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, 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 state cap.
Here is a chart noting 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 full 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.
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.
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:
Landlords who violate these restrictions often face stiff civil and even criminal penalties.
Rent control ordinances often have additional rules that protect tenants. For example, your local ordinances might include rules about:
Helpful resources for learning more about rent control in general as well as your local ordinances include:
Last updated: March 14, 2023
Need a lawyer? Start here.