California Lease Agreements: A Complete Guide

Crafting a fair lease agreement in California is essential for a harmonious landlord-tenant relationship, defining rent amounts, lease duration, and more within the state's legal framework. Understanding California's unique rental laws and including all necessary disclosures in the lease ensures both parties' rights are protected, paving the way for a hassle-free rental experience.

Gemma Smith
Last Updated
March 21, 2024
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  new 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 obliges landlords to make various disclosures within lease agreements, aimed at providing tenants with all the necessary information about their potential living space and the conditions of their tenancy. Here's an exhaustive overview of these required disclosures:

  • Landlord contact information: Landlords must include in all new leases, or upon renewal if requested by the tenant, their full name, phone number, and address. Changes in ownership require the new owner's or manager's contact information to be provided to the tenants.
  • Rental agreement disclosure: Detailed information regarding rent, security deposits, payment methods, and late fees, as well as other relevant terms of the rental agreement like non-smoking policies, must be included.
  • Megan's Law disclosure: All lease agreements must contain a notice that the California Department of Justice operates the "Megan’s Law" website, which provides information about specified registered sex offenders in California.
  • Death in the rental property: Landlords are required to inform potential tenants if there has been a death in the property within the last three years.
  • Bedbugs and pest control: Landlords must disclose past year bedbug infestations and their pest control policies, including the chemicals used and the frequency of pest control measures.
  • Asbestos disclosure: For properties constructed before 1981, landlords must disclose the potential presence of asbestos, a health hazard if disturbed.
  • Proposition 65 warning: Landlords must warn about the presence of hazardous materials, such as lead-based paint, in properties built before 1978.
  • Toxic mold disclosure: If a rental unit contains toxic mold in amounts that exceed health and safety limits, landlords must inform tenants and provide the state’s consumer handbook on toxic mold.
  • Contaminant disclosure: Notification is required if there is known contamination from methamphetamine or fentanyl within the rental unit.
  • No-smoking rules: Landlords must disclose any no-smoking policies to prospective tenants.
  • Utility meter sharing: If tenants will share a utility meter with another unit, this must be disclosed, along with how the utility bill will be allocated.
  • Military training proximity: Landlords must inform tenants if the rental unit is within a mile of a military training area where explosives are used, as this may impact the living conditions.
  • Property status disclosures:
    • Demolition permit application: If there's an application for a permit to demolish the property, tenants must be informed.
    • Condominium conversion: Plans to convert rental units into condominiums must be disclosed.

Ensuring these disclosures are made not only helps tenants make informed decisions about their housing but also protects rental property owners by ensuring they meet their legal obligations. Compliance with these requirements promotes transparency and trust in the landlord-tenant relationship.

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 regulations governing security deposits are designed with a keen focus on protecting tenant rights while ensuring landlords can cover potential damages or unpaid rent. Security deposits are fully refundable, emphasizing that the deposit remains the tenant's property, albeit in the landlord's custody, until the lease ends.

Upon a change in property ownership, the responsibility for holding or returning the deposit transfers to the new owner.

Deposit limits- new 2024 rules

The legal limits on security deposits are set to change. Currently, for unfurnished units, landlords may ask for up to two times the monthly rent, and for furnished units, up to three times. A significant shift will occur after July 1, 2024, when the cap for most properties will be one month's rent.

However, a specific exemption allows certain small-scale landlords to charge up to two times the rent.

Deductions from the deposit

Landlords' usage of the deposit is strictly for covering unpaid rent, repairs for damages beyond ordinary wear and tear, cleaning to return the unit to its initial condition, and restoring any personal property if the lease permits. Importantly, the law forbids using the deposit for pre-existing damages, unreasonable refurbishments, or the natural wear and tear over time.

Before the move-out, landlords must offer a pre-departure inspection, affording tenants the opportunity to remedy any potential issues to avoid deductions.

Security deposit return

Following the tenant's departure, California mandates the return of any remaining deposit within 21 days, accompanied by a detailed statement of deductions. For any work not completed within this timeframe, landlords must provide a good faith estimate, followed by a final statement and any residual deposit within 14 days after the completion of the work.

If a landlord improperly retains a security deposit, California law provides tenants with a robust legal recourse, including the possibility of suing for up to twice the deposit amount in cases of bad faith retention. Additionally, service members may benefit from lower security deposit demands and specific eviction protections, acknowledging their unique circumstances.

While state law prescribes these general rules, local ordinances in some Californian cities and counties may impose additional requirements, such as the accrual of interest on held deposits, further safeguarding tenant interests.

This nuanced approach to security deposit regulations underscores a balance between tenant protections and the rights of landlords, ensuring clear guidelines are followed throughout the tenancy period.

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  whole rental applicationprocess. 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, confidentiality agreement 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.

Lease agreement California FAQs

What is the standard lease agreement in California?

The standard lease agreement in California, whether for residential or commercial property, is a legal contract between the property owner and the tenant. It outlines the terms under which the tenant can occupy and use the rental property.

California lease agreements are comprehensive documents that include specifics such as monthly rent, security deposit amounts, lease duration, and the responsibilities of both the landlord and tenant. For residential properties, this might mean a California residential lease agreement, whereas for business-related rentals, a California commercial lease agreement would apply. T

hese agreements ensure clarity and legal compliance for both parties, encompassing everything from rent payments to maintenance obligations and rent limits imposed by California law. Lease agreement templates are available to help both parties understand the typical provisions included in such contracts, including those specific to California rental lease agreements.

What is required to be on a lease in California?

A lease or rental agreement in California must legally include several key elements to protect both the landlord and tenant. This includes the full names and contact information of the landlord and any managing property management agents, the rental property address, the monthly rent amount, and the lease duration. Security deposits and their maximum limits, rental terms for payment, and late fees must be clearly outlined.

California leases also require specific required disclosures such as pest control policies, Megan's Law notifications regarding registered sex offenders, and lead-based paint disclosure for older properties. Additionally, California rental agreements may need to specify rules around rent withholding for repairs, rent limits, and procedures for notifying tenants about changes such as rent increases or lease violations.

For residential property lease agreements, information on the security deposits maximum, procedures for withholding rent, and periodic pest control services is also crucial.

What a landlord Cannot do in California?

Under California landlord-tenant laws, landlords are prohibited from engaging in several practices to ensure the fair treatment of prospective and current tenants. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to a prospective tenant based on discriminatory factors covered under federal and state fair housing laws.

They are also not allowed to unilaterally change the terms of the rental contract, including increasing the tenant's rent, without providing reasonable notice depending on the lease duration or rental agreement. Withholding essential services like water or power as a means to evict a tenant or withhold rent is illegal.

California law also sets strict limits on security deposits, with landlords required to return them within a specific timeframe after the lease ends, minus lawful deductions. Furthermore, landlords must not enter the rental unit without providing proper notice, except in emergencies, respecting the tenant's right to privacy.

Intimidation or retaliation against tenants for exercising their legal rights, such as complaining about unsafe living conditions, is also prohibited under California tenant laws.

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.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

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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