What types of lease clauses are illegal in California?

Be on the lookout for these illegal terms in your California lease or rental agreement.

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Question

I’m concerned that my lease includes some illegal clauses that sign away my rights under California landlord-tenant law. Are there provisions I should watch out for?

Answer

Smart tenant!  You’ll want to avoid renting from a landlord who uses a lease with terms that attempt to take away various protections of California law. California’s Civil Code (CC § 1953) expressly forbids the use of many types of illegal provisions, including tenant waiver of the following rights:

  • rights granted by rent control laws, such as rent ceilings and  just cause for eviction requirements
  • repair-and-deduct rights that allow tenants to arrange for certain necessary repairs and deduct the cost from the next month’s rent (unless  the tenant agreed to handle repairs and maintenance in exchange for a lower rent)
  • the right to landlord notice to enter rental property to inspect or repair the property or to show  the rental property to prospective renters or buyers
  • the right to pursue legal action against a landlord who fails to maintain the rental property, which as a result, leads to a tenant’s (or guest’s) injury or property damage
  • rights under state-required eviction rules and eviction procedures, which prohibit “self-help” evictions, such as the landlord changing the locks and removing property if the tenant doesn’t pay the rent
  • the right to legal notice, trial, jury, or appeal in a lawsuit
  • the right to a refund of the security deposit within three weeks after the tenant vacates the property, or a written itemization as to how the deposit was applied to back rent, costs of cleaning and repairs, and the like, and
  • the right to communicate with other tenants—for example, for the purpose of organizing a tenants’ association.

For more details on these and other  illegal lease clauses in California, and tenant options for landlord violation of these rights, see California Tenant Rights, by David Brown and Janet Portman (Nolo).  Also see the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of this site for details on specific tenant protections and landlord responsibilities under California law. And if you’re looking for a legal California lease, check out the California Residential Lease offered by Nolo.

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