October 19, 2021

The Ultimate Guide to Renters Rights in California

Steadily's blog cover page for information around landlord insurance.

This California renters' rights guide will assist you in starting or ending your lease. We'll also discuss notices, inspections, and other topics.

In general, landlords and renters should be aware of their legal rights and obligations. But as a landlord, it's good to know the fundamentals whenever a dispute or issue arises, at the very least.

Now, let's run through this ultimate guide about renters' rights in California. By learning a little now, you might avoid some messy situations with your current or future tenants.

Early Tenant's Rights

Tenants have rights even before they sign a contract to rent a home. This protects them against the possibility of landlords discriminating against rental applicants.

For example, a landlord may not discriminate against potential tenants because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability. So landlords do have to be careful what they say in the interview process, even if they get the final say.

A good tip for landlords is to talk to a lawyer. Have them help you create proper questions to ask potential tenants in an interview. Landlords will be able to use these questions for future tenant interviews too.

Related Reading: How Much Can a Landlord Raise Rent in California

Security Deposits

Most landlords gain peace of mind by collecting a security deposit. It allows them to handle various problems that may emerge with renters.

It may also be tempting to demand a hefty security deposit nowadays in California. Yet, California's security deposit law has the potential to shake things up for landlords.

The law allows you to ask for a security deposit. The charge must, however, adhere to specific guidelines.

Landlords can charge two months' rent for unfurnished apartments. If the place they're renting is furnished, a landlord can charge an additional month, making it three in total. This seems fair, as furnished apartments have more elements that tenants could damage.

However, there is no cap on how much landlords should charge for commercial properties.

A rule for all security deposits is that they have to be refundable. But this doesn't mean landlords have to keep the money in escrow. It's wise to keep the money safe in an account, though. Whatever interest you gain on it will be yours, whether or not you have to refund the original amount.


Certain cities within California that practice rent control may require landlords to pay interest to their tenants on security deposits.

Furthermore, tenants cannot use their deposit to pay the last month's rent amount. However, if the landlord chooses to allow this to happen in the original agreement, then it's OK. In simple terms, it is up to the landlord to decide on this issue.

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    When Can Landlords Keep Deposits?

    After receiving the security deposit make sure that you have before and you take after photos in your tenant wrecks the place. You can keep part or all of the charge for a variety of reasons, including:

    • If the tenant defaults on rental payments
    • The tenant has caused damage to the property (more than wear and tear)
    • There are cleaning costs to restore the property to the same standard before the tenant lived there
    • If the tenant violated the contract and the landlord needs to make future payments
    • Various other lease breaches that are obvious and evident

    The wear and tear aspect definition is a whole other topic that landlords should research. This way, they can avoid getting into problems with renters countering their claims that damage is merely "wear and tear."


    Before a tenant leaves, landlords may take them on a walkthrough inspection of the property. This is to flag any concerns that need paying for with the deposit amount. The renter does have the option of employing someone else to fix anything that needs repairing.

    Real estate agent showing new apartment to a couple

    Yet, before landlords can conduct a walkthrough, there are several requirements to satisfy renters' rights. For instance, a landlord should give reasonable notice of the date and time of the inspection. Also, the landlord should provide enough time for the tenant to get any repairs done if they wish to handle them alone.

    If landlords have trouble contacting tenants, it's within tenants' rights to give 48-hours written notice at the very least. But if both parties agree less formally, written notice isn't needed.

    Any inspection of this nature should be in a timeframe of two weeks or more before the tenancy ends. Furthermore, after an inspection, the landlord needs to provide a list to their tenant explaining repairs needed for their final inspection.

    Related Reading: The California Eviction Moratorium

    How to Return Security Deposits

    Landlords have 21 days after their renter moves out to refund the deposit. The renter has the right to take a landlord to a small claims court if they don't refund the deposit within this time frame. It's possible that the money refunded is less than what's necessary to take care of repairs or to miss the rental income.

    Landlords have to provide the initial amount of money the tenant gave them in writing. The landlord also must itemize all deductions made.

