California Rental Application Laws 2024: The Ultimate Guide to Tenant Screening

California has specific tenant screening laws to protect both landlords and tenants, including new protections starting in 2024. This comprehensive guide covers essential facts and strategies for effectively screening tenants in California.

Rachel Robinson
Last Updated
June 13, 2024
California Rental Application Laws 2024: The Ultimate Guide to Tenant Screening

Screening and choosing a prospective tenant is one of the first steps of the rental process. Although it’s an exciting part of the rental journey, it can be filled with uncertainties due to the challenge of finding the right tenant that will pay rent on time and care for your rental properties, as well as ensuring legal compliance.

Thankfully, California has created specific tenant screening laws to protect your investment and your prospective tenants’ best interests. California tenants have specific responsibilities and rights under statewide laws, including new protections and laws in 2024, and protection from unfair evictions.

To help you learn California’s unique tenant screening regulations, we’ve crafted this comprehensive guide, covering the entire screening process, from the rental application fee to background checks. Keep reading to uncover the essential facts and strategies for how to effectively screen tenants in the Golden State.

California tenant screening laws and Tenant Protection Act fast facts

What’s the most a California landlord can charge for a screening fee?

  • As of 2024, California landlords can charge up to $65.37 per applicant for screening fees, a figure adjusted annually with the Consumer Price Index.

Can landlords run background checks in California, and which background checks can they run?

  • Yes, landlords can run background checks in California to assess the reliability and suitability of applicants. They are permitted to run background checks such as credit reports, criminal background checks, and rental history checks.

Does a California landlord need a prospective tenant’s consent to run a background check?

  • Yes, a landlord in California must obtain the prospective tenant’s consent to run a background check. This is usually done through the rental application process, where the applicant consents to these checks as part of their application submission.

How much can a landlord charge for a maximum security deposit in California?

  • As of July 1, 2024, California’s new Assembly Bill 12 (AB 12) will limit security deposits to one month’s rent. Prior to the new law, landlords could charge an equal of two months’ rent for unfurnished units and three months’ rent for furnished units.

What are the rent control laws in California?

  • California's rent control laws, particularly under AB 1482, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, cap yearly rent increases and provide significant tenant protections. These laws aim to prevent excessive rental increases and ensure a balanced landlord-tenant relationship.

California rental application requirements for rental properties

The rental application is the first step toward screening and finding potential tenants. There are a handful of basic requirements for rental applications outlined in California’s landlord-tenant laws that every landlord should know. Those requirements include:

  1. Application components: A California rental application should include the applicant’s contact information, current and previous addresses, employment history, and proof of income. Securely collecting social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and employment details is crucial for a comprehensive evaluation of prospective tenants.
  2. Adhering to screening fee laws: California law mandates a maximum rental application screening fee, adjusted annually with the Consumer Price Index. As mentioned of now, the cap is $65.37 per applicant. Regarding screening fees, landlords must also:
  • Provide tenants with an itemized, written receipt.
  • Make their application fee refundable if it isn’t used for its intended purpose on a tenant screening report.
  • Refrain from charging fees if there are no rental units vacant at the time of application.
  • If the landlord uses the screening fee to obtain a tenant’s credit report, they must provide a copy of the report upon request (California Civil Code §§ 1950.6).
  1. Background check consent: Essential to the process, landlords must obtain signed consent from applicants before contacting previous landlords or employers, as well as before conducting any background checks, including those on credit, eviction, or criminal history.
  2. Government rental subsidy protections: Under new legislation (Senate Bill 267) in California, landlords are prohibited from using a person's credit history to deny rentals if an applicant holds a government rental subsidy like Section 8. This legislation aims to offer increased security and fairer treatment for tenants receiving government rental subsidies.

It’s important to note that landlords cannot ask questions on the rental application related to protected classes, including race, color, religion, sex and sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, or source of income, as part of the Federal Fair Housing Act.

California's laws on background checks for prospective tenants

After receiving a prospective tenant’s written consent on the rental application, California property owners can move forward with the screening process. California rental laws allow landlords to run the following background checks:

  • Criminal background check.
  • Eviction history check.
  • Rental history check.
  • Credit report check.

While California law permits these screening reports, state and local laws may differ, which is why it’s crucial landlords know the local ordinances of the city their rental property resides in. For instance, Oakland and Berkley strictly prohibit criminal background checks, while San Francisco and Richmond prohibit the use of criminal background checks regarding affordable housing options.

Furthermore, there are some restrictions on the use of criminal background checks in the state. Specifically, landlords cannot use arrest records that didn’t lead to convictions as a basis for turning down a renter. They may also not consider the following criminal information in their decision on whether or not to rent to a prospective tenant:

  • Infractions or petty charges.
  • Convictions that are sealed, dismissed, expunged, or not legally operative (unless the tenant willingly offers this information).
  • Anything indicating that the renter was questioned, taken into custody, detained, or investigated by law enforcement.
  • Information regarding a referral to or involvement in a “pre-trial or post-trial diversion program or a deferred entry of judgment program” (unless the tenant willingly provides it).

The only way to deny a prospective renter based on their previous criminal activities would be to sufficiently prove that the applicant’s prior offenses threaten the health and safety of other tenants or affect their ability to uphold their responsibilities as outlined in the lease agreement.

The Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) significantly impacts rental increases and tenant rights in California. This legislation sets the legal framework for rental increases, limiting landlords' ability to reset rates at market value and imposing tighter requirements for no-fault evictions. Understanding these rental laws is essential for both landlords and tenants to ensure compliance with California's evolving rental landscape.

Choosing a screening service for rental properties

To ensure you're avoiding potentially discriminating screening practices, it's crucial to have a consistent tenant screening process. One of the best ways to do this is to use screening tools. Screening services can help you obtain a tenant's credit report, eviction history, criminal history, and more, ensuring you're following the same steps each time you look for a new tenant.

Here at Azibo, we offer a comprehensive screening service that simplifies this crucial step. With our intuitive platform, you can efficiently run background and credit checks, helping you find the best tenants while staying compliant with California tenant screening laws.

Once you've decided on a tenant, you'll need to create a rental agreement outlining both your and the renter's responsibilities — Azibo can help you with this, too!

Navigating California's tenant screening laws can be complex, but with the right approach and tools, it can become a seamless part of your rental process. With thorough screening, you can find the best tenant: one who will pay their rent and safeguard your investment.

And, who knows? It could even be the start of a long-lasting positive landlord-tenant relationship, the key to a lucrative rental business.

California rental application and screening FAQs

What background checks can landlords run in California?

With the applicant's written consent, landlords can conduct credit checks, criminal background checks, eviction history checks, and verify rental history with previous landlords.

Do landlords need applicant consent for background checks?

Yes, landlords must obtain signed consent from applicants before conducting any background or credit checks in California.

What is SB 567 in California 2024?

SB 567 is a California law that took effect on April 1, 2024, that strengthens tenant protections by amending the Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) of 2019. Key provisions include stricter requirements for no-fault evictions, such as mandatory move-in for owners or relatives within 90 days, detailed plans and permits for substantial remodels, and options for tenants to re-rent at the same rate after renovations.

It also enhances enforcement mechanisms, allowing tenants to sue for damages and attorney's fees, and empowers state and local authorities to seek injunctive relief. The law aims to prevent no-fault eviction abuses, bolster tenant rights, and curb extreme rent increases.

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.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson has 6 years of experience in writing, editing, and SEO, specializing in rental property and real estate. She excels in market trends and landlord-tenant dynamics, producing content that drives traffic and informs. Outside of work, she enjoys climbing Colorado's granite boulders.

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