The information in this page is provided as a free resource for renters in California. It is not legal advice. If you need legal advice or additional legal help, contact https://www.laaconline.org/.

Does California have “rent control?”

Yes, rent is regulated in California.

An owner of residential real property shall not, over the course of any 12-month period, increase the gross rental rate for a dwelling or a unit more than 5 percent plus the percentage change in the cost of living, or 10 percent, whichever is lower, of the lowest gross rental rate charged for that dwelling or unit at any time during the 12 months prior to the effective date of the increase  If the same tenant remains in occupancy of a unit of residential real property over any 12-month period, the gross rental rate for the unit of residential real property shall not be increased in more than two increments over that 12-month period  In addition to the statewide limit, local rent control laws may further restrict how much a landlord can increase rent annually. Tenants and landlords should consult local resources to see whether their city or county has rules that may offer additional protection to tenants.  There are several types of housing exempted from the rent control rule (listed in the statute), and landlords are allowed to set the rent however they want when a new tenant moves in.

What does it mean to have a “safe, habitable” place to live in California?

A dwelling shall be deemed untenantable for purposes of Section 1941 if it substantially lacks any of the following affirmative standard characteristics or is a residential unit described in Section 17920.3 (various safety issues) or 17920.10 (lead hazards) of the Health and Safety Code:  (1) Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors. (2) Plumbing or gas facilities that conformed to applicable law in effect at the time of installation, maintained in good working order. (3) A water supply approved under applicable law that is under the control of the tenant, capable of producing hot and cold running water, or a system that is under the control of the landlord, that produces hot and cold running water, furnished to appropriate fixtures, and connected to a sewage disposal system approved under applicable law. (4) Heating facilities that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order. (5) Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order. (6) Building, grounds, and appurtenances at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, and all areas under control of the landlord, kept in every part clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin. (7) An adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage and rubbish, in clean condition and good repair at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, with the landlord providing appropriate serviceable receptacles thereafter and being responsible for the clean condition and good repair of the receptacles under his or her control. (8) Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair. (9) A locking mail receptacle for each residential unit in a residential hotel, as required by Section 17958.3 of the Health and Safety Code.

Crime Prevention

Landlords can be liable for criminal acts of third parties if the landlord has reason to believe that a certain type of criminal activity is reasonably likely to occur on their property and fails to take adequate precautions to prevent it. Determining whether a particular crime was foreseeable and whether a landlord’s precautions were adequate is a complicated and fact-specific question, so tenants should consult an attorney before seeking to hold a landlord liable for criminal acts.

Windows

Landlords must provide and maintain functioning locks on all windows and doors that allow entry into the dwelling.

Doors

Landlords must provide “unbroken windows and doors” as part of the Habitability Requirements, and they must install and maintain dead bolt locks on external doors.

Elevators

Landlords are not separately required to maintain elevators, but they may be required to do so if elevators are needed to keep the dwelling safe and habitable.

Heat and Air Conditioning

Landlords must maintain working heating as part of the Habitability Requirements, but they are not required to maintain an air conditioner or other cooling mechanism.

Hot Water

Landlords must provide hot and cold water as part of the habitability requirements.

Does my landlord have to provide smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors in California?

Smoke detectors are required “in each dwelling intended for human occupancy,” which are defined as “a one- or two-unit dwelling, lodging house, apartment complex, hotel, motel, condominium, stock cooperative, time-share project, or dwelling unit of a multiple-unit dwelling complex, or factory-built housing.”  Carbon monoxide detectors are also required for any dwelling intended for human occupancy if the dwelling has “a fossil fuel burning heater or appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage.”

How long does my landlord have to fix problems at my apartment in California?

Usually that depends on how severe the problem is. The language from the AG’s guide implies that more pressing repairs must be performed more quickly, but I don’t think there is a set time limit. It seems like it would come down to a court’s interpretation of whether the time period was reasonable. Landlords are required to make any repairs that are needed to satisfy habitability requirements. There isn’t a specific statutory requirement as to how quickly they must do so, but the AG’s landlord-tenant guide says:  “What is a reasonable period of time? This depends on the defects and the types of repairs that are needed. The law usually considers 30 days to be reasonable, but a shorter period may be considered reasonable, depending on the situation. For example, if the furnace is broken and it is very cold outdoors, one to two days may be considered reasonable (assuming that a qualified repair person is available within that time period”.. How can you tell the difference? Landlords are only required to make repairs necessary to maintain the dwelling in a habitable condition. There is not a further delineation between normal required repairs and emergency required repairs (except to the extent that some sliding scale has been implemented via judicial decision).

