California Civil Code § 1954: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants

If you're a landlord or tenant in California, you should know your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to property access, which are governed under the California Civil Code § 1954. Learn more about this law, how to abide by it, and how to communicate effectively to maintain a good rental relationship.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
January 23, 2024
California Civil Code § 1954: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants

California Civil Code § 1954, a key law governing the landlord-tenant relationship, provides guidelines on a landlord's right to enter a rental property.

This law has been in effect since the 1970s and seeks to balance the rights of both landlords and tenants when it comes to entry into a rental unit. It defines the acceptable reasons, required notice, and limitations on a landlord's access. At the same time, it protects the tenant's right to privacy.

In this article, we'll discuss when entry is allowed, how much written notice is required, what constitutes an emergency, and remedies available if a landlord violates a tenant's rights. Having a clear understanding of the law can help promote open communication and positive landlord-tenant relationships.

What is the California Civil Code § 1954?

California Civil Code § 1954 is part of the state's civil code governing real estate law. It specifically addresses a landlord's right to access rented or leased properties.

This law prohibits landlords from abusing their right to access and enter rental units excessively, allowing landlords entry only under strictly defined conditions. Furthermore, this law requires landlords to provide proper notice of entry before entering rental units in non-emergency situations.

The intent of this law is to balance a landlord's legitimate need to access their rental properties with a tenant's right to undisturbed enjoyment of their home.

Rights and limitations for landlords

Civil Code § 1954 grants landlords the legal right to access rental units under specific circumstances — they can't just enter rental properties whenever they want.

Lawful reasons for entry

  • Landlords don't need to provide notice if the purpose of the entry is an emergency, such as a fire, suspected gas leak, or burst water pipe.
  • When landlords need to handle repairs, maintenance, or pest control, they must still provide the tenant reasonable notice.
  • Landlords must provide proper notice to the current occupant before showing the dwelling unit to prospective tenants.

Illegal reasons for entry

  • Entering a dwelling unit without proper notice or consent in non-emergency situations.
  • Abusing access rights in order to harass the tenant.
  • Making repeated demands for entry when the purpose of the entry serves no lawful purpose, or claiming to need entry when there's evidence to the contrary or a complete absence of evidence.
  • Attempting entry outside normal business hours.

Rights and responsibilities for tenants

Tenants also have defined rights and responsibilities related to a landlord's lawful entry under this law.

Tenant rights include

  • Being present for any entry by the landlord into the dwelling unit.
  • Expecting entries to occur only during normal business hours unless the tenant consents to after-hours entries.
  • Refusing access to a landlord requesting entry for illegal reasons or without reasonable notice in non-emergency situations.
  • Recourse if the landlord violates the law, including a lawsuit leading to a court order for damages in some cases.

Tenant responsibilities include

  • Allowing the landlord entry when they give proper written notice and state a lawful purpose as outlined in the civil code.
  • Not unreasonably withholding consent for a landlord to enter the unit.
  • Give access to the landlord in an emergency, with or without reasonable notice.
  • Cooperating with entry requests for legitimate business purposes, such as to exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective tenants.

Common misunderstandings and clarifications

Some areas of Civil Code Section 1954 create grey areas that landlords need to address and clarify in the lease agreement. These include:

  • Reasonable notice: The law requires that a landlord provide a tenant reasonable notice of at least twenty four hours in non-emergency situations. However, "reasonable notice" can mean different things to different people. To avoid misunderstandings, provide as much advance notice of entry as you can, and the notice should either be personally delivered or placed somewhere that a reasonable person would discover it, such as their usual entry door.
  • Normal business hours: Entry is presumed reasonable on weekdays between 8 AM to 5 PM. Landlords cannot insist on weekend or evening access. However, if the tenant consents to the entry outside of normal business hours, landlords may enter.
  • Persistence and harassment: If the purpose of the entry is illegal or repeated demands are being made, the landlord's behavior may be considered harassment in the eyes of the law.
  • Defining emergency circumstances: In emergency situations, landlords need immediate entry into a unit. To avoid disputes over what constitutes an emergency, the lease agreement should clearly outline issues that must be addressed without reasonable notice.

Resolving disputes and preventing conflicts

When conflicts arise over misunderstandings of Civil Code § 1954, there are steps that both landlords and tenants can take to resolve things:

Landlords should

  1. Provide tenants with a copy of the code along with their lease agreement and educate them on lawful entry conditions.
  2. Give as much notice as possible, ideally 48 hours or more. Notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry.
  3. Communicate promptly and clearly regarding any necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations, or improvements of the dwelling unit.
  4. Only claim emergency when the situation truly needs immediate entry.

Tenants should

  1. Review the code to understand the law and ask landlords any clarifying questions.
  2. Cooperate reasonably on necessary or agreed services when the landlord follows proper procedures and offers presumed reasonable notice.
  3. Voice any concerns over repeated intended entry requests politely and in writing to leave written evidence in case issues persist and you need to seek legal guidance.
  4. Comply with all lease terms and responsibilities to avoid disputes over access.

Civil Code § 1954

Civil Code § 1954 establishes rights and limitations in accessing leased properties. It promotes habitability for tenants while allowing landlords to conduct routine business.

Mutual understanding of this law allows both parties to co-exist successfully while avoiding unnecessary disputes.

Seek legal counsel when you have questions and address any issues through cooperation and communication. If all parties comply with the law, rental housing in California will be a safe, enjoyable, and conflict-free living experience.

Civil Code § 1954 FAQs

What is the penalty for violating the California Civil Code § 1954?

Violating this code may be punishable through monetary fines, with the amounts based on factors like severity and number of offenses. Some cases may require landlords to pay for tenant damages or repairs, deal with lease terminations, or potentially face minor criminal charges.

Does this law apply to commercial properties?

No, California Civil Code § 1954 applies specifically to residential properties. Different laws govern commercial properties.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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