Every state in America has a specific set of landlord-tenant laws that guide and mandate how you as a landlord interact with both potential and long-term tenants. From the beginning of the renting process with tenant screening to the very end of the process, you must follow these laws exactly or you run the risk of being sued.

These laws were made to protect both you and the tenant, and that is why they are so important.

California is no exception to these laws. In fact, the California Landlord Tenant Laws are known to be some of the most extensive in America. Depending on what city you live in, you may have even more specific guidelines to follow as the following laws are statewide. Checking your specific city mandates is a key step in the learning process, too.

Let’s dive into the details of landlord tenant law in California; do you know everything that you need to know?

Table of Contents for California Landlord Tenant Law

Tenant Screening (Including New 2018 Changes)

As you already may know, tenant screening is incredibly important. With the right screening process in place, you can ensure that you are bringing in reliable and committed tenants that will add to your properties’ long-term profitability. But you cannot simply ask potential tenants any questions that you want to! California, in particular, has implemented some new laws that affect how you must screen tenants.

New Tenant Screening Laws

Due to a recent case called Connor vs. First Student, landlords in California must be careful about how they use eviction and/or criminal background checks in the screening process.

Before running these checks, you must disclose your specific intentions to the tenant in question, and they must be given the opportunity to receive a copy of the checks. Once you receive the reports, you must send these to the tenant within 3 days.

The information provided to the tenant in question will clearly let them know who is requesting information about them and what that information is being used for.

You can read the complete changes in this new law here and here.

What You Cannot Ask

Like in all states, there are specific things that you are not allowed to ask about.

On the federal level, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to ask about the following information when learning about prospective tenants:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Disability

Rental Agreements Do’s and Don’ts

In California, you are required to create and sign a written rental agreement for any rental period that exceeds 12 months according to landlord tenant law California specifications. If you are going to have a tenant on the property for just a few months, you do not need more than an oral agreement, but most landlords choose to work with a written agreement to keep the terms clear and keep themselves protected.

There are a number of unique things that must be disclosed to tenants about a property before they sign a rental agreement in California.

All landlords must give the following information to tenants before they move in or apply. It is considered to be the landlord’s responsibility to educate their tenants about the risks of these areas even if they are not currently an issue on the property:

There are some other situations that may only apply to some landlords in California. Because the list is quite long, we’ll summarize it here with links to the relevant codes and laws so that you can read up if it applies to your units.

Security Deposits

While some states require that you collect a security deposit, California does not. We highly recommend that you do so; however, collect security deposit according to the measures outlined by California law. This deposit can protect you if the tenant disappears or doesn’t pay.

Security Deposit Limitations

Most landlords in California choose to ask for a security deposit that is equal to one month’s rent, but you are permitted to ask for up to two month’s rent in most cities in California.

The landlord tenant law California security deposit procedure limits landlords like you from collecting more than two month’s rent for a security deposit unless the unit is furnished. If it is furnished, you can collect up to three month’s rent for the security deposit.

California does not require that you provide a receipt for security deposits when they are received, but we recommend that you do so for the benefit of both your and your tenant’s records. Include date, amount, names, and information about where the money will be held during the rental period on the receipt.

Interest & Security Deposits

Some cities in California, such as San Francisco, require that landlords pay interest on the security deposits that they are holding. To find out if you are responsible for paying interest on this money, check with your local rental board.

Withholding a Security Deposit

There are three main reasons that you can withhold a security deposit in California:

  • Tenant owes you rent
  • Tenant caused damages beyond normal wear and tear
  • Tenant left the unit dirty

If the tenant does not cause any of these problems, they must receive their entire security deposit back within 21 days.

If the tenant does cause these problems and you are planning to withhold part or all of the security deposit, then there is more that you must do than just keep the money:

  1. Provide the tenant with an itemized list of what costs are being covered by the security deposit.
  2. Include copies of paid receipts with this list.
  3. Take pictures of all items and areas in question just in case a tenant disagrees with your withholding.
  4. Send this itemized list to the tenant along with their remaining security deposit within 21 days of the tenant moving out.

In most cases, you must make the repairs left behind by a tenant within those 21 days because you have to provide receipts. If the repairs necessary are substantial, hiring a contractor to do a quote on the cost of repair may be enough.

Rent & Rent Control

One of the most important parts of handling a rental property is handling the rent! There are a few things that you need to know about how rent works in California.

