California Landlord Handbook

California has some specific laws that it’s important to observe as a landlord in California. If you’re looking for information specific to tenant screening in California, be sure to check out our California Tenant Screening Guide. It is filled with free forms, resources, and helpful links curated to help California landlords. 

California Landlord-Tenant Laws

California’s landlord-tenant laws state that both tenants and landlords have certain rights. Some of these rights exist only when they’re set out in a written or spoken lease agreement, but others exist in California residential landlord-tenant laws regardless of whether or not there is a rental agreement. Below are some of the most important landlord-tenant rights and responsibilities for California landlords to note. Keep in mind that California is known as one of the least landlord-friendly states in the country due to rent control policies and eviction restrictions.

California Landlord Rights

Here are some of the most important rights and restrictions for California landlords to remember.

Rent Increase Laws

As of January 2020, California rent increase laws state that rental rates are capped based on inflation. The Tenant Protection Act also establishes local jurisdictions for rent control. According to California’s rent increase notice laws, in order for a landlord to raise rent in California, they must give 30 days’ notice if the increase is less than 10% and 60 days’ notice if the rent increase is greater than 10%.

Landlord Retaliation

California landlords are not allowed to evict tenants in retaliation for filing a health or safety complaint. In these cases, tenants are exercising their housing rights, so landlord retaliation is not permitted.

Lease Renewal and Breaking a Lease

In California, a lease is presumed to automatically renew on a month-to-month basis if no new 12-month lease is signed and if neither the tenant nor landlord gives notice that they want to terminate the tenancy. If a landlord decides to refuse to renew the lease, they may be able to do so in certain circumstances according to California law. A lease is considered to be legally binding in California if it is delivered to the tenant and both parties agree to the terms. It is still enforceable if the landlord signs and delivers the lease and tenant does not sign it but does move onto the property and start paying rent. Conversely, a lease is not valid if it is not signed by the landlord.

If your tenant is renting month-to-month, you must give them 30 days’ notice that you want to end the lease. If the tenant has lived in your property for over a year, however, you must give them 60 days’ notice.

If you and your tenant have a 12-month lease agreement, you cannot break the lease early except if the tenant violates the lease or refuses to pay rent.

Landlord Harassment

Under California civil code, tenants are well-protected from landlord harassment. California Civil Code Section 1940.2 defines the following situations as landlord harassment:

  • Using forceful, threatening, willful, or menacing conduct toward a tenant or their guests
  • Threatening to disclose a tenant’s immigration status
  • Interference with a tenant’s right to enjoy the premises
  • Intimidating, defrauding, or coercing a tenant
  • Entering a tenant’s unit without their permission as laid out in the lease
  • Removing a tenant’s property from the premises without their permission

In certain circumstances, it is possible that the tenant is harassing their landlord instead of the other way around. Some examples of harassment by tenant include:

  • Tenants refusing to pay rent, claiming repair issues or unsuitable living conditions
  • Tenants being the cause of frequent noise complaints
  • Tenants repeatedly threaten their landlord through email or text messages
  • Tenants assaulting their landlord
  • Tenants threaten to sue their landlord for repair costs if the landlord is not at fault

If a tenant is harassing you, you can evict them in accordance with California state eviction law.

Background Checks

While California landlords can currently conduct criminal background checks, that could soon change. In February of 2022, a new bill was introduced in the California Assembly that would prohibit landlords from conducting or acting on a criminal background check unless required by state or federal law. The bill passed the California Assembly in May of 2022 and is currently in committee in the California State Senate.

Reporting Guidelines

Reporting guidelines for bankruptcies, judgments/liens, and evictions are set by the Federal Credit Reporting Agency (FCRA). The FCRA has determined that: 

  • Judgments are reportable for up to 7 years from the filing date (satisfied or released judgments are not reportable in California)
  • Liens are reportable for up to 7 years from the filing date (satisfied or released liens are not reportable in California)
  • Evictions are reportable for up to 7 years (Not reportable in California if the case was dismissed, withdrawn, or released)
  • Bankruptcies are reportable for up to 10 years

California enforces some of the strictest guidelines regarding the inclusion or criminal records in tenant screening reports. For instance: 

  • Records (felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic citations) are eligible for reporting within a 7-year period from the disposition date, and they must have a distinct conviction disposition
  • If someone faced criminal charges but were not ultimately convicted then this information is not reportable
  • Pending cases are not reportable

Rent Payment and Late Fee Laws

There are few California rent payment laws that would affect how a landlord conducts business. One thing to note is that California landlords cannot require tenants to pay rent in cash, except if the tenant has had a rent check bounce in the past three months. If a tenant requests a rent receipt, a landlord in California is required to provide one that is signed and dated.

Landlords in California are not required to prorate rent, but it is common practice to charge only for the number of days the tenant will occupy the property if they will be staying for a partial month. You can spell these terms out to your tenant in your lease agreement.

According to California laws, if a tenant does not pay rent when it is due a landlord can charge late fees. The late fee can only be enforced if it is a reasonable estimate of how much the late rent will cost the landlord and if language about the late fee is included in a lease or rental agreement. In California, landlords are not required to provide a late rent grace period to tenants.

Local pandemic emergency ordinances may affect whether or not a landlord can charge late fees in your area. Consult your county and city government ordinances and laws for the most recent information about your area.

