California Lease Agreements: A Complete Guide

Learn how to create a robust lease agreement in California, including local rental laws, rights and responsibilities, dispute resolutions, and more.

Gemma Smith
Last Updated
July 20, 2023
California Lease Agreements: A Complete Guide

The lease agreement is an essential document in the landlord-tenant relationship in California. This legally binding rental contract, whether monthly or annual, delineates essential terms such as the rent amount and lease duration. It serves as a roadmap, guiding both parties through the rental process.

Creating a lease agreement is not just about filling in a template. Landlords should have a deep understanding of California's unique rental laws, as well as a thorough review of their own preferences for their rental property. By being clear and accurate when outlining the terms, future misunderstandings or conflicts can be avoided. The aim is to come up with an agreement that safeguards the rights of both the property investor and the tenant, ensuring a hassle-free rental experience.

In this guide, we'll look at how to create a fair lease agreement within California's legal structure. We'll talk about important factors to consider such as identifying the people involved, understanding California's rental laws, and learning about the rights and duties of tenants and landlords. We'll also touch on more complex topics like resolving disputes, dealing with breaches of lease, and eviction procedures. 

Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge you need to make a legal and effective lease agreement, fostering a smooth and beneficial relationship between landlords and tenants.

What makes a strong lease agreement in California?

A comprehensive California lease agreement comprises numerous elements that dictate the terms and responsibilities of both parties involved, as well as what constitutes acceptable use of the rental property. The key lease agreement components are detailed below:

  1. Identifying the parties involved: The lease agreement should clearly identify the landlord (or the property manager) and the tenant(s). This includes their full legal names and contact information. While it seems basic, these details must be accurate, as they determine who is legally responsible for obligations under the lease.
  2. Duration of the lease: Clearly state the term, or duration, of the lease. This could be a specific length of time (such as one year) or structured as a month-to-month agreement. In California, if the lease is for more than one year, it must be in writing to be legally enforceable.
  3. Payment terms: The lease agreement must specify the amount of rent due, the payment deadlines (e.g., the first of the month), whether there are late fees, and your preferred payment method (e.g., check, bank transfer, or an online rent collection tool). 
  4. Security deposit details: Include details about the security deposit — the amount to be paid, when it must be paid, and under what conditions it will be returned at the end of the lease. You also may want to list what the landlord may legally use the security deposit for, such as to repair damages or cover cleaning costs caused by the tenant. 
  5. Maintenance and repair responsibilities: The agreement should outline who is responsible for maintaining the property and making necessary repairs. In California, landlords are generally responsible for keeping the property habitable, while tenants are responsible for keeping the property clean and undamaged.
  6. Pet policy: The lease should include a pet policy outlining any rules and restrictions. This might include a limit on the number, size, or breed of pets and any pet deposit or fee.
  7. Penalties for early termination: The lease should specify what penalties, if any, apply if the tenant decides to end the lease early. In California, if a tenant breaks a lease, the property owner must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the property to limit losses, and can only hold the tenant responsible for rent while the property remains vacant.
  8. State-specific clauses: Include all necessary disclosures and clauses required by California law (more on that in the next section).

Required disclosures in California

California law requires landlords to make certain disclosures in a lease agreement. These disclosures can include:

  • Landlord contact information: In all new leases, or when the tenant requests it upon renewal, landlords must provide in writing their full name, phone number, and address. If the landlord sells the rental property during the tenancy, they must provide the contact information for the new owner or manager.
  • Rental agreement disclosure: The lease agreement must include all details regarding rent, security deposit, payment methods, and late fees, as well as any other relevant information about the rental agreement, such as whether it is non-smoking.
  • Megan's Law disclosure: California law requires landlords to include a notice in all lease agreements that the California Department of Justice maintains a website known as the "Megan’s Law" website, which provides information about specified registered sex offenders in California.
  • Death in the rental property: If there has been a death in the rental property within the past three years, landlords must disclose this fact to potential tenants.
  • Bedbugs and pest control: Landlords must disclose any bedbug infestations in the rental property within the past year, as well as outline their pest control policies.
  • Asbestos disclosure: For properties constructed prior to 1981, landlords must disclose the potential presence of asbestos, which can be a health hazard if disturbed.
  • Proposition 65 warning: Landlords must disclose the presence of any known hazardous materials on the property, including lead-based paint, for properties built before 1978.