How Rent Is Paid

There are no specific laws in California about how rent must be paid. The only regulation is this: You cannot require that a tenant pay you in cash unless they have given you a bad check within the last three months that bounced.

Otherwise, you can collect rent in whichever system pleases you and the tenant.

Rental Increases

When managing properties in California, it is legal to increase rent if you are not in a rent control area, but you must do so according to specific regulations.

Here is how much notice you have to give about rent increases:

  • 30-day notice
    According to landlord tenant law California, a 30-day notice be must be given to a tenant in the majority of situations where you are increasing rent.
  • 60-day notice
    If the sum of the rent increase & all prior rent increase during the last year is higher than 10% of the lowest rent during that time, then you must give 60 days of notice.

You are permitted to increase rent because of rising market value in the area or simply to increase your profits, but you cannot increase rent because you don’t like the tenant and want them to leave. This is called retaliation, and it is illegal in California.

Rent Control

One subset of rental increases that you need to pay attention to depending on where you work in California is rent control!

Rent control is when a city or municipality sets a limit on the rental prices in the area or the amount that they can increase within a certain amount of time. While the California state laws do not give any specific requirements on rent control, there are a number of cities that have rent control laws:

  • Los Angeles
  • Berkeley
  • Beverley Hills
  • San Francisco
  • Campbell
  • Fremont
  • Hayward
  • East Palo Alto
  • Oakland
  • Los Gatos
  • Palm Springs
  • Santa Monica
  • San Jose
  • West Hollywood
  • Thousand Oaks

If you are working in one of these cities, be sure to read up on the latest rent control news and information to ensure that you are aware of what you are and are not allowed to do at this time when it comes to managing rent prices.

Late Fees

Late fees for late rental payments are allowed in California, but there are limits to how much you are allowed to charge.

According to California law, the late fee must be a reasonable amount that matches up with what type of cost the landlord will incur because of the late rent. Additionally, the specific late fee and conditions for the late fee must be in the lease agreement. This is a bit vague, right?

Unfortunately, general California state law does not give any more specific guidelines to landlords. While some cities might have more specific rules about late fees, it’s up to you as a landlord to decide what is a reasonable late fee.

Maintenance Charges

Handling maintenance on a rental property can be confusing and complicated. It is even possible to make specifications about who is responsible for what is in your lease, and these terms would then work in conjunction with California law.

In California, landlords are required to do the following types of repairs:

  • Keep building within state and local codes
  • Do any maintenance that is required to make the property liveable
  • The landlord does not have to do any repairs to damages that were caused by the tenant, their guests, or their pets.

What exactly does “livable” mean in California?

According to Civil Code § 1941.1 and § 1941.3, rental units must meet the following minimum requirements to be deemed livable:

  • Waterproofing & weather protection on all walls, the roof, windows, and doors
  • Working plumbing, heating, and electrical
  • Clean & sanitary unit free from filth, bugs, debris, etc.
  • Safe floors, railings, and stairs
  • Proper locks on doors & windows
  • No lead paint
  • Nothing generally hazardous to human life

Timeline for Repairs

If there are repairs needed on the property, you as a landlord only have so much time to make them. Once a tenant has notified you about the need for a repair on the property, you usually have up to 30 days to make the repairs.

In some cases, the repairs must be made more quickly if the problem is making the unit unlivable. For instance, a broken furnace may need to be fixed within a few days if it is cold outside.

If you do not make the repairs quickly enough, the tenant may follow any of the courses of action:

  • Repair and deduct: They hire a contractor themselves and then deduct the cost from their next month’s rent.
  • Abandon the unit: If the problems are making the unit unlivable or the repairs would cost more than one month’s rent, the tenant can abandon the unit.
  • Withhold rent: They don’t have to pay until you fix it if the problem is severe enough to be considered dangerous.
  • Sue you: It’s your job to fix things, after all!
  • Call state or local health inspectors: This is usually the last measure resort used in apartment buildings and other communal living situations when many people are affected.

Repair and Deduct

It is possible to allow tenants to hire someone to fix problems that have not been handled by the landlord so as long as the repairs needed are seriously affecting the quality of life in the unit. Additionally, the cost of the repairs cannot be more than the cost of one month’s rent.  (Civil Code § 1941.1-1942.5)

Entry to Property in California Rentals

There may be times when you believe that you need to enter a unit that tenants are living in, but remember that there are legalities about when you can do this and when you cannot.

