Both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and problems without a lawyer, once they understand the basics of state law. This overview of key landlord-tenant laws in California will get you started.
Required Landlord Disclosures in California
Under California law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as whether the gas or electricity in the tenant’s rental also serves other areas and information about toxic mold if the landlord knows that mold on the property exceeds exposure limits or poses a threat to the tenant’s health. For a full list, see California Required Landlord Disclosures.
California Security Deposit Limit and Return
California state law limits how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit (two months’ rent), when it must be returned (within 21 days after a tenant moves), and sets other restrictions on deposits. See California Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for more on the subject.
Small Claims Lawsuits in California
Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $10,000. See Filing a Security Deposit Lawsuit in California Small Claims Court for advice for tenants filing suit. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should check out California Landlord’s Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court.
California Late Fees and Other Rent Rules
State law regulates several rent-related issues, including late and bounced-check fees, the amount of notice landlords must give tenants to raise the rent, and how much time (three days in California) a tenant has to pay rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction. For details, see California Late Fees, Termination for Nonpayment of Rent, and Other Rent Rules.
Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent in California
Tenants may withhold rent, move out without notice, sue the landlord, call state or local health inspectors, or exercise the right to “repair and deduct” if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater. For specifics, see California Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or “Repair and Deduct”.
California Termination and Eviction Rules
State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give a California tenant who has been assigning or subletting without permission an unconditional quit notice that gives the tenant three days to move out before the landlord can file for eviction. See State Laws on Unconditional Quit Terminations and State Laws on Termination for Violation of Lease for details on these types of termination notices in California.
Landlord Access to Rental Property, Tenant Protection Against Retaliation, and Other State Laws in California
Several other landlord-tenant laws in California affect both property owners and renters, including:
- restrictions on landlord’s right to access rental property (California landlords must provide 24 hours’ notice of entry, or 48 for the initial move-out inspection)
- tenant protections against landlord retaliation for tenant exercising a legal right, such as complaining about an unsafe living condition (see California State Laws Prohibiting Landlord Retaliation for details)
- special protections for tenants who are victims of domestic violence (see California State Laws Affecting Tenants in Domestic Violence Situations)
- procedures for how landlords must handle abandoned property left behind by tenants, and
- fair housing rights (discrimination is also prohibited by federal and, often, local law—see the Housing Discrimination section of the Nolo site for details).
Where to Find California Landlord-Tenant Statutes
If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, you’ll find citations in many of the articles and charts included in the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of the Nolo site. To access the statutes, go to the California Laws and Legal Information section of the Nolo site and find the link to your state laws.
If you just want to browse through the California landlord-tenant law, you can find state statutes at Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1925 to 1954.1; 1961 to 1995.340. You can search the table of contents for the landlord-tenant statutes. Or, if you don’t know the exact statute number, you can enter a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as “nonpayment of rent.”
In addition to accessing state laws via Nolo’s website, California statutes are available in many public libraries and in most law libraries that are open to the public (typically found in a county courthouse or at the state capitol or in a publicly-funded law school).
Local Ordinances Affecting California Landlords and Tenants
Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as rent control rules, health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and antidiscrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants. Many municipalities have websites —just search for the name of a particular city in California and then do a search when you’re on the site. For example, if you search for the noise ordinance in the City of San Francisco website, you’ll easily find information about what tenants can do regarding noise problems.
State and Local Government on the Net and Municode are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in California.
Federal Landlord-Tenant Laws and Regulations
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in California, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.
The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 50 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”), also organized by subject into 50 separate titles.
To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see Nolo’s Federal Law Resources page. Also, the Cornell Legal Information Institute provides the entire U.S. Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulations. Finally, check USA.gov, the official U.S. website for government information.
Nolo Resources on Legal Research and Landlord-Tenant Law
Nolo’s Laws and Legal Research page includes links to state and federal laws, explains how to research and understand statutes, and provides advice on finding local ordinances and court cases, including Supreme Court cases. To go further, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.