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California Renter Rights Overview

While the rental market in California still tries to bounce back amidst a COVID-19 pandemic, we continue our educational series. We want you to know your tenants’ rights and live in California without fear of an uncontrolled rent increase or lease termination.

Let’s start from the very beginning and take a closer look at your rights at the application stage.

Contents

Rental Application

Application fee: cannot exceed $53.33
Rental agreement required: oral or written (if the term of a lease is one or two years)

When you apply for a place in California, your potential landlord can take the application fee, which will be used for the tenant screening process. They will request the credit report and background check to make sure that you’re a trustworthy prospect. You should know that they are only allowed to take up to a $53.33 screening fee (this amount changes annually and is based on the Consumer Price Index).  If the actual screening price is lower, the landlord must give back the difference. Also, in any case, they have to provide you with an itemized list of costs and a written receipt. 

If the landlord selects you and both of you are ready to strike a deal, you need to sign the lease agreement. It’s required to be a written one if you decide to rent a place for more than one year. An oral agreement can be applied only in case of a month-to-month tenancy.

Security Deposit

Pet deposit maximum: not indicated
Security deposit maximum: cannot be more than two (unfurnished) or three (furnished) 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: unpaid rent, damage beyond normal wear and tear, cleaning fees

State laws determine the amount of the security deposit that your landlord can charge you. The security deposit cannot exceed two or three months’ rent.

  • Two months — for an unfurnished place
  • Three months — for the furnished one
  • +1,5 months rent equivalent — if you have a waterbed at your rental

It’s common in some states to obligate a landlord to place the deposit into the interest-bearing account. There is no state-wide statute about that in California, although there are rent control ordinances locally in some cities that require landlords 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 must take place with a 48 hours notice.

Note: If your landlord decides to deduct any amount from your deposit, they must notify you in advance.

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 rental unit should have smoke alarms and be in proper working condition. California laws do not state if the batteries should be changed every time a new tenant moves in. It is your obligation as a renter to either change batteries by yourself or notify the landlord when you see that the battery should be changed.

According to the tenant-landlord laws in California, the landlord cannot enter the property without giving a 24-hour notice. Note that your landlord is also not allowed to enter the house while you’re absent and can enter it without notice only during an emergency.

Rental Payments

Maximum rent: not indicated
Late fees: allowed
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. 

However, there are specific rent control policies in place in California. If the landlord decided to increase the rent, they usually do that in between tenants. And, if you occupy the property for longer than a year, the increase is also allowed, but only once a year. Remember that the rent increase notice must always be in writing. 

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 to be less. However, there are certain exceptions to this law. For instance, the act does not apply to a rental property built in the last 15 years. For those cases, the rent control rules would immediately apply after the building turns older than 15 years. 

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,” which basically means that it can be sold separately as a distinct unit.

Any tenant in California can demand a written receipt for every rent payment. Late fees are allowed but must be reasonable according to the control laws.

If it turns out that your landlord is not responsive to your requests to fix certain issues, you can repair and deduct according to the California laws, but you can only withhold the equivalent of one month’s rent.

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

  1. You can only repair and deduct twice in a 12-month period.
  2. You must prove that the defect affects your health or safety directly.
  3. The issue cannot be caused by the tenant, their pet, or family guests.
  4. Before taking any action, you should provide the landlord with a written notice.
  5. The landlord should get a reasonable amount of time to repair the defects by themself first.

Los Angeles - tenant rights in California

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 until its end. What’s more, renting a place in California, 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.

Generally, if you have an issue with rental payments, your landlord is allowed to give you a three-day eviction notice. In case of any lease violations from your side, you’ll have the same three days to remedy them. The situation looks different during the COVID-19 pandemic and protects those tenants who are not able to pay their rent because of their difficult financial situation. 

AB1482, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 prohibit landlords from evicting 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, the landlord can evict a tenant who occupies the unit only under a 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 the eviction in writing, no matter the cause. In case of the no-fault eviction, the landlord must pay the tenant one month’s 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 subletting is allowed, the original tenant will always be fully responsible for the rental payments.

Rights Related to Landlord Disclosure

California state laws obligate landlords to disclose specific information about their rental and write it 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.

3 Comments

  1. Lynn DOOR says:

    My new landlord mentioned a buy out to move and asked me to name a price is ther a formula for calculating this or a normal amount sunce Ive been here 16 years

  2. Barby says:

    I live in San Mateo county California. My landlord has informed me they may be selling their property. I have lived here for two years and never have had a Late payment on my rant. If they sell, do they have to pay my relocating fees? I am a really good tenant. There has been no drama, no incidents.

  3. Michael M Logue says:

    I’m going 9 days over a 12 month lease. My landlord and I agreed that June 9th would be my last day. She wants to charge me until June 15 in order to have the time she needs for paint and carpet (pre-planned, not as a result of damage).

    Is this lawful?

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