Tenant Rights in California

Tenant rights in California protect renters from being discriminated against and guarantee that landlords will provide habitable spaces and repair damaged property within 30 days. Landlords in California have the right to evict a tenant who fails to maintain their end of the contractual agreement. To do so, the landlord must file with the court, and the court then presents eviction documents to the tenant. Learn more about renters' rights in California below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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California tenants have certain rights and responsibilities according to the law. Landlords cannot discriminate on the basis of familial status, national origin, or against other protected classes. Tenants are expected to pay rent according to their contract and meet other standards to maintain residence in rental units. The most important aspects of tenant rights in California and California tenant law are discussed below.

When Are You Considered a Tenant in California?

To qualify for tenant protections in California, you have to be a tenant. You become a tenant when you enter into a rental agreement with a landlord. Among other provisions, your contract (the lease agreement) should specifically state the names of all of the parties, the amount of the rent you are to pay, when rent is due, how long your lease is, and what fees are charged for late rent payments or bounced checks. A lease agreement may also specify how much notice your landlord has to give for eviction for unpaid rent or something else. Agreements can also dictate if and when a rent increase is allowed and how big it can be.

The lease must be dated and signed by all relevant parties. California tenants under standard terms may generally be evicted only for nonpayment of rent or for breach of major clauses within the signed lease contract. Depending on the city, rental control laws may also apply.

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Do California Tenants Have Protection for Their Security Deposits?

According to California law, landlords can collect a security deposit not to exceed three times the monthly rent for a furnished unit and two times the monthly rent for an unfurnished unit. This can be increased by one and a half months’ rent if the tenant has a waterbed. The traditional limits don’t include pet deposits. Requesting a deposit is a good way to estimate a renter’s financial security.

A landlord must offer a tenant an accounting of this security deposit three weeks prior to the tenant’s leaving the premises. The deposit may be used for repairs and cleaning of damage and dirt that went beyond reasonable wear and tear on the property from normal use by the tenant. The remainder of the deposit must be returned to the tenant within three weeks. If the landlord intends to keep some of the security deposit, he or she must notify the tenant within two weeks after the tenant moved out of the tenant’s right to be present at a walk-through. During the walk-through, the landlord should point out damage so that the tenant has the opportunity to make repairs.

Discrimination California tenants must not be discriminated against based on sex, race, color, religion, disability, nationality, or ancestry.

How Do Pet Policies Work?

Landlords are not required to rent to tenants with pets, unless the animal is a dog assigned for the purposes of helping a disabled tenant. In the event a tenant has a service dog, landlords can deduct from the deposit costs for cleaning or repairs related to the dog. But they cannot charge a pet deposit, pet rent, or turn the tenant away.

Disability protections are not applied the same way to all property owners. A property owner renting out rooms in their own house, for example, would not be expected to adhere to all the same laws. They have more flexibility in choosing their tenants. In the event of nonpayment of rent, illegal activity, or any other lease violation, many of the processes are the same.

Property owners can choose whether they want to allow pets and charge a pet deposit and/or pet rent. Property owners can also allow pets with size and other limits. In some cases, these limits are dictated by the HOA or other organizations managing condo units.

What Maintenance and Repairs Are California Landlords Responsible For?

In California, a tenant must be given a habitable property. A landlord must offer sufficient lighting, heating, garbage receptacles, etc. Like many other states, landlords are not required to provide or maintain an air conditioning unit in California. If you’re living in a condo, you should also be aware of HOA guidelines regarding window units. Some do not allow them meaning tenants without central AC would need to make other arrangements.

A property owner must adequately maintain the property and make or pay for repairs in a timely and effective fashion. A reasonable time frame is usually 30 days. If a landlord fails to make repairs in that time period, a tenant must inform the landlord in writing, Under certain circumstances, the tenant may make repairs himself and deduct the cost of repair from the next rent payment. The tenant may even have the right to vacate an uninhabitable property or withhold rent until certain issues are addressed. The landlord may be subject to legal penalties if he or she provides uninhabitable living conditions.

Before you withhold rent or pay less, always make sure you’ve talked to your landlord. This is the best way to avoid mix-ups later on. Some tenants choose to get a demand letter from an attorney regarding the conditions that have made the unit uninhabitable. Even if you don’t involve a lawyer initially, you should always make sure you have records of your conversations. These could become important at the end of your lease term or during eviction lawsuits.

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What Privacy Rights Do California Tenants Have?

Your landlord cannot enter the property whenever they want. Once it’s rented out, certain laws apply requiring advanced notice whether they’re coming for repairs, to show the property to prospective buyers, or something else. This is sometimes laid out in the lease agreement as well.

Landlords may only enter a tenant’s premises under certain circumstances and during normal business hours. The tenant must be given at least 24 hours notice unless there is an impending emergency. The only acceptable reasons for entry by landlords in addition to an emergency are for the initial move-in inspection, to make necessary repairs, to show the unit to prospective tenants or purchasers, when the unit has been vacated, or pursuant to a court order.

How Do Defaults on Rent Work in California?

If a tenant fails to pay rent, a landlord must inform the tenant that he or she has a 3-day notice to pay or surrender the property to the landlord. If the tenant pays within that period, the original contract stands. Keep in mind, a landlord can refuse rental payments under certain circumstances such as if you’ve already been served with an eviction notice or your lease ran out and you were given a notice they plan to end the contract.

If the landlord has reasonable cause to think that the tenant has abandoned the premises, the landlord may also retake the premises and terminate the rental contract, within specific timeframes and according to specific state codes. If it’s in the midst of a fixed-term lease, a landlord may be able to sue for lost rent.

Do Landlords and Tenants Have Additional Protections in California?

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

  • Restrictions on landlord’s right to access rental property
  • Tenant protections against landlord retaliation for a tenant applying a legal right, such as complaining about an unsafe living condition
  • Special protections for tenants who are victims of domestic violence
  • Procedures for how landlords must manage abandoned property by tenants
  • Fair housing rights
  • Caps on annual rent increase and future rent under rent control rules

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What Rights Does a Tenant Have in California Evictions?

State laws determine when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. Landlords in California have the right to evict a tenant who has failed to live up to his or her end of the contractual agreement. Before proceeding with the eviction process, the landlord needs to give the renter a written notice. Tenants that have lived in the rental property for a 12-month period or more should be given a 60-day notice. Those that have lived for less than 12 months should be given a 30-day notice.

To do so, the landlords must file with the court. The court then presents eviction documents to the tenant who has five days to respond to the eviction papers. If a tenant fails to answer, the landlord has the right to file for immediate possession of the property.

Where Should Tenants Go for Help in California?

If you are a tenant, you should familiarize yourself with these and all other relevant tenants’ rights in California. Tenant law is designed to protect you whether you’re being targeted based on sexual orientation or you just want to know what your rights are. Unfortunately, discrimination, neglect, or some other impropriety are ongoing issues across the United States. If you need help with your rental situation, consider consulting a California landlord tenant attorney to learn how best to defend your rights.

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