FAQs About California Tenants' Rights

Without reading all of California's landlord tenant statutes, here are some important questions you might want to look further into.

Without reading all of California's landlord tenant statutes, here are some important questions you might want to look further into.

Questions

I'm concerned that a lease contains some illegal clauses. Are there particular words or provisions to watch out for before I sign?

Smart tenant! You’ll want to avoid renting from a landlord who uses a lease with terms that attempt to take away various protections of California law. California’s Civil Code (Cal. Civ. Code § 1953) expressly forbids the use of many types of illegal provisions, including tenant waiver of the following rights:

  • rights granted by rent control laws, such as rent ceilings and just cause for eviction requirements
  • repair-and-deduct rights that allow tenants to arrange for certain necessary repairs and deduct the cost from the next month’s rent (unless the tenant agreed to handle repairs and maintenance in exchange for a lower rent)
  • the right to landlord notice to enter rental property to inspect or repair the property or to show the rental property to prospective renters or buyers
  • the right to pursue legal action against a landlord who fails to maintain the rental property where this failure leads to a tenant’s (or guest’s) injury or property damage
  • rights under state-required eviction rules and eviction procedures that prohibit “self-help” evictions, such as the landlord changing the locks and removing property if the tenant doesn’t pay the rent
  • the right to legal notice, trial, jury, or appeal in a lawsuit
  • the right to a refund of the security deposit within three weeks after the tenant vacates the property or a written itemization as to how the deposit was applied to back rent, costs of cleaning and repairs, and the like, and
  • the right to communicate with other tenants—for example, for the purpose of organizing a tenants’ association.

Are California landlords required to provide a Spanish copy of the lease to native Spanish speakers?

It depends on whether the landlord discussed the lease in Spanish, and whether and how a translator was involved in lease discussions. California state law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1632) spells out the rules on the subject.

If the landlord and your father discussed the lease primarily in Spanish, the landlord must give your father (the tenant) an unsigned version of the lease in Spanish before asking your father to sign the lease. But if your father supplied his own translator, such as an adult child (maybe you), who is not a minor and who can speak and read Spanish and English fluently, the rule does not apply. This means the landlord does not need to give your father a copy of the lease in Spanish.

The rule does apply (that is, the landlord must give your father an unsigned version of the lease in Spanish) if:

  • your father supplied a translator who does not meet the above two requirements (in terms of age and language fluency—for example, if your teenage daughter was the translator during lease discussions) or
  • the landlord did the translation (or supplied a translator) during lease discussions.

The above California rules also apply to leases negotiated in other languages, specifically Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean.

Can my landlord require me to pay rent in cash or online?

The law allows you and the landlord to agree to pay rent in cash or via electronic funds transfer, but the landlord must allow another payment alternative, such as checks, unless you bounce a check (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947.3). “Cash” means currency and does not include cashier’s checks or money orders, which the landlord can require in the lease or rental agreement.

That said, if you later bounce or stop payment on a rent check, your landlord can insist on cash payment of the rent. First, however, the landlord must give you a written notice. Also, the demand for cash payment may last no longer than three months.

Can California landlords prohibit waterbeds in rental units?

Whether the landlord can refuse your waterbed request depends on the age of your building.

If the rental property is more than 40 years old (built before January, 1973), a landlord may legally refuse to rent to a tenant who has a waterbed.

But if the building was constructed after 1973, the landlord may have to allow you to have a waterbed. Under state law in California (Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.5), landlords of rental property built after 1973 cannot refuse to allow tenants waterbeds if the tenant obtains a replacement-value $100,000 waterbed insurance policy and gives at least 24 hours’ written notice before installing the waterbed, with the landlord to be present when this occurs. In addition, the waterbed must meet specified construction standards set by the California State Bureau of Home Furnishings.

The landlord may also be able to charge a higher security deposit in California (an additional half-month’s rent) to tenants with waterbeds.

Additional Resources on California Rent Law

For details on tenant and leasing issues in California, and tenant options for landlord violation of these rights, see California Tenants' Rights, by J. Scott Weaver and Janet Portman (Nolo). Also see the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of this site for details on specific tenant protections and landlord responsibilities under California law. And if you’re looking for a legal California lease, check out the California Residential Lease offered by Nolo.

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