Generally speaking, you can only enter a property in the following situations:

  • Emergency situation (water leak, gas leak, etc.)
  • Agreed-upon repairs
  • Showing unit to new, prospective tenants
  • Property has been abandoned
  • Court order to inspect the waterbed

If you need to enter the property for one of these reasons, you must give at least 24 hours of written notice before entering the property. Additionally, you can only enter the property during the business hours of 8 am and 5 pm on weekdays.

The only time that you can enter a property without notice or outside of these hours is when there is an emergency situation such as a gas leak. In emergencies, you do not need to give notice, but you should keep a record of the situation to show to the tenant if they disagree that it was an emergency.

Utilities: California Costs

When it comes to utilities in California, you are free to split things up between multiple tenants in a building or to pay for them yourself. Regardless of how you decide to handle utilities, the key point is that you must clearly disclose how utilities will be dealt with in the lease agreement.

You can read the full utility code here.

Additionally, you must let the tenant know if their utilities are affected by usage in any common areas, such as hallways or lounges. If they are, you must explain how those costs are divided.

Finally, you cannot shut off appliances to get the tenant to pay rent or for any other reason. This is considered to be an act of retaliation and is illegal.

San Francisco Specifications

In San Francisco, there is an additional law that landlords should pay attention to. You as a landlord must ensure that the room can keep the home heated to 68 degrees between 5-11 a.m. and 3-10 p.m.

Eviction Laws & Notices

Like every state, California has specific rules about eviction, when you are allowed to evict a tenant, and what type of notices you must give to a tenant in order to file for eviction.

Eviction law can be quite complicated, so be sure to double check your local city’s eviction code before moving forward with any actions.

Notifying a Tenant of Eviction

The amount and type of notice that you need to give a tenant before filing for eviction depend on the reason for the eviction and whether or not you have previously given them notice.

The 3-Day Notice

If a tenant has not paid rent, you can give them a 3-day notice. This notice must include the following information:

  • Amount due
  • Name, address, and number of tenant who owes money
  • What they must do to stop eviction & how to pay (i.e., check, transfer, etc.)

This notice must be both mailed and posted to be sure that the tenant receives it. If they do not respond within 3 days, you can file for eviction.

There are a few other situations besides late rental payments that you would use a 3-day notice in California:

  • Broke the rental agreement
  • Damaged property
  • Broke the law on the property
  • Stalked someone
  • Committed assault
  • Dealt, used, or made unlawful drugs
  • Use(d) the property for illegal dog or cockfighting
  • Held illegal guns and/or ammunition on the property

In each of these cases, you can provide the tenant with a 3-day notice or a 3-day notice to quit. With a basic 3-day notice, the tenant has a chance to fix the problem and remain on the property. In more serious cases, the 3-day notice to quit will let them know that if they do not leave, you will file for eviction at the end of the 3-day period.

Early Termination, Applications, and Other Fees

There are a few more fees that you will have to deal with during your time as a landlord that you may be curious about and as to whether California puts any restrictions on them or not.

Early Termination Fees

Early termination fees are not mandated by the state but instead will depend on your specific lease agreement. Tenants on year-long lease agreements must give the landlord 30-days notice, and you as the landlord are responsible for trying to mitigate the damages as much as possible.

This means that while you could (depending on your lease terms) hold the tenant responsible for the remaining months of rental payments left in their lease, it is your job to try to find a tenant as soon as possible to prevent this cost from going to the tenant or yourself.

Bad Check Fees

You can charge up to $25 to a tenant for a bounced check. If another check bounces, you can charge them $35 dollars going forward for every bounced check.

Application Fees

Landlords may charge no more than 35 dollars for a rental application fee. This amount is recalculated annually. If you do not spend that entire fee on the background check and screening process, you are legally required to refund the difference.

Being a Landlord in California

As you have learned throughout this in-depth review of what you need to know from California Landlord Tenant Law, there is a lot that goes into being a landlord!

But don’t let all of this information overwhelm you. Instead, use all of this information as a way to plan out exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. By making sure that you follow the letter of the law, you’ll be a more organized, successful, and profitable landlord.

About the author

I started RentPrep in 2007 and our mission is to pull the stress out of being a landlord.

We do this by helping you find the best tenant and providing educational resources along the way.

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