, they must obey rent control laws and are only enforceable if specified in the lease.

Application Fees:

  • The point of a rental application fee in California is NOT another way for landlords to make a profit. This fee is only meant to cover your screening costs. Most application fees cost between $30 and $50 per applicant. 
  • In 2019 the maximum allowable fee for California rental applications was $50.74

Rent Upfront: (Guidebook)

  • Landlords are allowed to collect the first month’s rent upfront.
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3: CA Rent Control

Rent Control in California

California passed statewide rent control in October 2019. Annual rent increases are limited to 5% plus inflation each year until 2030. This works out to be around 9% annually.

It’s important to note that this only applies to older apartments, those built before 2004. Also owner occupied single-family homes or duplexes are exempt.

Cities that already had rent control policies in place prior to the statewide legislation (like Los Angeles and San Francisco) will keep their rent control laws — they are not superseded by the newer statewide legislation.

Rules and Regulations in Los Angeles and San Francisco

As stated above those cities that had prior rent control laws in place keep their laws regardless of the statewide legislation. 

Therefore, by following state law you may not be in compliance with city laws. The two cities in particular that are worth investigating further are Los Angeles and San Francisco. Landlords in eitehr of these cities should be aware of both state and city-specific laws to remain in compliance.

In Los Angeles, the landlord’s property may be subject to additional regulation under the  Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) and the Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP). 

 In San Francisco, the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance subjects landlords to additional regulation for their rentals.

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4: CA Notices, Entry, and Evictions

Notices and Entry

Ending a Lease

Notice to Terminate Tenancy – Fixed End Date in Lease: 

  • With a fixed term lease no notice is required to end the lease. It simply expires on the set date.
  • It’s advisable to give 30 – 60 days notice anyway as well as offering to renew the lease for the tenants should they wish. Good communication helps avoid any confusion on the move out date.

Notice to Terminate Any Periodic Lease of a Year or More: 

  • If all the residing tenants have inhabited the property for longer than a year the landlord is required to give at least 60 days notice. (Guidebook)

Notice to Terminate a Periodic Lease – Month-to-Month

  • For tenants on a month to month lease the landlord is required to give at least 30 day notice. The tenant is also required to give a full 30 days notice if they wish to end the lease. (Civ. Code §§ 1946)

Notice to Terminate a Periodic Lease – Week-to-week: 

  • For a week to week lease, the landlord is required to give 30 days notice if they wish t end the lease. The tenant in this scenario is required to give 7 days notice. (Guidebook)

Notice to Terminate Lease due to Sale of Property: 

  • This relates to periodic tenancies only (for example: month-to-month), 30 days notice is required if all of the the following criteria are met:
    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.) (Civ. Code §§ 1946.1)
  • 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.
  • For fixed end date lease contracts the landlord must wait for the end of the lease and cannot terminate the lease early unless seeking eviction upon valid grounds.

Eviction Notices

Eviction Notice for Nonpayment: 

Eviction Notice for Lease Violation: 

  • Landlords can only evict a tenant on “just” ground. The landlord must provide a 3-day notice if the tenant:
    • Failed to pay the rent
    • Violated any provision of the lease or rental agreement
    • Damaged the rental property
    • Substantially interfered with other tenants
    • Used the premises for an unlawful purpose
    • Committed domestic violence or sexual assault
    • Stalked another tenant or subtenant on the premises
    • Engaged in drug dealing, unlawfully used, cultivated, imported, or manufactured illegally
    • Used the building or property to conduct dogfighting or cockfighting
    • Unlawfully conducted weapons or ammunition
  • Once the 3-day notice is served to the tenant they have 3 days to resolve the issue. For example, if the issue is late rent they have 3 days to pay the rent. Acceptance of rent by the landlord halts the eviction process.
  • Please note that if the landlord accepts any money – even if it’s a partial payment during this three-day period, the eviction process is halted. 

(Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(3))(Civ. Procedure Code §§ 1161(4))

Create Your Evcition Notice with Rocket Lawyer

Three-Day Notice

The Three-Day Notice must state:

  • The amount of rent due, the name, number, and address of the person whom the tenant must pay
    • If the notice requires payment in person, the notice must state the usual business hours of the person accepting the payment.  
    • If the address does not accept personal deliveries, then the landlord can mail the rent to the owner at the name and address stated.
    • If the notice does not require payment in person, it must provide an account number in a financial institution into which the rental payment may be made or state that the tenant may pay under a previously established electronic funds transfer procedure.

Other Required Notices

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5: Landlord / Tenant Duties and Rights

The Repair and Deduct Remedy

This is when the rental unit is in bad condition – uninhabitable – and the landlord refuses to repair it, or does not make repairs fast enough after a request has been made. In this scenario, the tenant may be able to repair it themselves and deduct the cost of the repairs from future rent.

Can a Tenant Abandon a Rental Unit?

Under certain circumstances, the tenant has the right to abandon the rental unit. Generally, this is in under similar conditions that would allow a tenant to us the repair and deduct remedy. 