It is important to note that many of California's required disclosures are conditional, meaning that they may not be relevant to every rental property. These laws ensure that tenants are well-informed about the property they're leasing, helping them make decisions about their living situation. It also helps protect rental property owners by ensuring they fulfill their legal obligations.

California rental laws: Their role in lease agreements

Rental laws play a significant role in shaping California rental lease agreements. They outline the obligations and rights of landlords and tenants, which must be clearly reflected in the agreement. For example, they provide guidelines on handling security deposits, specify the amount of notice required before a landlord enters the property, and stipulate eviction proceedings, among other things. These laws ensure that both parties act fairly and appropriately, providing a framework for resolving any possible disputes. 

Let's take a closer look at key issues in California rental laws:

Security deposits

In California, the amount that rental property owners can require for security deposits vary based on whether the rental unit is furnished. For an unfurnished unit, landlords can charge up to two months' rent. However, for furnished units, they can ask for up to three months' rent in addition to the first month's rent. Notably, non-refundable security deposits are strictly prohibited in California. A legislative proposal is currently under consideration that could reshape this landscape. This bill seeks to limit security deposits to just one month's rent, regardless of whether the unit is furnished.

Property owners have the right to use security deposits for certain expenses when a tenant moves out. These include covering unpaid rent, cleaning costs needed to restore the unit to its original condition, and repairs for any damage beyond normal wear and tear. However, regular property upkeep cannot be deducted.

As for the return of security deposits, California law mandates that landlords return any unused portion of the deposit within 21 days of the tenant's departure. If there are any deductions, the landlord must provide an itemized statement explaining them. While California does not require landlords to pay interest on security deposits at the state level, certain local rent control laws may impose this obligation.

Finally, tenants have significant legal recourse if a landlord unfairly retains a security deposit. If a landlord is found to have withheld a tenant's security deposit in bad faith, the tenant has the right to sue for up to $10,000 in small claims court. This highlights the seriousness with which California law regards the improper retention of security deposits.

Landlord notices

In California, landlords can enter rental units for emergencies, tenant abandonment, and non-emergency matters such as inspections or repairs. For non-urgent scenarios, landlords must provide written notice 24 hours in advance, or 48 hours for an initial move-out inspection. This protects the tenant's right to privacy and the landlord's right to preserve their property.

If property owners wish to terminate the lease, they must provide a written notice stating the reason and the timeframe for tenant compliance or vacating. Tenants with less than a year's tenancy receive a 30-day Notice to Quit, while those with a year or more get a 60-day notice. Multiple notices, like a "3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit" and a "30-Day Notice to Quit," may be issued concurrently for persistent late rent payments. Proper delivery and completeness of these notices are essential, or a court could invalidate any eviction attempt. These protocols ensure clarity and fairness in the landlord-tenant relationship.

Disputes, breach of lease, and evictions

Disputes between property investors and tenants can arise from various issues, from disagreements over security deposit deductions to breaches of lease terms. California encourages landlords and tenants to resolve minor disputes amongst themselves whenever possible. Mediation or arbitration may be suggested for more complex disputes, where a neutral third party can help facilitate a resolution.

Breaching a lease agreement can lead to a range of consequences depending on the severity and nature of the breach. A tenant might breach the lease by failing to pay rent, causing significant damage to the property, or violating the lease or rental agreement rules. In these scenarios, property owners may serve a notice to correct the issue or quit the premises. If the tenant fails to fix the problem within the given timeframe, the landlord may proceed with California eviction proceedings. On the other hand, if the landlord breaches the agreement (for instance, by failing to provide a habitable dwelling), tenants may have the right to withhold rent, repair and deduct, or break the lease without penalty.

