California Renter Rights Overview

While the rental market in California goes crazy with new pricing records and government tries to push the Local Rent Control Initiative, we continue our educational series. We want you to know your tenants’ rights and live in California without fear of uncontrolled rent increase or lease termination.

Let’s start from the very beginning, what are your rights at the application stage?

Rental Application

Application fee: Maximum of $35 screening fee
Rental agreement required: Written (if the term is 1 or 2-year lease)

When you apply for a house in California, your potential landlord can take the application fee which will be used for the tenant screening process. He will request the credit report and background check to make sure that you’re a trustworthy prospect. You should know that he is only allowed to take up to $35 screening fee and if the actual screening price is lower, he must give back the difference.

If the landlord selects you and both parties are ready to strike a deal, you need to sign the lease agreement. It’s required to be a written one if the lease has a 1 or 2-year term. Only the month-to-month tenancy can include an oral agreement.

Security Deposit

Pet deposit maximum: Not Indicated
Security deposit maximum: Equivalent of 2 or 3 months rent
Return deposit deadline: Within 21 days
Security deposit interest: No state-wide statute, but 15 (or so) localities have rent control ordinances that require you to pay interest, including Los Angeles.
Itemized list of charges & damages: Required
Landlord move-out inspection: 48 hours notice
Legal reasons to keep security deposit: Indicated

State laws determine the amount of the security deposit that your landlord can charge you. The security deposit should be equal to 2 or 3 months rent.

  • 2 months – for an unfurnished place
  • 3 months – for the furnished one
  • +1,5 months rent equivalent – if you have a waterbed

It’s a common thing in some states to obligate a landlord to put the deposit into the account with a bearing interest. In California, there is no state-wide statute about that, but there are some rent control ordinances locally in some cities that require the landlord to pay off the interest (for example, Los Angeles).

When you move out, the security deposit should be returned to you within 21 days. Your landlord has legal reasons to keep the deposit based on the itemized list of charges and damages. You also shouldn’t forget about the move-out inspection that should be performed with 48 hours notice.

Note: You must be notified in advance about any deductions.

Security and Comfort

Smoke alarms: Yes (in each bedroom or sleeping area))
Rekey requirements: In some cases
Maximum deductible cost of repairs: 1-month rent
Required notice before entry: 24 hour
Entry while a tenant is absent: Not allowed
Emergency entry without notice: Allowed

Landlords in California are not obligated to change the locks every time a new tenant moves in. The exception is if the tenant is a domestic violence victim and has a court order.

Every bedroom and sleeping area in your new place should have smoke alarms. California laws do not say that the alarms should be changed every time a new tenant moves in. But they should be installed in every required area and work properly.

Any landlord must give a 24-hour notice before entering the tenant’s apartment. Note that your landlord is not allowed to enter your house while you’re absent and can enter it without notice only during the emergency situation.

You can repair and deduct according to the California laws, but you can only deduct the equivalent of 1-month rent.

There are a few basic rules that you should follow if you decide to repair and deduct in California:

  1. You must prove that the defect affects your health and safety directly.
  2. The defect cannot be caused by the tenant, his/her pet or family guests.
  3. You can only repair and deduct twice in any 12-month period.
  4. The written notice should be given to the landlord.
  5. Landlord should get a reasonable amount of time to repair the defects himself/herself.

Rental Payments

Maximum rent: Not indicated
Late fees: Allowed (must be reasonable)
Rent increase: Allowed
Right to withhold rent for failure to provide essential services (Water, Heat, etc.): Yes
Tenant’s right to repair and deduct rent: Yes

State laws do not set the maximum rent that your landlord may ask. Therefore, the rental pricing is determined by the real demand and rental custom offers are welcomed here.

Rent increase notice must be always in writing. Late fees are allowed but must be reasonable according to the control lows.

The Tenant Protection Act of 2019, or AB1482, restricts the annual rent increases to 10% or 5% plus an inflation rate, whichever will turn out less. However, there are certain exceptions to this law. For instance, a rental property that was built in the last 15 years is exempt. After it turns 15 years, the rent control rules would immediately apply. 

An additional exemption is granted to condo units and single-family homes, as long as they meet two criteria. It has to be owned by a private person, not a company, trust, or any other corporate entity. Another prerequisite is that it has to be “separately alienable,” can be sold separately as a distinct property.

Any tenant in California can demand a written receipt for every rent payment.

Lease Terminations

Notice to terminate lease: 60 days
Eviction notice for not paying rent: 3 days
Eviction notice for lease violation: 3 days to remedy the violations

When a property is put up on sale, there are basic notice rules for the lease termination. In case you have a fixed-term lease, you have the right to stay in your rental property until its end. What’s more, when in the Golden State, you can request relocation allowance if your new landlord wants you to move out before your lease expires.

As for the month-to-month lease, California is a rare exception, where month-to-month renters should be notified about the termination of their lease 60 days before the expected move-out day if they’ve been living in the same rental unit for a year or more.

If you have an issue with rent payments, your landlord is allowed to give you a 3 days eviction notice. In case of any lease violations from your side, you’ll have the same 3 days to remedy them.

AB1482, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 prohibit landlords to evict a tenant, even if their fixed-term lease has expired, except for a limited number of “just causes.”

The landlord always had the ability to terminate the lease and evict the tenant for violating the terms, not paying rent on time, eliciting illegal activity, etc. This provision does not change under the new law.

However, previously landlords could choose not to renew a fixed-term lease and evict a tenant with the required advance notice. Under the new rules, landlord сan evict a tenant who occupied the lot only under certain “just cause.” These encompass causes for which the tenant is at fault and certain cases when the tenant is not at fault.  

The no-fault causes include the landlord’s intention to reside in the unit or move in a domestic partner, a spouse, children, or other relatives; significantly renovate or demolish the property; or stop renting out the property for any other reason. 

Before the eviction, the property owner has to give the tenant the reason for eviction in writing, and whether it is an at-fault or no-fault instance, In case of the no-fault eviction, the landlord must pay the tenant one month rent for the relocation expenses. 

Properties that are exempt from the rent control are also exempt from eviction control.

Roommates Rights

Subletting: Allowed
Responsibility to cover the roommate’s part of rent: Yes

According to the statutes, tenants can sublet the rental, but there should be another agreement executed separately.

Even though the subletting is allowed, the original tenant will always be responsible for the rental payments.

Rights Related to Landlord Disclosure

California state laws obligate landlords to disclose specific information about their rental and write this information down in the lease agreement. These disclosures include:

  • Informing about a condominium conversion project
  • If there was a deadly accident in the rental unit
  • Whether there is a military base or explosives located close to the building
  • If the landlord got a demolition permit
  • When the carcinogenic materials are located in the building
  • Asbestos hazards
  • Periodic pest control treatments
  • Methamphetamine contaminations
  • Shared utilities
  • Lead-based paint

Official Documents on Tenant Rights in California

Landlord and Tenant Law

Official California Statutes

California Landlord Handbook

Disclaimer: Although we have relied on Official State Statutes and other credible sources to find and analyze information for this post, you’re advised to use it as a starting point only, and do not consider this article a substitute for legal advice. Some situations are unique, and it is always better to consult with a qualified lawyer or appropriate government agencies.

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