California Rental Laws

Below is a summary of rental laws in California. This article is researched and cited according to the Official California Civil Code, however, it is very important that every landlord and property manager review their state and local laws and speak with an attorney in their state for further guidance and clarification.  

The California Civil Code and other reputable municipal sources were used to research this information.  Resource links to the California Civil Code on Landlord-Tenant Laws and the California tenant’s handbook have been included for your convenience.

Rental laws are amended and updated by state legislation, you are advised to speak with a local housing authority and licensed attorney that specializes in landlord-tenant laws in California for a detailed interpretation of the rental laws that affect you. This article is an educational reference and does not constitute legal advice.

Official State Resources for Landlord-Tenant Laws in California

Laws About Security Deposits

Max Security Deposit Amount: (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5)

  • Equal to 2 months rent for an unfurnished property
  • Equal to 3 months rent for a furnished property

Nonrefundable Security Deposit: Are not allowed (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5m)

Additional Move-In Fees:

Application screening fee – A landlord might charge you an application screening fee to cover the cost of obtaining information about you, like checking references and ordering a credit report. The application screening fee is not part of the security deposit. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6)

New tenant processing fee – A landlord might charge you a fee to reimburse the landlord for the costs of processing you as a new tenant. For example, at the beginning of the tenancy, the landlord might charge you for providing application forms, listing the unit for rent, interviewing and screening you, and similar purposes. These kinds of fees are part of the security deposit, and may be refundable. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(b))

Security Deposit Refund Timeline: 21 days after vacancy. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5g)

Move-In Inspection: No state law.

Move-Out InspectionA landlord is required to notify the tenant in writing about his right to request a pre-move-out inspection at a reasonable time prior to a lease termination.

The pre-move-out inspection will take place prior to any final inspection a landlord will make on the vacated premise. A pre-move-out inspection gives the landlord an opportunity to point out potential security deposit deductions and allows the renter reasonable time to remedy the identified deficiencies. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5f)

Legal Use of Security Deposit Funds:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Damages beyond normal wear and tear, by a renter or guest of the renter
  • Cleaning fees associated with returning the property to it’s pre-move in condition
  • Restore, repair or return the property to its pre-move in condition according to the lease agreement. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(b))

Failure to Comply with Security Deposit Laws: If a landlord mishandles a security deposit or fails to comply with security deposit laws, he may be required to pay the tenant twice the amount of the security, in addition to actual damages. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5)

Additional CA Security Deposit Laws:  

  • Tenants must receive by first-class mail, postage prepaid, a copy of an itemized statement for any deductions, and the return of any remaining portion of the security deposit. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5)
  • Along with the itemized statement, the landlord shall also include copies of documents showing charges incurred and deducted by the landlord to repair or clean the premises. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(g(2)))
  • A tenant can request that a security deposit refund be returned electronically to a bank account or financial institution. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(g(1)))
  • A tenant can request that the itemized account of deductions be delivered via email (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(g(1)))

Laws About Rental Applications

Application Costs: A landlord may only charge an application fee that covers the actual out-of-pocket costs of gathering information for tenant screening – including credit and background reports and the reasonable value of time spent acquiring and reviewing screening data. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6b)

Laws About Rent

Increases: Landlords must provide 30 days notice if the rent increase is less than 10 percent.  If the rent increase is more than 10 percent, 60 days notice is required.  (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 827(b)(2-3))

Maximum charge: No state statute for maximum rent, unless the property is under local rent control jurisdiction.

Grace Period: Rent is due at the end of the month unless otherwise stated in your lease or rental agreement. A landlord can require rent be due on any day in a month as long as it says so in the lease agreement. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947)

Late Fees: Allowed if specified in the lease, are “reasonable” and follow local rent control laws. (Handbook p. 30)

Insufficient Funds: Equal to the actual bank fee. Or a landlord can charge a flat “service” fee which is $25 for the first occurrence, and $35 for each occurrence thereafter. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1719).

