Both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and problems without a lawyer, once they understand the basics of state law. This overview of key landlord-tenant laws in California will get you started.
Under state law, California landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as whether the gas or electricity in the tenant’s rental also serves other areas and information about toxic mold if the landlord knows that mold on the property exceeds exposure limits or poses a threat to the tenant’s health.
California state law limits how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit (two months’ rent), when it must be returned (within 21 days after a tenant moves), and sets other restrictions on deposits. See California Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for more on the subject.
Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $10,000. See Filing a Security Deposit Lawsuit in California Small Claims Court for advice for tenants filing suit. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should check out California Landlord’s Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court.
State law regulates several rent-related issues, including late and bounced-check fees, the amount of notice landlords must give tenants to raise the rent, and how much time (three days in California) a tenant has to pay rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction. For details, see California Late Fees, Termination for Nonpayment of Rent, and Other Rent Rules.
Tenants may withhold rent, move out without notice, sue the landlord, call state or local health inspectors, or exercise the right to “repair and deduct” if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater. For specifics, see California Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or “Repair and Deduct”.
State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give a California tenant who has been assigning or subletting without permission an unconditional quit notice that gives the tenant three days to move out before the landlord can file for eviction. See State Laws on Unconditional Quit Terminations and State Laws on Termination for Violation of Lease for details on these types of termination notices in California.
Several other landlord-tenant laws in California affect both property owners and renters, including:
If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, start by checking citations for California landlord-tenant statutes To access the statutes themselves, see the state section of the Library of Congress’s legal research site. You can search the table of contents for the landlord-tenant statutes. Or, if you don’t know the exact statute number, you can enter a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as “nonpayment of rent.” You'll find citations for many of the specific statutes themselves in the relevant California articles (see links, above) on the Nolo site.
Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as rent control rules, health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and antidiscrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants. Many municipalities have websites —just search for the name of a particular city in California and then do a search when you’re on the site. For example, if you search for the noise ordinance in the City of San Francisco website, you’ll easily find information about what tenants can do regarding noise problems.
State and Local Government on the Net and Municode are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in California.
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in California, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.
The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 50 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”), also organized by subject into 50 separate titles. To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see the federal section of the Library of Congress’s legal research site.
For more information on legal research, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.
You’ll also find a wealth of information in The California Landlord's Law Book: Rights & Responsibilities and California Tenants' Rights.
Special rules may apply if you rent a "floating home," such as a house boat in a marina or a mobile home. You'll need to do your own legal research and check out state laws such as the Floating Home Residency Law or Mobile Home Residency Law.