California Landlord Tenant Laws

The relationship between landlord and tenants is governed by California landlord tenant laws. Basically, the laws stipulate how landlord and tenants should conduct themselves when they enter into a lease agreement. Below is a summary of the laws.

Security Deposit:

In California, the maximum security deposit allowed by law is equivalent to 2 month’s rent for unfurnished dwellings and 2 months for furnished ones. Tenants are not required to deposit security to bank accounts. No state-wide statute exists on deposit interest but 15 localities have enacted rent control ordinances. Pet deposit or additional non-refundable fee are not permitted. Once a tenant issues a notice to vacate a dwelling, the landlord has 21 days to return the security deposit. However, the landlord can

Landlords can withhold deposit until rent arrears are paid in full, damages repaired, furnishings replaced, and the rental unit cleaned properly.  Also, landlords are supposed to write descriptions or list of damages and charges incurred for repairs. No receipts or itemized list of repairs is required for damages that cost less than $126. Failure to comply means the landlord may be subjected to statutory damages upto twice the security deposit plus the actual damages.

Lease, Rent & Fees:

Like most states, payment for rent is due at the end of each month ( unless there’s a contract otherwise). Most leases indicate expressly that rent is due at the start of the month. Landlords are required to accept payment in other forms but not cash or electronic transfer.  Rent increase notice should be issued 30 days if the amount is less than 10% of lowest amount charged in a year and 60 days if the amount is more than 10% of the least monthly rent charged.

Landlords can charge late fees if specified in the lease but it should be reasonable and in conformity with rent control laws. Application fees are allowed and is adjusted annually based on variation in the Consumer Price Index. Landlords in California are allowed to collect prepaid rent for one month plus two or three months rent as deposit. At any given time, returned check fees is equivalent to the current bank fee. However, the landlord can charge a $25 flat fee for the first occurrence and $35 for any occurrence afterwards.

Whenever a landlord fails to provide essential services, the tenant is allowed to withhold rent as the dwelling is under the implied warranty of habitability. Tenants are also allowed to perform repairs and deduct the cost from the rent. The amount spent on repairs should not be more than one month’s rent and the repairs should not be done more than twice in 1 year. As a landlord, you can recover court and attorney fees from the tenant. However, you must make reasonable effort to lessen damages to lessee.

Notices and Entry:

Landlords are not required to terminate tenancy for fixed end date leases as they simply expire. However, they are required to give  a 60 days notice for a periodic lease of 1 year or more. Tenants are required to issue a 30-day notice if they are planning to vacate a dwelling. For a week-to-week lease, the landlord should give a 30 days notice while the tenant 7 days notice.  Notice to terminate the lease prior to disposing or selling property is 30 days while a notice for move-out inspection should be made within 48 hours. The landlord is expected to have contracted to sell the dwelling unit to a person who intends to occupy the unit for at least 1 year once the current tenancy ends.

Landlords can make an eviction whenever a tenants fails to meet their obligations. Tenants should be issued with an eviction notice for defaulting payment 3 days in advance. For lease violation, the tenant has 3 days to remedy the violation before a landlord can file an eviction. The landlord is allowed to terminate lease where the tenant is involved in illegal activity or subletting without express permission. Before any landlord enters a dwelling unit, he or she has to give a 24 hours notice of entry. Entry for repairs or maintenance tasks require 24 hours notice. however, no notice is required for emergency entry. The landlord cannot make entry when the tenant is away for an extended period of time. The same case applies for lockouts.

Disclosures and Miscellaneous Notes

As a tenant, you might be wondering what kind of disclosures are landlords supposed to make? Landlords are supposed to accept the first qualified applicants for vacancies in dwelling units according to the 2012 Fair Housing Handbook of California. While no statute supports this, it’s widely recommended by law. The landlord is required to provide the tenant with a copy of the lease within 15 days of coming into execution. Equally, the tenant is required to disclose whether tenant’s utilities also service other areas as well as how costs will be shared. Where utilities are shared among many tenants, the landlord must provide a formula for splitting the expenses. In San Francisco, landlords are required to provide heating than can sustain a room temperature of 68 degrees for at least 13 hours between 5-11 AM and 3-10 PM.

Landlords are not required by law to provide tenants with Move-in Condition Checklist. However, it is highly recommended, and useful especially when seeking compensation claims for damages to a dwelling unit.  The landlord must also disclose, before signing a lease, presence of mold in the rental units that could potentially harm the tenant. Similarly, the landlord must provide a consumer handbook to the tenant. Landlords are supposed to make pest disclosures when signing a lease. This includes contracts or disclosures made by pest control or eradication companies. In addition, the landlord is required to disclose which pesticides are used to control pests, active ingredients, as well as warnings.

Where a landlord or agent has sought permission to demolish a rental or dwelling unit, the landlord is required to provide written notice to would-be occupants before accepting any payment. Landlords are also required to disclose the presence or location of ordinances in the vicinity. Most importantly, landlords are required to include  information to notify sexual offenders that information about registered sexual offenders (address or zip code) is available on the Department of Justice website at www.meganslaw.ca.gov.

Where smoking is prohibited or limited, the landlord must add a clause which specifies designated areas on or within the premises where smoking is not allowed.  The landlord is allowed to documentation or proof of domestic violence by tenants who claim to be victims. Pursuant to that, the landlords is duty bound to replace the locks when requested by a tenant who has proof of a court order. While a victim can end a lease within 30 days of notice, the landlord cannot terminate a tenant’s lease or deny them renewal on the basis of being a member or victim of stalking, domestic violence, or sexual assault.

Landlords in California are not allowed to terminate a lease, raise rent, or diminish services, or compel a tenant to leave a dwelling involuntarily, or take action to recover possession of a tenant who has filed a suit or complaint to a government body or local authority. Similarly, the landlord must not take action against tenants who are actively involved in tenant’s association or who are exercising their legal rights. The courts will assume the landlord is acting in retaliation of negative action is taken within 180 days after the tenant’s action. Any acts such as deducting remedy for repairs, complaining about the current condition of dwelling units, or issuing a citation could be deemed as retaliatory action as well.

Small Claims court limit in California

In California, the Judicial Branch arbitrates on matters of small claims. Landlords cannot file legal suits  for claims exceeding $2,500 more than twice each year. Currently, the small claims  court limits in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County stands at $10,000.

Links to relevant courts

California State Courts

California Attorney General

State Bar of California – Small Claims

Links to realtor associations

California Department of Real Estate

California Association of REALTORS®

California Bureau of Real Estate

LawhelpCalifornia: Housing

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