Partial Rent Payments: Landlords are allowed to take the partial payment and still give a tenant an eviction notice if necessary. (Handbook, p. 30)

Payment Methods: A landlord cannot allow all rents be paid via electronic funds transfer only. They must allow tenants to pay rent by at least one form of payment that is not cash or electronic funds transfer. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947.3)

Laws About the Lease

Discrimination: Landlords are not allowed to ask any tenants or applicants about their immigration or citizenship status. Landlords are required to follow federal requirements about discrimination and may request information and documentation to determine the financial qualifications of a prospective tenant. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.3)

Lease Terms: Unless designated in writing, rental terms are assumed to be a month to month tenancy. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1943)

Renters Insurance: Landlords can require renters obtain renters insurance if they own a waterbed to cover possible water damage. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.5(a))

Lease Termination: California requires the following notice terms be met depending on the length of tenancy or the reason for termination: 

  • Month-to-month lease, under one year: 30 days notice required by the landlord or the tenant  (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946)
  • Month-to-month lease, over one year: 60 days notice (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.1)
  • Fixed end date lease: No notice required.

Lease Termination Due to Sale of Property: A landlord can terminate a month-to-month tenancy with 30 days notice after the sale of property if certain conditions are met. A landlord cannot terminate a fix-term lease. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.1)

Renewals: If the lessor accepts rent from a tenant after a lease term has expired, it is thought to have renewed under the previous terms, unless the lease agreement states otherwise. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1945)

Evictions: If the tenant doesn’t voluntarily move out after the landlord has properly given the required notice to the tenant, the landlord can evict the tenant. In order to evict the tenant, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in superior court. (Handbook, p. 72)

Occupancy Limits: In order to prevent overcrowding of rental units, California has adopted the Uniform Housing Code’s occupancy requirements. A landlord can establish reasonable standards for the number of people per square feet in a rental unit, but the landlord cannot use overcrowding as a pretext for refusing to rent to tenants with children if the landlord would rent to the same number of adults. (Handbook, p. 8)

No Smoking Policy: The lease agreement is allowed to prohibit cigarette smoking and other tobacco products, as defined in Section 104556 of the Health and Safety Code, in the dwelling unit, and other interior and exterior areas. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947.5)

Threatening a Tenant: It is illegal to use, or threaten to use, force, willful threats, or menacing conduct that interferes with a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment for the purpose of influencing a tenant to vacate.. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.2)

Laws About Landlord Responsibilities

Notice for Entry: Tenants must receive reasonable advance notice in writing before the landlord or landlord’s agent can enter a rental unit. The notice must state the date, approximate time and purpose of entry. Advance notice is not required for an emergency, when a tenant has moved or abandoned the property, if the tenant and landlord agree to entry to make repairs or supply services, or if the tenant is present and consents to the entry at that time. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1954)

Implied Warranty of Habitability: A rental unit must be fit to live in; that is, it must be habitable. In legal terms, “habitable” means that the rental unit is fit for occupation by human beings and that it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that materially affect tenants’ health and safety. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1941)

Required Amenities: A building will be deemed uninhabitable if it does not have the following amenities and characteristics –

  • Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior wall, including unbroken windows and doors.
  • Plumbing or gas facilities, maintained in good working order
  • A water supply that is capable of producing hot and cold water, with appropriate fixtures and connected to a sewage disposal system
  • Heating facilities, maintained in good working order
  • Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment, maintained in good working order
  • Building, grounds, and property that is kept clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
  • An adequate number of garbage receptacles, in clean condition and good repair. The landlord must provide serviceable receptacles in good condition if they are under his control throughout the lease.
  • Floors, stairways, and railing maintained in good repair

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.1)

Heat/Water Requirements: Landlords must provide Plumbing or gas facilities, maintained in good working order; a water supply that is capable of producing hot and cold water, with appropriate fixtures and connected to a sewage disposal system; and heating facilities, maintained in good working order. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.1)

Security Requirements: Landlords are required to install and maintain-

  • An operable deadbolt on each main swinging entry door of a dwelling unit
  • Operable window security or locking devices on windows designed to be opened (some exclusions apply)
  • Locking mechanisms on exterior doors that provide access to common areas of multifamily developments.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.3)

Utility Billing By the Landlord: California law does not specifically regulate how landlords bill tenants for water and sewer utilities.  the landlord must reach an agreement with you, which must be in writing, about who will pay for the shared utilities. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.9)

Laws About Property Maintenance and Repairs

Tenant Maintenance Responsibilities: Tenants are required to meet the following maintenance responsibilities under California Law, unless otherwise agreed upon in writing with the landlord –