In this scenario, the tenant has the right to abandon the rental without notice and without being obligated to pay future rent. Normally, this remedy is used when repairs would cost more than a month of rent, although this is not a requirement for the use of the remedy.

Can a tenant withhold rent?

The requirements that must be met to allow a tenant to withhold rent are similar to the above “repair and deduct” remedy. However, the situation and conditions that allow a tenant to withhold rent must be more serious than conditions that the tenant could get fixed and deduct. Normally, what this means is that the conditions pose a serious health or safety risk to the tenant.

When a tenant withholds rent, the dispute will likely be resolved in the courts. And even if the judge ruled in the tenant’s favour they may rule that not all the rent should have been withheld. So, the tenant in this situation should not spend any of the withheld rent in expectation that some will need to be paid to the landlord.

In any of the above situations, the tenant should be aware that if they do use one of the remedies talked about but the conditions are not serious enough to warrant the action taken, the landlord can sue them for the remaining rent.

California Laws on Retaliation

Landlords cannot retaliate against a tenant if they withhold rent or complain about the conditions of the rental unit. Whether that’s to a government body (ie. they are complaining about health code violations, or a tenant union.

Examples of illegal retaliatory acts include but are not limited to:

  • Ending the tenancy;
  • Filing for eviction;
  • Locking the tenant out of the unit/ changing the locks;
  • Decreasing services;
  • Turning off the power or water;
  • Disclosing the tenant’s citizenship status to immigration authorities or law enforcement.

What is considered retaliation?

A landlord is deemed to have retaliated if they take actions against the tenant (like those listed above) and tenant can prove they have exercised one or more of the following tenant rights within the last 6 months:

  • Using the repair and deduct remedy;
  • Informing the landlord they intend to use the repair and deduct remedy;
  • Complaining about the condition of the unit to the landlord or a relevant public agency;
  • Filed a lawsuit or began arbitration against the landlord because of the condition of the unit.
  • Had an appropriate public agency inspect the rental unit or caused a citation to be written up for the landlord.

What happens if a landlord retaliates against a tenant?

Tenants have the right to sue the landlord for damages if they believe the landlord has taken retaliatory actions against them. If a landlord is found to have retaliated against their tenant the possible damages under the California Fair Housing and Employment Act include attorney fees and punitive damages ranging from $100 to $1000 for each retaliatory act.

In summation:

  • 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)

  • Tenants Right 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)

  • 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)

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6: CA 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)
  • 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).” It is recommended then to have strict tenant screening guidelines.  

Copy of Lease 

A copy of the rental agreement must be provided to the tenant within 15 days of its execution. (Civ. Code §§ 1962(4))

Utilities

If there are communal areas and shared utilities the landlord must notify the tenant of these shared services and disclose how the costs will be fairly distributed. For example, there is an outside light used by all inhabitants of the building. (Civ. Code §§ 1940.9

If the utilities are to be split amongst multiple tenants the landlord must also provide a formula for deciding the costs of these utilities so that no one party is paying an unfair portion.

San Francisco Utilities

In San Francisco rental units must have a permanent source of heat able to provide and maintain a rental unit with a temperature of at least 68 degrees, 

The Housing Code specifically requires this level of heat to be provided 13 hours a day, from 5 AM to 11 AM and also from 3 PM to 10 PM. The landlord does not comply with these requirements by allowing or providing portable space heaters.(Source)

Move-In Condition

It is recommended but not law that a landlord provide a move-in checklist for the tenants to complete. Having a physical copy of this will make it much easier should disputes arisde at a later date.

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 neighbourhood. (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) (Guide: How Landlords can Prohibit Smoking)

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

These are covered under Civ. Code §§ 1965, 1980 to 1991

Keys, Locks, and Security Devices 

In California, there are no laws about rekeying the premises before a new tenant moves in. While the law does not require landlords to change their locks, most landlords (68%) change the locks on a unit after a tenant moves out. 

Marijuana Use on the Rental Property

Although recreational marijuana use is legal in California as of January 1, 2018, landlords do not have to allow marijuana use on their property. Proposition 64 expressly allows owners of private property to prohibit marijuana use and cultivation on their property. If a landlord plans to prohibit or partially restrict marijuana use on their property, the rental agreement should clearly state the landlord’s policy regarding marijuana.

If the rental unit is subsidized with federal funds, allowing marijuana use on the property may put your subsidy at risk since marijuana use is still against federal law. Landlords should consult with an attorney when crafting a marijuana use policy for federally subsidized housing.

California Laws on Domestic Violence/Sexual Misconduct/Sexual Assault

Victims of domestic violence have special rights. Landlords have limited rights to evict the victims of domestic abuse. Additionally, victims of domestic violence may ask their landlord to split the lease and evict the abuser, but not the victim of domestic violence. The victim may also ask the landlord to change the locks. However, the landlord is entitled to proof of domestic violence status. Landlords are not allowed to refuse to rent to a victim of domestic violence.

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