Eviction, or 'unlawful detainer' in California, is a legal process and must be handled through the court system. It generally starts with a notice from the landlord — such as a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. The landlord can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit if the tenant doesn't remedy the violation or vacate the premises within the notice period. The tenant then has the right to contest the eviction in court. If the court rules in the landlord's favor, the sheriff will enforce the eviction. It's important to note that “self-help evictions” (such as changing locks or turning off utilities) are illegal in California. All evictions must follow this legal process.

Tips for creating a comprehensive rental agreement

The key to a strong California lease agreement is using clear and concise language. Avoid legalese as much as possible, and ensure the landlord and tenant can understand all terms and conditions without ambiguity. This helps to prevent disputes and misunderstandings down the line. 

Even with a seemingly straightforward lease, consulting with a legal professional is always a good idea. Laws governing rental properties vary significantly by location, and specific terms and conditions might be unlawful. A real estate attorney can provide valuable guidance, ensuring your lease agreement is legally sound, fair, and beneficial to both parties.

Finally, strong communication is key in any landlord-tenant relationship. Keeping lines of communication open and updating the rental agreement as necessary is important. If there are any changes to the property rules, both parties should agree, and the lease should be updated accordingly. In the event of issues, addressing them promptly can prevent them from becoming major problems. This approach also fosters a positive relationship between the landlord and tenant, which can lead to a more stable, long-term rental situation.

Simplify lease agreements with Azibo

Azibo allows landlords to create state-specific lease agreements to simplify the rental process. It enables you to generate custom agreements catering to California's specific rental laws, ensuring compliance with all necessary regulations. The lease agreements you create through Azibo are secure, legally binding, and aligned with up-to-date rental laws across all 50 states.

Azibo offers more than legal compliance; it is also a tool for efficiency and organization. By automatically populating lease agreements with core information pulled directly from tenant applications, Azibo can save you time and reduce potential errors. Centralizing all your rental agreements in Azibo simplifies management, especially when handling multiple leases.

In addition, Azibo's eSignature feature streamlines the signing process, keeping you updated with real-time alerts throughout the lease agreement stages. As tenants sign, you are instantly notified that it is your turn to countersign, which expedites the process and increases transparency.

Navigating California lease agreements with confidence

The importance of creating a robust and legally sound lease agreement in California cannot be overstated. As a rental property owner or tenant, it's not just about filling out a form; it's about understanding and navigating the state-specific rental laws, the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved, and the implications of each clause in the agreement.

We've discussed several elements in constructing a solid rental agreement — from defining the parties involved and specifying rent terms to complying with California-specific disclosure requirements. Moreover, we've highlighted the importance of understanding the legal avenues available for dispute resolution, dealing with lease breaches, and the eviction process.

Keep in mind, the primary aim of the lease agreement is to safeguard both the landlord and tenant's rights, creating a blueprint for a mutually advantageous and conflict-free rental experience. Clear, precise, and fair lease terms, fortified by legal advice, are key in realizing this. Azibo further simplifies this process by providing features for lease creation that comply with state-specific rental laws, and offer the convenience of digital signatures, making the management of lease agreements efficient and stress-free.

The foundation of a successful landlord-tenant relationship lies in a well-planned agreement. Grasping the details of California lease agreements, and utilizing resources like Azibo to ease the process, sets the stage for a smooth, rewarding, and legally sound rental journey. Whenever in doubt, remember to seek advice from a legal expert to ensure your interests are protected.

California lease agreement FAQs

Does California have a standard lease agreement?

Yes, California does provide a standard lease agreement, but landlords often customize it to fit their specific property and management preferences.

What is required in a California lease agreement?

A California lease agreement must include information about the landlord and tenant, lease duration, monthly rent amount, security deposit details, property maintenance responsibilities, early termination penalties, and state-specific clauses.

What makes a rental agreement legal in California?

A rental agreement becomes legal in California when it complies with the state's rental laws, clearly states the terms and conditions, is signed by both the landlord and tenant, and includes necessary disclosures about the property and potential hazards.

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.

Gemma Smith

With 7 years in property management, Gemma serves as a key content strategist at While excelling in writing, editing, and SEO, she also enhances Azibo's social media presence. Passionately, Gemma educates others to make informed real estate investment decisions in the ever-changing market.

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