  • 1) To keep that part of the premises which he occupies and uses clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits.
  • (2) To dispose from his dwelling unit of all rubbish, garbage and other waste, in a clean and sanitary manner.
  • (3) To properly use and operate all electrical, gas and plumbing fixtures and keep them as clean and sanitary as their condition permits.
  • (4) Not to permit any person on the premises, with his permission, to willfully or wantonly destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the structure or dwelling unit or the facilities, equipment, or appurtenances thereto, nor himself do any such thing.
  • (5) To occupy the premises as his abode, utilizing portions thereof for living, sleeping, cooking or dining purposes only which were respectively designed or intended to be used for such occupancies.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.2)

Repair and Deduct: If a tenant notifies a landlord of required repairs that make the property inhabitable, and which are not the fault of the tenant, and the landlord does not act to the notice within 30 days, the tenant can perform the repairs himself and deduct the expenses from rent, as long as the repair expenses do not exceed one month’s rent. A tenant is only allowed to do this twice in a 12-month period. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1942)

Legal Disclosure Requirements

Murders/Death: Landlords and property managers must tell prospective tenants if a prior occupant died in the rental unit within the past three years. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1710.2)

Demolition Permit: A property owner must inform all current or future tenants when he has applied for a demolition permit. He must give written notice to prospective tenants before entering into a rental agreement with the tenant. The notice must state the earliest approximate dates that the owner expects the demolition to occur and that the tenancy will end. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.6)

Methamphetamine Contamination: If a property is found to be contaminated with methamphetamine, a local health officer must issue an order prohibiting the use or occupancy of the property to the property owner and all occupants. The owner must give written notice of the health officer’s order and a copy of it to potential tenants who have completed an application to rent the contaminated property. A tenant may cancel their rental agreement if the owner does not meet these requirements. (Health and Safety Code Sections 25400.10-25400.46)

Pest Control: Landlords must provide notice to tenants regarding the use of pest control on the structure by a registered structural pest control company pursuant to
Section 8538 of the Business and Professions Code, if a contract for periodic pest control service has been executed and provide notice prior to each application. (Business and Professions Code Section 8538, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1940.81940.8.5)

Asbestos: Residential property built before 1981 may contain asbestos. A leading reference for landlords recommends that landlords make asbestos disclosures to tenants whenever asbestos is discovered in the rental property.  (Handbook p. 23)

Former Military Ordnance Location: The landlord of a residential dwelling unit who has actual knowledge of any former federal or state ordnance locations in the neighborhood area shall give written notice to a prospective tenant of that knowledge prior to the execution of a rental agreement. In cases of tenancies in existence on January 1, 1990, this written notice shall be given to tenants as soon as practicable thereafter. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.7)

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. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 26147 and Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.7)

Lead Paint: Federal Law requires all landlords to include a “Lead Warning Statement” in their lease for buildings built before 1978 about lead-based paint and/or potential hazards.  Additionally, landlords are required to provide renters with an EPA-approved information pamphlet about lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards.(Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, Title X)

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 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)

Random Tenant Laws

Political Signs: Landlords cannot prohibit tenants from posting political signs as long as they meet local guidelines, are under 6 square feet in size, and are removed within a timely manner. (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1940.4)

Waterbeds: A landlord must allow a tenant to install a water if the unit that received a valid certificate for occupancy after 1973 as long as certain conditions are met. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.5)

Telephone Line Access: Building owners are required to install and maintain at least one telephone jack and place and maintain necessary telephone wiring as established by the California Electrical Code and Public Utilities Commission. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.4)

Declaw/Devocalize Animals: Landlords cannot require their tenants’ pets to be declawed or devocalized. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1942.7)


EPA Approved Lead Disclosure Information on Lead-Based Paint/Hazards – SAMPLE

Section 8 Housing Guide

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development- Tenants Rights, Laws & Protections: California

Laws governing rental properties, landlords and tenants are primarily found in the California Civil Code (Cal. Civ. Code) Title 5 Chapter 2.

Access to the entire California Civil Code is provided by the California State Legislature’s website. Go to the California Civil Code.

This summary of landlord-tenant laws is provided to you by Rentec Direct, LLC and is thought to be true and accurate at the time of publication. It not intended to be used as legal advice for your particular problem. Please note that changes may occur and this publication may not reflect the most recent updates to the law.

Please consult an attorney familiar with landlord-tenant law in your state for any legal advice.