California Landlord Responsibilities

Below are some of the most important responsibilities that California landlords should consider.

Required Landlord Disclosures

California landlords are required to provide certain written disclosures to their tenants within every lease agreement. These disclosures can include:

  • Information about California registered sex offender database
  • Information about bedbugs, how to report a bedbug infestation, and whether there has been such an infestation on the property within the past two years
  • Landlord contact information, including full name, phone number, address, and how the tenant is expected to pay rent
  • Lead-based paint information for properties built before 1978
  • Notifications regarding the presence and health risks of toxic mold
  • Methamphetamine or fentanyl contamination, which must be signed and acknowledged by potential tenants
  • Whether there has been the death of an occupant on the property within the past three years
  • Notice of any pest control, including the type of pest, the pesticides used, and the frequency of the treatment
  • Notice of demolition plans
  • Any knowledge that a property is located in a potential flood zone
  • What the smoking policy on the property is
  • Whether utilities are split between units and how payment is divided
  • Whether the property is within one mile of a former military training ground that may contain explosives
  • When a multifamily building is being converted to separate condominium units that will be sold to individual owners

Disclosure requirements may vary depending on the region of California in which you own property. Please consult your local ordinances to determine what your specific obligations are.

RentPrep is able to provide templates for any disclosure forms you may need to distribute to potential tenants. Download our form bundle or contact us for more information.

Mitigating Damages

In California, a landlord has a duty to mitigate damages. This means that, when a tenant breaches a lease, the landlord must take steps to reduce the harm done by that breach of contract. Landlords in California cannot require tenants to cover unpaid rent that could have been paid by getting the property re-rented. However, if a landlord makes a good faith effort to find a new tenant and is unable to, the previous tenant could be responsible for the remainder of the rent.

In the event that a landlord breaches a contract by failing to make repairs, violating a tenant’s privacy by not providing 24-hour notice to enter the unit, or otherwise violating the lease agreement, California law allows the tenant to take the landlord to small claims court for up to $2,000.

California Evictions

The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 requires landlords to have “just cause” before evicting a tenant. California landlords must also provide written notice depending on the type of cause they have to evict their tenant. Some reasons for eviction could include:

  • Nonpayment of rent (including landlord refusal to accept rent payment if it is tendered in a way that is not detailed in the lease agreement)
  • Fixable lease violation, such as owning a pet
  • Unfixable lease violation, such as damaging the property

Each of these reasons require a 3-day written notice. If the situation is not resolved or the tenant has not moved out within those 3 days, a California landlord can file an eviction lawsuit.

Tenants can evict subtenants in California if the subtenant does not follow the terms of the lease or sublet agreement. Landlords, however, cannot evict subtenants as they are not named on the original lease.

California’s eviction moratorium due to COVID-19 expired in June 2022, but there are still local tenant protections. Consult your local regulations to determine whether your area is still subject to a moratorium.

California Section 8 Rules

In 2020, California implemented laws that require landlords to accept Section 8. Before these laws, California landlords could advertise that they refused to accept housing vouchers and Section 8 tenants. However, federal fair housing laws require landlords to treat all potential tenants equally, so they are no longer allowed to discriminate against those who pay rent with housing vouchers.

Becoming a Section 8 landlord in California is relatively simple. Advertise your property and screen your tenants as you normally would. Then, set up and attend a property inspection with your local housing authority. You can then partner with the housing authority to execute a Housing Assistance Payment contract and maintain your landlord-tenant relationship in accordance with inspection standards.

California Security Deposit Rules

California landlords can charge a tenant the equivalent of two months’ rent as security deposit if the apartment is unfurnished and three months’ rent if the apartment is furnished. A landlord must return the security deposit with an itemized statement of deductions within 21 days after the renter has vacated. Landlords can deduct the following items from security deposits:

  • The cost of fixing any property damage caused by the tenant
  • The cost of cleaning the unit after the tenant has vacated
  • Any unpaid rent

California law requires that landlords provide tenants with advance notice before using funds from the security deposit for these items.

Landlords in California can increase security deposits in certain situations, such as:

  • Charging more for alterations to the unit than initially agreed on
  • Requiring advance payment of six months’ rent or more if the term of the lease is at least six months

State laws in California do not require landlords to pay interest on security deposits, but certain cities in California do. Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz County, Capitola, West Hollywood, and San Francisco all specify the interest rates that landlords must pay.

If your lease agreement asks for first and last month’s rent and designates the security deposit as last month’s rent, then the security deposit can be used as the tenant’s final rental payment. However, no other type of security deposit can be used as last month’s rent. 

Regarding Application Fees

California law limits the application fee to no more than $49.50 per applicant. The landlord can only charge an application fee that equals the actual expense for screening and not more.

Regarding Tenant Bad Checks

Civil Penalties: Triple the amount owing, no more than $1500 and no less than $100

Criminal Penalties: If the amount of the check is under $200, and it is the tenant’s first offense, then they could get up to one year in county jail.

Allowable Fees: $25

Regarding Notice of Termination for Nonpayment

A tenant will receive a 3-day notice to pay or quit, after which the landlord can begin eviction proceedings through the district or county court, according to Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(2).

Tenant Screening California

If you’re looking for more information specific to tenant screening in California be sure to check out our page filled with free resources for California.

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