In this article, we’ll explore California landlord-tenant laws you need to know, including the most important legal requirements you should always incorporate into a lease.
Laws about rent increase
- California has one of the most regulated legal systems in the United States
- The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 set strict rules that help stabilize rent prices
- Landlords must follow California Civil Code to ensure their properties are habitable and they are fulfilling their legal responsibilities.
The biggest change to California rent laws occurred in 2019 when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the California Tenant Protection Act. This act implemented statewide regulations impacting rent control and eviction procedures. For example, under the new regulations, rent will increase statewide by 5% plus inflation, or 10% of the lowest gross rental rate charged at any period within the last 12 months. The lowest of either figure will be implemented.
Furthermore, landlords can only raise rent in California once every 12 months. This means even those in shorter term leases may not have their rent increased should they elect to renew within the same 12-month period. There are also city permissions that allow local governments to create their own laws and regulations in regards to rental properties. The California Tenant Protection Act doesn’t override more restrictive laws, but it does override any local regulation that offers less protection to tenants.
Laws about security deposits
Security deposits are a good way for landlords to protect their investment, but they can be burdensome to tenants. In state’s without good regulation, many people who do not have significant savings can struggle to find housing solely because they do not have the cash upfront to pay for a security deposit.
Under California Civil Code § 1950.5, landlords are allowed to ask for security deposits, but they may request no more than two months’ worth of rent to secure a lease.
The deposit must be used in specific ways, and the purpose of the security deposit has to be included in the rental agreement. Potential applications for a tenant’s security deposit include:
- Covering rent in the event a tenant defaults on their payments
- Making repairs or replacing parts of the property
- Cleaning the unit after the tenant leaves, or restoring the unit to the previous state of cleanliness that it was in prior to the tenant’s occupancy
- Making renovations, repairs, and replacements to improve the property that are not related to “ordinary wear and tear”
Cleaning fees and pet fees are considered part of the security deposit, so the landlord may not charge additionally for either.
After a tenant leaves a property, the landlord has 21 calendar days to return their security deposit in full or the residual amount after subtracting any eligible expenses. Be mindful of tenant rights in California.
Laws about rental application
California landlords can charge application fees to cover the cost of screenings, which may include personal reference checks and credit checks. Tenants may offer their credit report upon application, but the landlord is not required to accept it as a substitute for performing their own check (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6 (2023)).
Landlords may also not charge an application fee for any residential unit that will not be available within a reasonable period of time. Applicants who still want to apply must acknowledge in writing that they are aware there are no current dwelling units available, and they are not applying with the assumption they will be able to move in within a certain timeframe.
Furthermore, landlords must itemize their out-of-pocket expenses covered by the application fee, as well as the time spent on each task. If the landlord or management office does not complete a screening via personal reference checks or credit report screening, they must return the application fee to the applicant.
Currently, the rental application fee in California is not to exceed $30 (a baseline established on 1/1/1998); this rate can be adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index, which would make the maximum rental application fee $55.85 in April 2023.
Laws about rent
All legal tenancy in California must be regulated by a rental agreement. California Civil Code § 800.5 defines a rental agreement as:
"An agreement between the management and the homeowner establishing the terms and conditions of a tenancy.”
If a tenant defaults on rent, the landlord must give them a three-day notice to pay rent or leave the property prior to filing an eviction notice (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161). The three-day notice period may not take place on a weekend (Saturday and Sunday) or legal holiday.
Rent must be paid electronically or via check unless the tenant has previously bounced a check or placed a stop payment on a check within the last 90 days.
If a landlord elects to require cash payment from a tenant after either of these events, they must provide written notice. The landlord may require cash payments for up to three months and attach a copy of the bounced check to the notice given to the tenant.
Laws about the lease
Leases, or rental agreements, legally bind the tenant to pay the rent for a specific duration of time. California landlords must include terms and conditions of the lease, consequences for defaulting on payments, late fees, and security deposits.
California Civil Code § 1962 outlines everything that must be included in a rental agreement, including:
- The name, phone number, and address of the person who owns the rental property or the individual authorized to manage it on their behalf
- Disclosure of the person to whom all rental payments will be made
- Usual hours and days a person will be available to receive rent payments (if made in person)
The owner can also include information related to setting up electronic funds transfer for digital rent payments. They may also include details about the account at a financial institution within 5 miles of the residential property, if they want the tenant to send money directly to that location.
In California, oral rental agreements are legal, so long as the landlord provides the tenant with a written statement with all the required elements outlined in Code § 1962 within 15 days.
