Landlord-Tenant Laws in California

Important laws every California landlord and tenant needs to know.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

California is a very tenant-friendly state. It was one of the first states in the country to enact statewide rent control laws. The following is a summary of key laws that affect nearly all California landlords and tenants.

Statewide Rent Control in California

California's Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (the Act) implemented statewide rent and eviction control laws that affect most residential tenancies in the state. The Act caps rent increases statewide for qualifying units at 5% plus inflation, or 10% of the lowest gross rental rate charged at any time during the 12 months prior to the increase-whichever is lower. Additionally, landlords can raise rent only once over any 12-month period.

California also allows cities and counties to enact local rent control laws. The Act does not override more restrictive local rent control laws, but does override those that are less restrictive. Also, local rent control laws might apply to rental properties that the Act does not cover.

California Rental Application and Tenant Screening Laws

Can California landlords charge an application fee?

Yes. Landlords in California may charge a nonrefundable application fee that is no greater than their actual out-of-pocket costs for things such as screening services and the reasonable value of time spent by the landlord or an agent in obtaining information about the applicant. The application screening fee is adjusted annually in proportion to any increase in the Consumer Price Index. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6 (2023).) (As of 2023, the maximum application fee a California landlord can charge is approximately $55.) Landlords cannot charge an application screening fee if there is no current vacancy. Landlords must also provide applicants with a receipt itemizing the landlord's out-of-pocket expenses and time spent obtaining and processing the application. For more details, see the Nolo article California Law on Tenant Application Screening Fees and Credit Reports.

Can California landlords ask about an applicant's criminal history?

It depends. Some counties and cities (Oakland, for example) prohibit landlords from asking about an applicant's criminal history and running a criminal background check.

Even if the city or county where the rental is located does not prohibit landlords from considering applicants' criminal histories, landlords must be careful. When landlords consider applicants' criminal history, they must do so in a consistent, nondiscriminatory manner. If a landlord's practice of considering criminal history has a discriminatory effect—for example, if the landlord asks only applicants of a certain color for criminal history information—the landlord is engaging in illegal discrimination and can be subject to penalties. Also, landlords can reject applicants only for past convictions that are "directly-related" to the application—in other words, convictions that have a negative bearing on a legitimate business concern of the landlord. See the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing's information sheet on fair housing and criminal history for more information.

California Security Deposit Laws

What is the maximum security deposit a California landlord can charge?

For decades, the total of all deposits and fees required by the landlord—for security, cleaning, last month's rent, and so on—could not exceed an amount equal to two month's rent (three months for furnished units). But for tenancies beginning on or after July 1, 2024, the cap becomes one month's rent, furnished or unfurnished (the landlord can still demand, in addition, advance payment for the first month). (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5 (2024).)

The new law has a "small landlord" exception, allowing these landlords to continue to demand two months' rent (furnished or not). Landlords can collect two months' rent if they are:

  • a natural person or a limited liability company in which all members are natural persons, and
  • own no more than two residential rental properties that collectively include no more than four dwelling units offered for rent.

The small landlord exception doesn't apply when the applicant is a military servicemember (servicemembers include persons on active duty, reserve duty, or who are in the National Guard). These tenants are subject to the one month's rent cap. Landlords may not reject a servicemember on account of not being able to demand two months' rent as a deposit. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(c) (2024).) Finally, the waterbed deposit (an additional one-half month's rent) seems to have survived. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(g) (2024).)

Do California landlords have to pay interest on security deposits?

No state law requires landlords to pay interest on security deposits. However, local laws (those passed by a city or county) might require interest.

Can California landlords charge nonrefundable cleaning fees? Pet fees?

No. All cleaning fees and pet fees are considered to be part of the security deposit, and the total of any fees—whether they are called pet fees, cleaning fees, or a security deposit—must be no more than the applicable security deposit maximum. These fees are refundable under the same rules that apply to security deposits in general. Note that some landlords might charge an additional pet rent—this is not considered a deposit or pet fee.

How long do California landlords have to return a security deposit?

California landlords have 21 calendar days (see Cal. Code of Civ. Pro. sections 12 and 12a for help calculating deadlines) after the tenant has vacated the premises to provide the tenant with an itemized statement indicating the amount of and use of the security deposit and to return any remaining portion of the security deposit. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5 (2023).)

For more details about California security deposit laws, see Nolo's article California Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines.

Required Landlord Disclosures in California

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.

For details on disclosures that California landlords must make, please see Nolo's article What Disclosures Do Landlords in California Need to Give Tenants?

Small Claims Lawsuits in California

What is the limit a landlord or tenant can sue for in California small claims court?

Individuals can sue in California small claims court up to a dollar amount of $10,000, except that a plaintiff (the party who is suing) cannot file a claim over $2,500 more than twice a year. Businesses cannot sue for more than $5,000 in California small claims court. Until February 1, 2025, small claims courts in California can hear claims for COVID-related rental debt of any amount. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 116.110 to 116.950 (2023).)

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.

California Late Fees and Other Rent Rules

California 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 a tenant has to pay rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction.

Is there a grace period for paying rent in California?

No, California landlords are not required to give tenants a rent payment grace period. Rent is due on the date specified in the lease or rental agreement, and a landlord can consider it late if it is not paid on that date. However, if the lease or rental agreement gives the tenant a grace period for paying rent, the landlord must honor it, and cannot consider rent to be late until after the grace period has passed.