In California there are specific rules for pest-issues. See time limit for emergency repairs.

What can I do if my landlord can’t or won’t fix problems at my apartment in California?

Rent Abatement

If the tenant informs the landlord of the need to make a repair that affects habitability, and the landlord fails to make the repair in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant may withhold rent until the condition is repaired. There is no clear legal standard for how much rent to withhold, but courts have approved both a percentage reduction system (i.e. withholding rent equal to the portion of the dwelling that is rendered uninhabitable) and a deduction based on the reasonable value of the rental unit (“The value of the rental unit in its defective state is determined, and the tenant withholds that amount. The tenant would have to pay the difference between the rental unit’s fair market value (usually the rent stated in the rental agreement) and the rental unit’s value in its defective state.”). Tenants should pay withheld rent into escrow or otherwise save it in case they are later made to pay withheld amounts by a court.

Repair and Deduct

If a tenant informs the landlord of the need to make a repair that affects habitability, and the landlord fails to make the repair in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant may make the repair themselves and deduct the cost from future rent payments. This remedy may only be used if the total cost of the repair would be less than one month’s rent, and tenants are limited to using this remedy twice in a 12-month period. The statute provides that “if a tenant acts to repair and deduct after the 30th day following notice, he is presumed to have acted after a reasonable time.”

Vacate

If the tenant informs the landlord of the need to make a repair that affects habitability, and the landlord fails to make the repair in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant may vacate the premises and be relieved of any liability for future rent.

Sue

Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for failing to make required repairs.

What are the rules for security deposits in California, and how do I get my security deposit refunded?

Currently, California landlords can charge a maximum of 2 months’ rent as security deposit for an unfurnished residential property, and 3 months’ rent for furnished residential property. Starting in July 2024, security deposits will be limited to one month’s rent—whether a rental unit is furnished or unfurnished.

Under California law, landlords have 21 days from the date that a tenant moved out to send a full refund of their security deposit, or deliver an itemized statement that lists the amounts of any deductions from the security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted.  Along with the itemized statement, the landlord must also include copies of documents showing charges incurred and deducted by the landlord to repair or clean the premises, according to the rules set out here. The landlord is not required to send you copies of invoices or receipts, or a good faith estimate, if the total deductions are less than $125, or if the tenant waives their right to receive them.

What kinds of notice does my landlord need to give me in California?

Eviction

Landlords must give tenants a written notice and 3 days’ opportunity to cure any issue before beginning eviction proceedings (e.g. they must inform the tenant of the failure to pay rent and give them the opportunity to pay it), but there is no set amount of time they must give the tenant to cure. If the tenant fails to pay, then the landlord can serve another notice telling the tenant to vacate the premises w/in 3 days. If the tenant fails to do so, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings. “No Fault” eviction laws state that landlords must provide certain notices, in writing, to tenants. If a landlord is evicting a tenant so that the landlord or their family can move in, the landlord must identify the people moving in—providing their names and relationships to the landlord. The landlord or their family must move in within three months of eviction and they must live in the unit for at least a year. Landlords who evict tenants to renovate properties must include copies of permits or contracts, among other details, when serving eviction notices. Landlords who do not follow through will have to allow evicted tenants to move back under the original lease terms. (SB 576)

Condition

Landlords who know (or have reason to know) that mold in the rental exceeds permissible exposure limits or poses a health threat, must provide prospective and current tenants with a written disclosure of the same. Landlords must make the disclosure to prospective tenants before they enter into the lease or rental agreement. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 26147.) Landlords must also distribute to prospective tenants (before they enter into the lease or rental agreement) a consumer handbook, developed by the State Department of Health Services, describing the potential health risks from mold. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 26148.)

Rent Increases

Landlords must give 30 days notice for rent increases of less than 10%, and they must give 90 days notice for increases of more than 10%.

