10 Things to Know About California Landlord-Tenant Law

Tenant Check October 31, 2019
image of La Jolla shoreline. Ocean at bottom of image and hills covered in buildings at top of image.


10 Things to Know About California Landlord-Tenant Law

California is a vast state with a diverse population. Add in all the cities and municipalities and it becomes a complicated place to own or run a rental property. Here we will provide a top ten list of laws to know about when taking on a rental property. We also have a guide for the more populous cities that make up the state. California has many pieces of legislation enacted to ensure the protection of renters. Knowing where it is easy to make mistakes is crucial in the success of your rental.

Adverse Action

When screening tenants, they have the right to ask for a copy of the report. In California, it is important to make sure your tenant screening service is FCRA compliant. You will need to provide the contact information for the company you used to complete the screening. 
The other piece of this is making sure you do your due diligence when screening the correct person. If there is any suspicion of identity theft you need to show that you made sure you pulled the correct report for the applicant. If things don’t line up, it must be reported.


It is illegal to influence a tenant to move or attempt to recover the possession of the property based on immigration status.

Rental Agreements

It is advisable to have a rental agreement signed by all parties for a tenancy of any length. But, when renting in the state of California, you are not required to have a written lease if the lease terms are less than 12 months.

When providing the agreement to the tenant other extensive information must be provided:

  • Bed bugs
  • Flood zones
  • Mold risk
  • Carcinogenic material
  • Resources related to registered sex offenders

Other information that may be applicable for some properties, but not all, includes:

  • Lead paint (built before 1978)
  • Pest control treatment
  • Methamphetamine contamination
  • Demolition permit application records
  • Military bases in the area with live ammunition or explosives
  • Deaths that have occurred in the last three years in the unit

Security Deposit

A security deposit is not required. If you decide to charge your renters a deposit, you are limited to the following:

  • Up to two month’s rent for an unfurnished unit
  • Up to three month’s rent for a furnished unit

If you keep part or all of the security deposit due to unpaid rent or damages to the property, you must provide more than an itemized list with the notice to the tenant. This includes copies of paid receipts that correspond to the costs being covered by the deposit and photos of all areas and items in question. The tenant can sue you in small claims court for the return of their deposit if all of the documentation is not provided.

Rent and Rent Control

This is a new piece of legislation across the state. Restrictions on rent increases vary across the state. Our city guide provides more information and links regarding specific areas.
Generally, across the state, it is only legal to increase rent if you are not in a rent-control area.

  • 30-day notice unless you have already increased the rent in the last year
  • 60-day notice if the rent increase and all prior rent increases are equal to more than 10 percent of the lowest rent during that time

It is illegal to raise the rent more than 10% after a state of emergency is declared. This also includes evicting a tenant after the proclamation of emergency and then renting the property at a price higher than the 10% increase.


There are no specific laws outlining the limitations of late fees. It is required that the late fee is a reasonable amount for the additional cost the landlords will incur because the rent is late. These late fees must also have been outlined in the lease and obey rent control laws.

Bad check fees – $25 for first one, $35 for all subsequent 

Rental application fee max $35 required to refund the difference 

Repairs to the Property

You have 30 days to make repairs to the property once they are reported to you by the tenant unless the problem is making the unit unlivable.
If repairs are not done within a reasonable timeframe, the tenant can pursue a few options to get the problems fixed.

  • Hiring a contractor and deducting that cost from their rent the following month if the repairs are impacting the tenant’s quality of life
  • Abandoning the unit if it is unlivable or the repairs would cost more than one month’s rent
  • Withholding rent is another option if the problem is considered dangerous
  • If the problem impacts an apartment building or communal living the tenant can contact local health inspectors

Entry to the Property

You must give 24 hours notice and are only permitted to enter the unit during business hours (Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm)

California has outlined the situations for when the landlord can enter a unit with notice:

  • Emergency (fire, flood, gas leak, notice not required)
  • Repairs (agreed upon by tenant and landlord)
  • Showing the unit
  • Abandoned property
  • Inspecting installation of a waterbed


Utilities can be paid and divided at the discretion of the property owner as long as the facilitation of those payments is outlined in the lease agreement. Rent can be withheld if water and heat are not being provided.


California evictions are either “just cause” or “no-fault”. Many “just cause” evictions are standard reasons:

  • Habitually late or complete inability to pay rent
  • Failure to remedy a violation of the lease

“No-fault” evictions usually require the landlord to pay the relocation fees for the tenant. These include:

  • Owner or owner’s family need to occupy the unit
  • Demolition of property
    To renovate or repair a unit and it will be uninhabitable during construction

Some of the eviction reasons unique to California landlord-tenant law include:

  • Damage to the property
  • Stalking
  • Assault
  • Making, using, or dealing unlawful drugs
  • Dog or cockfighting
  • Illegal possession or holding of guns or ammunition

A notice of 3 business days is required with amount due or evictable violation, contact information for the tenant, and how to pay or avoid eviction. The notice must be mailed to the tenant and posted to the door of the unit. 

Sale of the Property

For a periodic tenancy (week-to-week or month-to-month), all of the following conditions must be met for a 30-day notice to be sufficient:

  • The new property owner intends to occupy it for at least a year
  • An escrow account was opened by the landlord
  • A 30-day notice was provided within 120 days of opening the escrow account
  • No previous 30- or 60-day notice was given
  • The unit must be one that can be sold separately from any other liveable unit