How long does a landlord have to wait after a tenant is late with rent before filing an eviction suit?

When a tenant is late with rent, the landlord cannot file an eviction suit until the landlord has given the tenant a properly written and served three-day notice to pay rent or quit. The three days does not include Saturdays, Sundays, and other judicial holidays. If the tenant does not pay the rent owed or move out within those three days, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161 (2023).)

Can California landlords charge tenants a fee for bounced checks?

Yes. California law allows landlords to charge tenants $25 for the first bounced check, and $35 for each additional bounced check. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1719 (2023).)

Can California landlords require tenants to pay rent in cash?

In some circumstances, yes—California landlords can require their tenants to pay rent in cash only when the tenant has given the landlord a check that bounced or placed a stop payment on a check within the past three months. When a landlord chooses to require cash payment, the landlord must give the tenant a written notice stating that the payment did not go through and informing the tenant that the rent must be paid in cash for a certain period (the period cannot be more than three months). The landlord must also attach a copy of the bad check or other type of instrument to the notice. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947.3 (2023).)

Can California landlords charge tenants late rent fees?

Yes, California landlords can charge tenants a fee for paying rent late. However, the late fee must be a reasonable estimate of the cost that the landlord incurs because the rent is late (for example, any interest or collection costs), and the lease or rental agreement must include specific information about late fees.

Can California landlords raise the rent?

Yes, but subject to any applicable state and local rent control rules. California has statewide rent control that applies to certain rentals. Cities and counties in California can also enact their own rent control rules. Landlords must comply with these rules regarding how, when, and by how much they can raise the rent.

For details, see California Late Fees, Termination for Nonpayment of Rent, and Other Rent Rules.

Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent in California

California landlords are legally required to offer and maintain habitable rentals. 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. (Cal. Civ. Pro. Code §§ 1174.2, 1942 (2023).) For specifics, see California Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or "Repair and Deduct".

Can California tenants withhold rent when a landlord doesn't make repairs?

Yes, California tenants can withhold rent when a landlord doesn't maintain habitable (livable) premises. There must be a true habitability problem that imperils health or safety to justify withholding rent. And, the problem must not have been caused by the tenant or the tenant's guest.

Can California tenants make repairs and deduct the cost (use the "repair and deduct" remedy) when a landlord doesn't make repairs?

Yes, California tenants can use the repair and deduct remedy in certain circumstances. First, the defect must be a serious one that the tenant has attempted—unsuccessfully—to have the landlord fix. The tenant can then fix the problem (either on their own or by hiring a handyperson) and deduct the cost from rent. However, the tenant cannot spend more than one month's rent on the repair, and the tenant cannot have used the repair and deduct remedy twice already in the past 12 months. The tenant must also adhere to any local rules regarding the repair and deduct remedy.

California Termination and Eviction Rules

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.

Failure to pay rent

When a California tenant fails to pay rent on time, the landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice to pay rent or quit (move) before the landlord can file an eviction suit. If the tenant does not pay rent or move out within those three days, the landlord can sue. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161 (2023).)

Lease violation

When a California tenant violates a term of the lease—such as having a pet in violation of a no-pets policy—the landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice to cure (fix the problem) or quit. If the tenant does not fix the problem or move out within those three days, the landlord can sue. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161 (2023).)

Unconditional quit notice

California landlords can give tenants a three-day unconditional quit notice (meaning that the tenant does not have the chance to remedy the problem) when tenants assign or sublet the rental without permission, commit waste or a nuisance, or engage in illegal activity at the rental. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161 (2023).)

California Rules About Landlords' Access to Property

In all states, even in the absence of a statute, landlords can enter a rental without giving notice in order to deal with a true emergency (an imminent and serious threat to health, safety, or property); and when the tenant has abandoned the property (left for good). California law also addresses when and how landlords can enter rental property in non-emergency situations.

How much notice does a California landlord have to give a renter before entering the rental?

California landlords must give reasonable notice before entering a rental to inspect or make (non-emergency) repairs. 24 hours is presumed to be reasonable for most matters; 48 hours is presumed reasonable for the initial move-out inspection. (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1950.5, 1954 (2023).)

Does a landlord's entry notice need to be in writing?

Yes, in California landlords must give written notice before entering a rental for non-emergency matters.

Other California Landlord-Tenant Laws

Several other landlord-tenant laws in California affect both property owners and renters, including:

Where to Find California Landlord-Tenant Statutes

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.

Local Ordinances Affecting California Landlords and Tenants

Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as rent control rules, health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and anti-discrimination 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 (click on "Code Library" in the main menu) 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.

Federal Landlord-Tenant Laws and Regulations

Congress and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have enacted laws and regulations that apply to the landlord-tenant relationship in California. These laws and regulations address topics such as 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 53 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"). 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.

Nolo Resources on Legal Research and Landlord-Tenant Law

For more information on legal research, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias (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.

Types of Rentals Not Covered by California Residential Landlord-Tenant Law

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 (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 800-800.306) or Mobile Home Residency Law (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 798-799.11).

California Civil Code section 1940 lists other types of occupancies that are exempt from the state's residential landlord-tenant laws. These include transient occupancy in a hotel, motel, residence club, or other facility, and occupancy in a hotel or motel where the innkeeper retains a right of access to and control of the dwelling unit, among others.

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