Other Disclosures

California requires several other types of landlord disclosures (summarized here, but more details can be found at p. 29-31 of the CA Tenants Guide)

  • Must disclose presence of lead-based paint before lease begins (where landlord knows of the lead) and give tenants a copy of the EPA’s “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home” pamphlet.
  • A pest control company must give written notice to the landlord and tenants of rental property regarding pesticides to be used when the company provides an initial treatment as part of an ongoing pest-control service contract. The landlord must give a copy of this notice to every new tenant who will occupy a rental unit that will be serviced under the service contract.
  • Prior to creating a new tenancy for a dwelling unit, a landlord must provide a written notice to a prospective tenant about bed bugs. The required notice must include general information about bed bug identification, behavior and biology, the importance of cooperation for prevention and treatment, and the importance of, and for prompt written reporting of, suspected infestations to the landlord.
  • Landlords with 10 or more employees must provide posted notices at any rental properties where there is a possibility of “exposure to chemicals (listed by the State of California) that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
  • Landlords must deliver notices to tenants considering renting any properties where the health inspector finds methamphetamine contamination.
  • The owner of a dwelling who has applied for a permit to demolish the dwelling must give written notice of this fact to a prospective tenant before accepting any fee from the tenant or entering into a rental agreement with the tenant. (The owner must give notice to current tenants, including tenants who have yet to move in, before applying for a permit.) The notice must state the earliest approximate date that the owner expects the demolition to occur, and that the tenancy will end  – A landlord who knows that a rental unit is within one mile of a closed military base in which ammunition or military explosives were used must give written notice of this fact to a prospective tenant. The landlord must give the tenant this notice before the tenant signs a rental agreement.
  • California law requires a landlord to disclose to a prospective tenant a death and the manner of such death that occurred at the rental unit within the last three years.
  • Before renting units in a “condominium conversion project,” the landlord must give notice to the tenant that: (1) The unit has been approved for sale, and may be sold, to the public, (2) The tenant’s rental agreement may be terminated (ended) if the unit is sold, (3) The tenant will be informed at least 90 days before the unit is offered for sale, and (4) The tenant normally will be given a first option to buy the unit.
  • In all rental agreements entered into after July 1, 2018, if the owner has actual knowledge that the rental unit is located in a flood hazard zone, the landlord must disclose to the tenant that they live in a special flood hazard area or an area of potential flooding.

Entry

The landlord shall give the tenant reasonable notice in writing of his or her intent to enter and enter only during normal business hours. The notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. The notice may be personally delivered to the tenant, left with someone of a suitable age and discretion at the premises, or, left on, near, or under the usual entry door of the premises in a manner in which a reasonable person would discover the notice. Twenty-four hours shall be presumed to be reasonable notice in absence of evidence to the contrary. The notice may be mailed to the tenant. Mailing of the notice at least six days prior to an intended entry is presumed reasonable notice in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Other Required Notices in California

An owner shall provide notice of any increase in the rental rate, pursuant to subdivision (a), to each tenant in accordance with Section 827.  A landlord must include the following language in every rental agreement: “Notice: Pursuant to Section 290.46 of the Penal Code, information about specified registered sex offenders is made available to the public via an Internet Web site maintained by the Department of Justice at www.meganslaw.ca.gov. Depending on an offender’s criminal history, this information will include either the address at which the offender resides or the community of residence and ZIP Code in which he or she resides.”  If the landlord does not provide separate gas and electric meters for each tenant’s dwelling unit so that each tenant’s meter measures only the electric or gas service to that tenant’s dwelling unit and the landlord or his or her agent has knowledge that gas or electric service provided through a tenant’s meter serves an area outside the tenant’s dwelling unit, the landlord, prior to the inception of the tenancy or upon discovery, shall explicitly disclose that condition to the tenant.

Can I end my lease early in California?

If something comes up in your life, you may find that you need to end your lease early. This can be stressful and very expensive, with most leases including steep penalties and fines for early termination. Here are some potential options.

Military

If you’re active military, you may be able to terminate your lease early under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA provides certain protections for active-duty military members, including the right to terminate a lease early if you receive orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) or deployment. To terminate your lease early under the SCRA, you must provide your landlord with written notice and a copy of your orders. The notice must be provided at least 30 days before the date on which you intend to terminate the lease.

