July 27, 2023

California Landlord Tenant Law: Rental Rights and Responsibilities 2023

Learn both California renters' and landlords’ rights and responsibilities regarding rent, repair and maintenance, eviction, security deposits, and more.

California Landlord Tenant Law: Rental Rights and Responsibilities 2023

Are you aware of your rights and responsibilities under the complex web of California landlord-tenant laws? If not, navigating this intricate legal landscape can be a daunting task, and the consequences of not being well-informed can be severe. 

Fear not, this comprehensive guide will help both landlords and tenants gain a solid understanding of the Golden State’s CA Civil Code 1940-1954.06 to ensure a harmonious landlord-tenant relationship.

Landlords will discover valuable insights to safeguard their investments, streamline rental processes, and maintain positive connections with their tenants. Similarly, tenants will learn how to assert their rights, secure a habitable living space, and address any concerns they may encounter during their tenancy.

Get ready to explore a trove of vital California rental topics such as rental agreements, security deposits, eviction procedures, maintenance responsibilities, and local rent control laws. So, whether you're an experienced California landlord seeking to fine-tune your practices or a current tenant aiming to safeguard your rights, this guide is your ultimate resource to navigate the California landlord-tenant landscape with confidence. Let's dive in!

Is California considered a landlord-friendly state?

California is not considered a landlord-friendly state, and the main reason for this is that California was one of the first states in the country to enact statewide rent control laws. Additionally, California has robust tenant protections, which can make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants, even in cases of non-payment or lease violations. 

These tenant-friendly laws are aimed at providing stronger safeguards for renters, but they can also pose challenges for landlords seeking to manage their properties efficiently. As a result, landlords in California need to be well-versed in the intricacies of the state's landlord-tenant laws to ensure compliance and maintain successful landlord-tenant relationships.

California landlord rights

In California, rental property owners hold a set of authoritative rights that provide them with the leverage they need to manage their rentals effectively. Some of those fundamental rights include:

  • Collection of rent payments: California law ensures landlords have the legal right to collect rent, securing a steady stream of income from their properties.
  • Security deposits: To protect their investment against possible property damage or unpaid rent, California rental investors can require security deposits.
  • Eviction process: In instances of contract violations or breaches of landlord-tenant laws, landlords in California have the right to initiate an official eviction process. This right allows real estate investors to take necessary action to ensure the respectful and lawful use of their property.
  • Property access: California state law permits landlords to access their property for emergencies, repairs and maintenance, and property showings.

California landlord responsibilities

California landlords are held to certain legal responsibilities when it comes to their rental property and their tenants. They are as follows:

  • Prompt repairs: Upon receiving notification from a tenant, landlords have 30 days to make any necessary repairs.
  • Privacy consideration: Before landlords can gain entry into the rented premises, they must provide a 24-hour advance notice. However, in emergency situations, immediate entry is permissible.
  • Security deposit refunds: After a tenancy ends, rental owners are required to refund any applicable security deposit within a 21-day timeframe.
  • Rent control: Landlords cannot raise rent by more than 5% + local rate of inflation.

California renters' rights

In California, tenants have numerous rights that contribute to their safety and respect while residing in a rental unit. Some of their major rights include:

  • The right to a safe and habitable living space.
  • The right to privacy and quiet enjoyment.
  • The right to dispute eviction notices.
  • The right to withhold rent, move out without notice, and sue the landlord if the landlord fails to complete repairs and regular maintenance of the property.
  • The right to receive proper notice before a landlord enters the property for inspections, repairs, and showings.

California renters' responsibilities

California tenants also shoulder certain responsibilities to ensure a smooth tenancy. Their key responsibilities include:

  • Keeping the rental unit in clean and habitable condition
  • Keeping fixtures clean and sanitary
  • Using the rental unit for living, sleeping, cooking, or dining purposes only
  • Paying rent in a timely manner
  • Respecting neighbors and other renters' privacy and quiet enjoyment

Tenants are also responsible for reporting any necessary repairs to the landlord in a timely manner.

California landlord tenant laws through the rental cycle

California tenant screening laws

Landlords in California have the right to screen prospective tenants through an application process. They may charge prospective renters a fee. As of December 2022, the maximum amount that a landlord can charge for a rental application fee in California is $59.67 per applicant.

It’s important to note that rental application fees are refundable.

