A summary of California Landlord Tenant Laws based on state law statutes as they apply to residential lease agreements executed between landlords and tenants.
Required Disclosures (by Landlords)
Sex Offenders: Landlords must include the following language in their rental agreements: “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.” (Cal. Civ. Code § 2079.10a)
Tenant Paying for Others’ Utilities: Prior to signing a rental agreement, landlord must disclose whether gas or electric service to tenant’s unit also serves other areas, and must disclose the manner by which costs will be fairly allocated. (Cal. Civ. Code §1940.9)
Ordnance Locations: Prior to signing a lease, landlord must disclose known locations of former federal or state ordnance in the neighborhood (within one mile of rental). (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.7)
Toxic Mold: Prior to signing a rental agreement, landlord must provide written disclosure when landlord knows, or has reason to know, that mold exceeds permissible exposure limits or poses a health threat. Landlords must distribute a consumer handbook, developed by the State Department of Health Services, describing the potential health risks from mold. (Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 26147, 26148)
Pest Control: When the rental agreement is signed, landlord must provide tenant with any pest control company disclosure landlord has received, which describes the pest to be controlled, pesticides used and their active ingredients, a warning that pesticides are toxic, and the frequency of treatment under any contract for periodic service. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.8, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 8538)
Intention to Demolish Rental Unit. Landlords or their agents who have applied for a permit to demolish a rental unit must give written notice of this fact to prospective tenants, before accepting any deposits or screening fees. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.6)
No Smoking Policy: For leases and rental agreements signed after January 1, 2012 – If the landlord prohibits or limits the smoking of tobacco products on the rental property, the lease or rental agreement must include a clause describing the areas where smoking is limited or prohibited (does not apply if the tenant has previously occupied the dwelling unit). For leases and rental agreements signed before January 1, 2012 – A newly adopted policy limiting or prohibiting smoking is a change in the terms of the tenancy (will not apply to lease holding tenants until they renew their leases; tenants renting month-to-month must be given 30 days’ written notice). Does not preempt any local ordinances prohibiting smoking in effect on January 1, 2012. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947.5)
Notice of Default: Lessors of single-family homes and multifamily properties of four units or less, who have received a notice of default for the rental property that has not been rescinded, must disclose this fact to potential renters before they sign a lease. The notice must be in English or in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean (if the lease was negotiated in one of these languages), and must follow the language specified in Cal. Civil Code § 2924.85(d).
Security Deposit Limit
A landlord may charge a renter the equivalent of two months’ rent for the security deposit if the residence is unfurnished, and three months’ rent if the residence is furnished. California landlords can also add an extra one-half month’s rent if the tenant has a waterbed. Nonrefundable fees are not permitted.
Deadline for Returning Security Deposit
A landlord must return the security deposit, with an itemized statement of deductions, within 21 days after the tenant has vacated.
Advance notice must be given to the tenant before taking any deductions out of the security deposit, such as for the cost of repairs for damage to the property.
Small Claims Lawsuits
Landlord-tenant disputes may be heard in small claims court up to $10,000.
A late fee can be enforced only if the fee is a reasonable estimate of the amount that the lateness of the payment will cost the landlord, and if specified language is included in the lease.
Bounced Check Fees
Landlords may charge $25 for the first bounced check and $35 for each additional bounced check.
Landlords must give tenants at least 30 days’ notice or 60 days’ notice if the sum of the rent increase and all prior rent increases during the previous 12 months is more than 10% of the lowest rent charged during that time. Landlords may not use a rent increase to retaliate.
Tenant’s Right to Withhold Rent
Tenants may withhold a reasonable amount of rent, relative to the problem. So unless the unit becomes completely uninhabitable, tenants are not entitled to stop paying rent entirely. The landlord must be paid the reasonable value of the rental in its unfit state or deduct rent based on the value of the part of the unit affected by the defect.
Some cities may require tenants to make payment directly to a city escrow account. Check with local jurisdictions for specific information.
Repair and Deduct
California Civil Code § 1941.1-1942.5 allows for tenants to hire a professional to fix serious problems (or do it themselves) and subtract the cost from the following month’s rent. But the landlord must be given a reasonable opportunity to be notified and fix the problem. If the landlord fails to act, then the following conditions apply:
- You can’t spend more than one month’s rent.
- You can’t use the repair and deduct remedy more than twice in any 12-month period.
- You can’t have caused the problem, and it can’t be something that is your responsibility.
Termination and Eviction
A three day unconditional quit notice to vacate or face eviction may be used when assigning or subletting without permission, committing waste or a nuisance or engaging in illegal activity on the premises.
A three conditional notice to cure or quit may be used on other lease violations to give tenants a chance to correct whatever problem there may be.
Access to Property
Landlords must provide a 24 hour notice of entry, or 48 hours for the initial move-out inspection.
- Landlords (who are governed by public housing laws) must follow a reporting requirement regarding lease termination of a tenant who was a victim of domestic violence.
- Court may exclude person from a dwelling if the court believes that “physical or emotional harm would otherwise result to the other party.”
California Lease Agreement
California Landlord-Tenant Law Statutes
California Civ. Code §§ 1925 to 1954.1; 1961 to 1995.340