Subleasing

Subleasing, or “subletting” is when a tenant who is renting an apartment rents it out to someone else. That way the landlord is still collecting rent, but someone else is paying it.

California permits tenants to sublease with permission from their landlord, which may be reflected in a written lease.  Tenants may vacate a dwelling in response to a failure to repair, as outlined in the repair section.  Multiple secondary sources say tenants have the ability to break a lease early if their landlord repeatedly enters the dwelling without reasonable notice or otherwise harasses them under this statute.

Survivors of Domestic Violence

A tenant may also terminate the lease early if the “tenant, a household member, or an immediate family member was the victim of:   (1)Domestic violence as defined in Section 6211 of the Family Code. (2)Sexual assault as defined in Section 261, 261.5, 286, 287, or 289 of the Penal Code. (3)Stalking as defined in Section 1708.7. (4)Human trafficking as defined in Section 236.1 of the Penal Code. (5)Abuse of an elder or a dependent adult as defined in Section 15610.07 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. (6)A crime that caused bodily injury or death. (7)A crime that included the exhibition, drawing, brandishing, or use of a firearm or other deadly weapon or instrument. (8)A crime that included the use of force against the victim or a threat of force against the victim.”  Tenants must deliver a notice to the landlord to terminate for these reasons, and they must include evidence of the need that varies depending on the crime involved and is listed in the statute itself. The lease will terminate 14 days after the notice is delivered, and the landlord is required to return the tenant’s security deposit.

What should I know about eviction in California?

Unfortunately, not much if the rent is actually owed and late, but here are some options:

  • The tenant could argue the rent is not validly due either because the landlord failed to repair and left the premises uninhabitable or because they unlawfully tried to increase rent in violation of CA rent control.
  • CA does require notice to be given prior to eviction proceedings, so a tenant could fight the eviction if the notice doesn’t contain all the required info (listed on p. 87 here).
  • The tenant could argue the eviction is being pursued to retaliate or discriminate against the tenant
  • There were a lot of ways to avoid eviction while COVID-related protections were in effect, so tenants have a variety of defenses around landlord conduct occurring before April 1, 2022.   These defenses and the others available to CA tenants are listed on this CA court eviction response form.
  • Tenants can also raise a failure to install/maintain functioning locks as an affirmative defense.

Where can I get help if I’m being evicted in California?

Tenants Together has a Tenant Defense Toolkit  (https://www.tenantstogether.org/covid-19-tenant-defense)  and a Resource Directory (https://www.tenantstogether.org/resource-directory)  The CA courts also have a self-help site (https://selfhelp.courts.ca.gov/eviction-tenant).

What can I do if my landlord harasses me or discriminates against me in California?

CA has a state-level Fair Housing Act that seems to operate similarly to the federal FHA, with some additional protected characteristics.

The landlord shall give the tenant reasonable notice in writing of his or her intent to enter and enter only during normal business hours. The notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. The notice may be personally delivered to the tenant, left with someone of a suitable age and discretion at the premises, or, left on, near, or under the usual entry door of the premises in a manner in which a reasonable person would discover the notice. Twenty-four hours shall be presumed to be reasonable notice in absence of evidence to the contrary. The notice may be mailed to the tenant. Mailing of the notice at least six days prior to an intended entry is presumed reasonable notice in the absence of evidence to the contrary.  Landlord harassment is unlawful under the CA FHA if it is done based on a protected characteristic. Details on what qualifies as harassment and what tenants can do are included in the CA Civil Rights Division’s guide (https://calcivilrights.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2022/09/Harassment-Prevention-Guide_Housing.pdf).

SixFifty can help!

Now that you know your rights as a renter in California, what can you do? Take action! SixFifty built HelloLandlord with the University of Arizona and Brigham Young University as a free resource for people who can’t afford legal help. You can use HelloLandlord to:

Tens of thousands of Americans have used HelloLandlord to assert their rights. It only takes 5 minutes to generate a high-quality letter—the kind of letter a lawyer would write. And we offer discount codes so you can send your letter by mail, right from your computer.

SixFifty is building more tools to help renters all the time. For more information, email probono@sixfifty.com.

Sources