Laws about property maintenance and repairs
All tenants have the legal right to a habitable residential dwelling unit. California defines “habitable” as a location fit for human life and in accordance with state and local health and building codes (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1941 and 1941.1).
The landlord is legally required to maintain a habitable property throughout the duration of a tenant’s occupancy.
Property maintenance falls primarily to the landlord due to the results of Green v. Superior Court. This court case deemed that all tenants have an unlimited warranty of habitability, and the landlord must ensure that their residential unit is safe for humans to live in at all times.
The only repairs that do not fall under the landlord’s responsibility are damages caused by the tenant, their family members, or their pets. However, if there is an emergency, such as a gas leak, burst pipe, or HVAC failure, the landlord must ensure that immediate repairs are made to keep their property habitable under state law.
Under California state rental laws, tenants can also agree to make some repairs and perform property maintenance in exchange for lower rent (Civ. Code § 1942.1). However, the landlord will still need to maintain the property in accordance with all relevant building and health codes.
Disclosures & misc
Landlords must disclose information about the property that will affect the safety of the tenants. Full disclosure must be given if a property has experienced or currently has any of the following:
- Bed bugs
- Lead-based paint
- Carcinogenic materials
- Methamphetamine contamination
- Located within 1 mile of a military base or explosives
- A planned demolition with applied permit
- Death in the unit within the last 3 years unless the individual died from complications of AIDS
All landlords must include precise language from Section 290.46 of the Penal Code (Megan’s Law) in their rental agreement; Megan’s Law is a federal law requiring the location of all registered sex offenders to be made public, including their address, community, or zip code.
Tenant's Right to Privacy
In California, tenants have a legal right to privacy in their rental units. This right is protected under state law, and there are specific rules that landlords must follow regarding entry into a tenant’s home. Key aspects include:
- Notice Requirements: Generally, California law requires landlords to give tenants at least 24 hours' written notice before entering a rental unit. This notice must state the reason for entry, the date, and a reasonable time frame for the entry.
- Permissible Reasons for Entry: Landlords can enter a rental property for certain reasons, such as to make repairs, inspect the unit, show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers, or in emergencies. However, they cannot abuse this right to harass a tenant.
- Emergency Access: In cases of emergency, like a fire or severe water leak, landlords can enter without notice to address the immediate issue.
- Tenant's Absence: If a tenant is absent for an extended period (typically more than 24 hours), the landlord may enter the unit under specific circumstances, such as to perform necessary maintenance.
- Tenant's Consent: A landlord can enter the property at any time with the tenant’s consent. However, this consent must be voluntary and not coerced.
Pet Policies and Regulations
The handling of pets in rental properties is an important aspect of landlord-tenant relations in California. This includes regulations around pet deposits, restrictions, and rights concerning service and support animals:
- Pet Deposits: Landlords in California are allowed to charge a pet deposit in addition to the standard security deposit. This is meant to cover any damage caused by the pet. However, there are limits to the total amount of deposit a landlord can demand.
- Breed and Size Restrictions: Landlords have the right to impose certain restrictions on pets, such as limiting the size, breed, or number of pets a tenant can have. These restrictions must be reasonable and not discriminatory.
- Service and Support Animals: Under both federal and state law, service animals and emotional support animals are not considered pets. Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities who require service or support animals, even in "no pet" properties. This includes waiving pet fees or pet rent for these animals.
- Local Ordinances: It's also important to note that specific cities or counties in California may have their own regulations regarding pets in rental properties, so landlords and tenants should be aware of local laws.
California has an extensive Civil Code that protects tenants and outlines the rights and responsibilities of landlords. The California Tenants Guide (2022) is the most current and comprehensive resource that both parties can use to fully understand all of their responsibilities and protections under state law.
Here is a short summary of what to know about California landlord-tenant laws:
- Rent: All rent must be paid on the specified date in the rental agreement unless the landlord provided a written grace period within the lease.
- Security deposits: Landlords can request up to two months’ rent for a security deposit, but they may not request additional fees for cleaning or pet damages.
- Access to dwelling: Landlord must provide 24-hour written notice in advance, except in the event of an emergency
- Disclosures: Landlords are required to disclose information about the property that could threaten tenants’ health; they must also disclose deaths that took place in the unit within the last 3 years, unless the death was related to AIDS
- Eviction: Landlords must provide a 3-day notice to the tenant to pay or vacate prior to filing an eviction, and this notice may not include judicial holidays or weekends