On the application, landlords are not permitted to ask prospective tenants about race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, or familial status as stated by the Federal Fair Housing Act.

California landlords do have the right to run background checks and credit checks, but landlords should be aware of specific city ordinances, like Oaklands, which has banned criminal background checks.

California lease agreement laws

California state code requires any leases over a year to be in writing, but both oral and written rental agreements are accepted for leases of less than a year. In the case of an oral agreement, landlords must provide written notice of the name, street address, and phone number of the landlord or rental manager.

Landlords do have the right to change rental agreement terms, but they must provide the renter with written notice of at least the length of time between rent payments.

Renters are expected to abide by the terms and conditions of the lease agreement in California. This includes adhering to any restrictions on pets, subletting, or altering the property without prior written consent from the landlord.

In California, leases automatically expire at the end of the rent period. When planning to renew or terminate their tenancy, tenants are expected to follow the rules and regulations outlined in the lease agreement.

Find out more about what to include in your lease agreement.

California security deposit laws

Rental owners in California can charge up to the equivalent of two months’ rent for security deposits if the property is unfurnished. If the property is furnished, they may charge up to three months’ rent.

Other security deposit laws to note:

  • Security deposit receipts are not required.
  • Landlords do not have to pay interest on security deposits.
  • Landlords do not have to store security deposits in a separate bank account.

At the end of a tenancy, the security deposit must be returned within 21 days with an itemized statement of deductions and any remaining funds if applicable.

California real estate investors have the right to withhold a portion or all of the tenant's security deposit if:

  • There are damages beyond normal wear and tear.
  • The tenant still owes rent.
  • Cleaning is required to return the property to the state it was in at the inception of the tenancy.

Landlords cannot withhold security deposits without valid reasons or in excess of the allowable deductions. This could result in a penalty against the landlord.

California rent laws

California is known for having one of the strictest rent control laws in the United States. The law went into effect on January 1, 2020, and will expire on January 1, 2030, and limits annual rent increases to no more than 5%, plus the local consumer price index (CPI), or 10%, whichever is lower.

Furthermore, unless stated otherwise in the lease agreement, rent payments are due at the end of the month. It’s important to note that the rental owner cannot require tenants to pay in cash.

If the tenant fails to pay rent on time, California landlords do not have to provide a grace period before charging a late fee. The fee must be disclosed in the rental agreement, be reasonably priced, and comply with rent laws.

Additionally, under California rental law, landlords are allowed to charge an additional fee for bounced checks. The first bounced check will incur a fee of $25, while any subsequent bounced checks will incur a fee of $35.

Regarding California renters’ rights, tenants are allowed to withhold rent payments when the landlord does not fix serious maintenance issues. The issues must be so severe that it violates the warrant of habitability. 

If the repair does not violate the warrant of habitability, tenants may use the “repair and deduct” remedy, where they fix the issue themselves and deduct the cost from their next rent payment.

California repair and maintenance laws

Under California law, landlords are legally required to keep the implied warranty of habitability. This law was enforced due to the California Supreme Court case called Green v. Superior Court. It implies that landlords must provide a rental in good repair and ensure that all rental units satisfy basic structural, health, and safety standards.

It’s important to note that California tenants are also responsible for maintaining the rental until in a clean and sanitary condition. This can include making small repairs when needed.

For larger issues, tenants may notify the landlord. After being notified by the tenant, landlords have up to 21 days to make repairs.

If the landlord fails to make repairs in a timely manner, tenants may use the “repair and deduct” remedy, in which they fix the issue themselves and deduct the cost from their next rent payment. Repair costs cannot exceed the value of one month's rent and a tenant can only use the repair and deduct remedy twice in any 12-month period.

Furthermore, tenants can use the “abandonment” remedy, in which they move out of the property altogether. A tenant can abandon a dwelling unit only if the unit is in substandard condition and poses a health and safety hazard, which substantially breaches the implied warranty of habitability. If the tenant abandons the unit properly, they are not responsible for paying rent after they leave.

California notice of entry laws

Rental owners in California have the right to enter the rental unit for specific reasons, such as conducting repairs, inspections, or showing the property to prospective tenants, provided they give a proper 24-hour notice to the tenant. Only in cases of an emergency can rental owners enter the property without a notice.

