NOTE: In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, over 150 cities and counties enacted emergency "eviction moratoriums." In addition, Governor Newsom issued a statewide declaration of emergency (which caps rent increases), and on 9/1/20 signed the statewide Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020. You can find a discussion of California COVID-19-related tenant protections (including emergency bans on rent increases) here.
In California, "rent control" in the narrowest sense 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). Sometimes the rate by which landlords can increase rent is expressed as a percentage of the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI).
On January 1, 2020, state law AB 1482 (California Tenant Protection Act) went into effect. AB 1482 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 only be raised twice over any 12 month period. AB 1482 does not override more restrictive city and county rent controls, but might apply to units they don't cover.
Here is a chart of California cities and counties that have rent control laws, with information on what those laws say. Information about limits on evictions and other protections for renters is below the chart. Keep in mind that the chart provides only summaries of the law, and that the full law might contain additional details that are relevant to 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 an apartment 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 exempt from rent control include owner-occupied buildings with no more than three or four units (depending on local regulation), short-term rentals (think 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 restrict the ability of landlords to evict. Otherwise, landlords could simply (and repeatedly) evict current tenants and rent to 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. Check your local ordinance(s) to see whether protections like the following apply:
Buyout agreement regulations. Strict guidelines regarding negotiated landlord-tenant agreements for early move-outs.
Mediation/arbitration services. Mediation services are designed to help landlords and tenants negotiate rent disputes and come to a resolution without having to go to court. Some ordinances make the parties undergo formal arbitration, where an independent third party makes a non-binding recommendation or a binding determination.
Minimum lease terms. Landlords can be required to offer written leases for a minimum amount of time, typically for at least a year.
Relocation reimbursements and moving expenses. Tenants forced to move because a unit is being remodeled, converted, or demolished are entitled to relocation payments and reimbursements.
Special notice requirements. The amount of notice required to evict or raise rent under a local ordinance might be greater than what state law requires. 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).
Source of income ordinances. Landlords cannot discriminate against low income tenants or recipients of government assistance.
Rent control ordinances vary greatly. Here are some resources that can get you detailed information on the law that applies to you:
January 11, 2021