    Furthermore, landlords have to supply the renter with copies of amounts they used for restoring their property's damage. If the property is still going through repair work, the landlord can provide a rough estimate of costs in good faith.

    It's crucial that the actual amount returned is in writing. Otherwise, landlords may experience lawsuits from former tenants.

    The Proper Way To End a Tenancy

    If a landlord intends to discontinue a tenancy, they must provide adequate notice to their tenant.

    If only the renter is living in the property, landlords should issue them a 30-day notice to vacate. However, if other individuals in the home have resided there for longer than a year, the notice period is 60 days.

    If there is a lease on the property, the notice period will follow the lease terms. Also, there is a straightforward procedure concerning evictions. The renter is given three days to vacate the premises.

    Notice of Eviction paperwork on manilla folder

    Living Conditions for Tenants

    With properties in California, there are a few essentials you'll need to provide for it to be livable. This involves adhering to all applicable construction regulations.
    If the rental falls below the guidelines, you must make the necessary repairs to bring it up to compliance. So, let's now look at some of the issues concerning living conditions in more detail.

    Recourse for Tenants

    The renter has several options if a landlord fails to keep the building in good working order. The renter can first make a written request for repairs. They can also report landlords to a building inspector if they reject or fail to complete the necessary repairs. They do have the option of contacting a lawyer as well.

    Some tenants may withhold rent if landlords don't make the necessary renovations to make the space livable. The sum withheld cannot exceed the amount required to complete the repairs, though.

    If the renter has already paid their rent in full, they have the right to request a refund to fund the necessary repairs.

    Making Properties Habitable

    Making a house or other property type livable entails ensuring the heating, plumbing, and appliances remain in good repair. It also implies that the building's structure is sound.

    If there are problems with the heating or plumbing, landlords must fix them within 24 hours. For more minor repairs, landlords have 48 hours to get them sorted.

    The house must also be kept tidy. After all, Individuals have the right to dwell in clean environments. Yet, everyone has different notions of what clean is to them.

    Landlords have to give at least 24 hours' notice before entering the property to carry out any work. This is unless there's a repair emergency like burst pipes, for example. So, understanding what the rules state might help a landlord and their renters avoid unreasonable expectations over cleanliness.

    Related Reading: What Needs to be Included in a 30-Day Notice to Vacate Letter

    Rent Increase Laws in California

    David Reischer, Attorney & CEO of explains, “With the passage of the ‘Tenant Protection Act of 2019, California has a statewide rent control law that permits rent increments of a maximum of 5% increase annually.  The law only applies to cities that have no local rent control law. Furthermore, in order to be subject to the new law the property must be 15 years old on a rolling basis for new construction. Existing properties older than 15 years are already covered by the law.

    “In California, landlords raise the rent by 5% plus the change in the Consumer Price Index, or by 10% of the lowest gross rental rate charged to the tenant, whichever is lower”, explains Erik Nilsson, Founder of Rentola. “This law was implemented in 2020 and has remained the same ever since. Before 2020, the second clause of the rent increase was not there. Landlords could only increase rent by 5% plus the change in CPI and up to 10%.”

    Landlord Insurance

    After discussing many aspects now of renters' rights in California, we come onto landlord insurance.

    Landlord insurance or rental property insurance is for anyone that rents out property to others. It is not a legal requirement for landlords. However, it can give property owners that extra peace of mind they may be craving.

    A landlord insurance policy can offer benefits to a landlord such as:

    • Projection if a tenant becomes injured
    • Coverage for water damage or fire
    • Coverage for certain legal liabilities
    • Protection against certain natural disasters

    And many providers will let landlords select a limited number of coverages to suit their specific needs. Or, they might opt for full coverage as the costs can be surprisingly agreeable.

    Also, some bonus coverages might include incidents related to rioting, explosions, and civil commotions.

    California Renters' Rights Explained

    So it's clear there's a lot to consider when looking into renters' rights in California. In the end, the more both landlords and tenants know about the California rental laws, the better the experience for both will be.

    Table of Contents

    Early Tenant's Rights

    Security Deposits

    The Proper Way To End a Tenancy

    Living Conditions for Tenants

    Rent Increase Laws in California


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