It’s important to note that landlords cannot excessively intrude upon a tenant's privacy or engage in disruptive behavior that interferes with the tenant's quiet enjoyment. This would be considered landlord harassment.

California eviction laws

There are several reasons a landlord may file for eviction in California. The reasons and the required notices are as follows:

  • Failure to pay rent: When tenants fail to pay rent by the due date, landlords may serve a 3-day notice to pay. If the tenant does not pay rent in that time frame, the rental owner may move forward with the eviction process.
  • Rental agreement violation: If a tenant violates the lease, the landlord may issue a 3-day notice to fix the issue or vacate the premises. If the tenant fails to do so, the landlord may file a lawsuit for unlawful detainer.
  • Illegal activity: If a landlord has evidence of criminal activity taking place in the rental unit, they may file a 3-day unconditional notice to quit. If the tenant does not leave, the landlord may file for formal eviction.
  • The end of a lease term: If a tenant stays beyond the end of a lease term, landlords may evict the tenant. For month-to-month leases, the landlord must provide a 30-day notice, but if the tenant has lived in the rental unit longer than a year, the landlord must provide a 60-day notice.

It's essential to note that 'self-help' evictions – the act of forcibly removing renters or their possessions from a rental – are strictly prohibited in California. Unlawful actions to evict tenants could lead to legal repercussions.

Additional California landlord tenant laws

In addition to rules governing general issues such as repairs and security deposits, California also has specific landlord tenant rights, and responsibilities for topics such as renter discrimination laws, landlord retaliation, and more. Some of these topics are explored below.

California renter discrimination laws

California landlords must adhere to the Federal Fair Housing Act and laws and cannot discriminate against tenants based on protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.


California rental owners cannot retaliate against tenants for exercising their legal rights, such as reporting housing code violations or joining a tenant organization. Retaliatory actions include increasing rent, decreasing services, or attempting to evict the renter in response to protected activities.

If a landlord takes negative action against a tenant within 180 days or six months of the tenant taking any action, courts will presume that the landlord is retaliating against the tenant.

In response, tenants may be entitled to up to $2,000 in additional damages for each retaliatory act. If the landlord knows that the tenant is disabled or elderly, the damages are tripled.

Required landlord disclosures in California

There are a handful of disclosures landlords must provide tenants prior to moving into a rental unit if applicable to their specific situation. The disclosures include:

  • Lead-based paint: Landlords who own homes that were built before 1978 must provide information about lead paint.
  • Bed bugs: Landlords must provide written information about bed bugs using language specified in Civ. Code §§ 1954.603.
  • Mold: Landlords must provide documentation about any known mold in the rental unit.
  • Common utility use and payment: Landlords are required to inform tenants of how utility costs are calculated and how they are allocated.
  • Asbestos: Asbestos disclosure is required for pre-1979 buildings with owner knowledge.
  • Meth and fentanyl: This disclosure applies to any property where the landlord is aware of possible drug contamination and remediation has not been completed.
  • Sex offender registry: Tenants have the right to see the sex offender registry. Disclose this right to protect them.
  • Demolition permit: Disclosure applicable to any property with plans for demolition that will affect the tenancy.
  • Military ordinance: Disclosure applicable to any property within one mile of known ordinance location with explosive risk.
  • Death: Disclosure applicable to properties with a non-HIV or AIDS-related death in the past three years.
  • Pest control: Applicable to units where pesticides are used.
  • Flood zone: Landlords must disclose if the property is in a known flood zone.

Smoking policy: Smoking policies should be disclosed if imposed.

Summing up: A mutual understanding of California’s landlord tenant laws

Understanding the intricacies of landlord-tenant laws in California is crucial for maintaining a healthy landlord-tenant relationship. While these laws are comprehensive, they are designed to protect the rights and responsibilities of both rental property owners and tenants.

By knowing and following these rules, California landlords can protect their investments, maintain strong relationships with their renters, and efficiently manage their properties. Simultaneously, tenants are empowered to assert their rights, ensuring their living environment is healthy and respectful.

Landlords and renters in the Golden State should continue to do their due diligence staying on top of ever-changing state and local laws, as the California rental landscape remains dynamic and subject to updates that may impact their rights and responsibilities.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only. This content may not constitute the most up-to-date legal information. No reader, user, or browser of this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information herein without first seeking the advice of a legal professional.

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