Updates on California Rent Control and Rent Stabilization Laws

City-by-city rent control rules in California, with information on eviction protection.

By , Attorney

In California, rent control (also known as rent stabilization) traditionally referred to city or county ordinances that limited the rent landlords could charge. (Popular perceptions of rent control include restrictions on evictions, as explained below.) Rent control laws typically specify a maximum percentage by which landlords can increase rent (for example, 5%) along with corresponding limits on the frequency of increases (typically once annually). Often the percentage of increase is tied to the area's annual Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is the price for items like gasoline, food and utilities.

The California Tenant Protection Act caps rent increases statewide for qualifying units at either 5% plus the increase in the regional consumer price index (CPI), or 10% of the lowest rent charged at any time during the 12 months prior to the increase—whichever is less. Additionally (and subject to the rent cap), rent may be raised only twice over any 12 month period.

With inflation (and thus regional CPI) skyrocketing in 2022-2023, literally the entire state met the 10% of lowest rent threshold rather than the CPI-based threshold, allowing landlords to increase rent up to 10% annually. Note, though, that cities and counties can enact their own rent control. If your county or city has a lower rent "cap," that local cap might apply instead of the statewide cap.

Here is a chart indicating which California cities and counties have rent control laws, along with a summary of the local law. Information about limits on evictions and other protections for renters is below the chart. Keep in mind the chart provides only summaries, and the actual law might contain important additional details that impact your situation. For more information on the many local ordinances that affect rent and evictions, including relocation assistance and owner move-ins, see our detailed Rent Control Chart for California.

Property Subject to Rent Control

Rent control laws apply to typical rental units, like apartments within a complex. But not all rentals in California are subject to rent control. A 1995 state law, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, says that local rent-control regulation doesn't apply to single family homes, condominiums, and units built after February 1, 1995 (many ordinances also exempt properties built after the ordinance's effective date). The Costa-Hawkins Act also allows "vacancy decontrol" of rent-controlled units, meaning landlords can raise rents to market levels when tenants move out (voluntarily or after being evicted for rent nonpayment).

Other properties that might be exempt from rent control (depending on local regulation) include owner-occupied buildings with no more than three or four units, short-term rentals (such as those listed on Airbnb), government-subsidized tenancies (Berkeley and San Francisco excluded), and detached ("granny") units that could not be sold independent of the main house.

Evictions in Rent Control Areas

A tenancy typically ends either when a fixed-term lease expires or after a landlord or tenant in a month-to-month lease gives notice. A landlord can legally ask a tenant to vacate the rental in either situation, without specifying a reason (but cannot do so if the reason is retaliation for the tenant having exercised a tenant right, or for a discriminatory reason).

But for rent control to work—especially because landlords can raise rent to market levels following a legitimate vacancy—the law must also limit evictions. Otherwise, landlords could simply (and repeatedly) evict current tenants in favor of new tenants willing to pay higher rents. To head off this possibility, most rent control ordinances require "just cause"—acceptable reasons—to evict.

Examples of just cause include:

  • violating a significant term of the lease—for example, failing to pay rent or having unauthorized roommates
  • engaging in illegal or prohibited activities like drug dealing, disturbing neighbors, or damaging property
  • the landlord wanting to move into the unit or have a family member do so, and
  • the landlord wanting to do a remodel that can't be done while tenants are living in the property. (Sometimes, landlords in this situation must offer tenants a similar unit to rent or the opportunity to re-rent the remodeled property at the same rent after the project.)

Landlords who violate these restrictions often face stiff civil and even criminal penalties.

Other Protections for Renters

Rent control ordinances often have additional rules that protect tenants. For example, your local ordinances might include rules about:

  • Buyout agreements. Local ordinances might have strict rules regarding any agreements a landlord and tenant make about ending the lease before the term is up. For example, an ordinance might require a landlord to pay the tenant a sum of money (such as a month's rent) in the event the landlord asks the tenant to move out early.
  • Mediation or arbitration. Mediation services are designed to help landlords and tenants negotiate rent and other disputes without having to go to court. Some ordinances make the parties undergo mediation or arbitration, where an independent third party makes a non-binding recommendation or a binding determination.
  • Minimum lease terms. Local ordinances might require landlords to offer written leases for a minimum amount of time, typically for at least a year.
  • Relocation reimbursements and moving expenses. Landlords might be required to pay tenants' moving expenses when a unit is being remodeled, converted, or demolished.
  • Notice periods. A local ordinance might require landlords to give more notice than state law when the landlord wants to evict a tenant or raise the rent. An ordinance might also give longer notice periods to certain tenants, like people with disabilities, senior citizens, and school-aged children. The landlord might also be required to provide tenants with a copy of the ordinance or with written notice about specific tenant rights under the ordinance (like rent review or mediation).
  • Illegal discrimination. For example, a local ordinance might state that landlords cannot discriminate against low income tenants or recipients of government assistance.

Where to Get More Information About Rent Control

Helpful resources for learning more about rent control in general as well as your local ordinances include:

  • Nolo Books. Nolo's books The California Landlord's Law Book: Rights & Responsibilities and California Tenants' Rights provide comprehensive summaries of landlord-tenant law. Each book comes with access to a page on Nolo.com that has detailed updates.
  • Your city's rent control board. Your local rent control board should be able to provide a copy of the current local ordinance(s), and possibly a brochure with explanations (visit their offices or find them online). Your city or county government's website might also link to local rent control laws.
  • Local tenants' organizations. Almost every city with rent control has at least one active tenants' group. These organizations typically monitor the rent board, court decisions, and proposed ballot amendments that affect renters. These groups can usually provide written explanations of the relevant law, and sometimes have volunteer staff available to answer questions. Some even provide free or low-cost legal assistance.
  • Local attorneys who specialize in landlord-tenant law. Getting a referral to an attorney is a good option. Tenants' organizations and legal aid offices can often provide references to attorneys specializing in landlord-tenant law. Also, you can use Nolo's Lawyer Directory to find local attorneys who focus on landlord-tenant law.

Last updated: September 19, 2023

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