California Tenants' Rights FAQ

Answers to four questions California tenants frequently ask.

Updated by , Attorney

Here's a discussion of four frequently asked questions about tenants' rights in California.

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 rights you're guaranteed under California law.

California's Civil Code expressly forbids lease terms that agree to modify or waive any 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 receive advance notice of a landlord's intent to enter the rental for an inspection, to make repairs, or to show the property to prospective renters or buyers
  • the right to pursue legal action against a landlord who fails to maintain the rental property when 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.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1953 (2023).)

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.

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 doesn't apply. This means the landlord doesn't 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) when:

  • 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.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 (2023).)

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

California landlords can demand that you pay your rent in cash when you've previously:

  • given the landlord a check that has bounced or
  • placed a stop payment on a check, draft, or other order for payment of money.

The landlord can require you to pay in cash for the three months after you've given one of these faulty forms of payment. The landlord must give you a written notice stating that your payment didn't go through and that you will have to pay rent in cash for a time period of no longer than three months. "Cash" means currency and does not include cashier's checks or money orders, which the landlord can require in the lease or rental agreement. A copy of the dishonored payment must be attached to the notice. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947.3 (2023).)

As for requiring you to pay online, there's no law explicitly addressing the circumstances when a landlord could require you to pay online. However, you and the landlord can always agree that rent can be paid by cash or online (via electronic funds transfer), as long as another form of payment is also authorized. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1947.3 (2023).)

Can California landlords prohibit waterbeds in rental units?

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

If the rental property is more than 40 years old (received a certificate of occupancy before January 1973), a landlord may legally refuse to allow a waterbed.

But if the building received a certificate of occupancy after January 1, 1973, the landlord might not be able to refuse you as a tenant just because you have a waterbed: Landlords of these properties can't refuse to allow 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 be maintained, and must meet the standards of the manufacturer, retailer, or state law—whichever provides the higher degree of safety.

Note that California landlords can charge you a higher security deposit if you have a waterbed, though: The maximum security deposit allowed increases from two months' rent to two-and-a-half months' rent. (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1940.5, 1950.5 (2023).)

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 Nolo's State Landlord-Tenant Laws section 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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