NOTE: For an update on statewide rent control in California, see our article on California's Tenant Protection Act of 2019.
Your lease or rental agreement should spell out your landlord’s key rent rules, including:
State laws in California cover several of these rent-related issues, including limits on late fees, the amount of notice a landlord must provide to increase rent under a month-to-month tenancy, and how much time a tenant has to pay rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction. In addition, several cities in California have some form of rent control.
Rent is legally due on the date specified in your lease or rental agreement (usually the first of the month). If you don’t pay rent when it is due, the landlord may begin charging you a late fee. Under California law, a late fee will be enforced only if the fee is a reasonable estimate of the amount that the lateness of the payment will cost the landlord, and if specified language is include in a written lease or rental agreement.
California allows landlords to charge $25 for the first bounced check, and $35 for each additional bounced check.
California landlords must give tenants at least 30 days’ notice—unless the sum of this rent increase and all prior rent increases during the previous 12 months is more than 10% of the lowest rent charged during that time. In the latter case, the landlord must give the tenant 60 days’ notice.
California landlords may not raise the rent in a discriminatory manner—for example, only for members of a certain race. Also, California landlords may not use a rent increase in retaliation against you for exercising a legal right—for example, in response to your legitimate complaint to a local housing agency about a broken heater.
States set specific rules and procedures for ending a tenancy when a tenant has not paid the rent. California landlords must give tenants at least three days in which to pay the rent or move. If the tenant does neither, the landlord can file for eviction.
Rent control is a local phenomenon in California, established either through the initiative process or by the act of a city council or a county board of supervisors. State law regulates some specifics of the various rent control ordinances. The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (CC § 1954.50-1954.53) restricts cities’ power to impose rent control on single-family homes and condominium units, and also requires cities to allow landlords to raise rents after certain types of vacancies occur.
Some form of rent regulation (including rent mediation) now exists in 17 California communities, including Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco. (San Diego does not regulate rent, but does require a “just cause” (legal reason, such as nonpayment of rent) for a landlord to evict a tenant.) Rent control ordinances typically set a base rent for each rental unit that takes into account several different factors, including the rent that was charged before rent control took effect, operation and upkeep expenses, inflation, and housing supply and demand. The ordinances allow the base rent to be increased under certain circumstances or at certain times.
No two rent control ordinances are exactly alike in California. Some cities have elected or appointed boards that have the power to adjust rents; others allow a certain percentage increase each year as part of their ordinances. All cities, however, are subject to “vacancy decontrol,” which means that when a tenant moves out voluntarily (or is asked to leave for a just cause), the unit can be rerented at the market rate.
Many rent control ordinances in California control more than how much rent a landlord may charge, and govern how and under what circumstances a landlord may terminate a tenancy, even one from month to month, by requiring the landlord to have just cause to evict. Many cities, most notably Los Angeles, require landlords to register their properties with a local rent control agency.
Not all rental housing within a rent-controlled city is subject to rent control. Generally, new buildings as well as owner-occupied buildings with two (or sometimes even three or four) units or fewer are exempt from rent control ordinances. Some cities also exempt rentals in single-family houses and luxury units that rent for more than a certain amount.
If you own rental property in a city that has rent control, you should always have a current copy of the ordinance and any regulations interpreting it. For a collection of local rent-control rules, see Nolo's article, California Rent Control Law. Start by contacting your city website for information on rent control or rent stabilization:
Here’s where to find California state law relevant to rent rules:
For California state law regarding rent control (most of which is covered by local ordinances), see Cal. Civil Code § 1954.50-1954.53.
See the Laws and Legal Research section of Nolo for advice on finding and reading statutes and court decisions.
For an overview of tenant rights when it comes to paying rent under California landlord-tenant law, see .
For a detailed discussion of rent control and rent rules, eviction protection, and other landlord-tenant law in California, see the Nolo book California Tenants’ Rights, by Janet Portman and David Brown.