Landlord-tenant laws help protect both parties involved in a rental agreement. In California, these laws are outlined in the “Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities.”
They are very detailed and can be even more complex in cities that have rent-control laws.
By understanding these laws, both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and issues without requiring a lawyer.
An Overview of the Landlord-Tenant Laws in California
1. Tenant Privacy and California Landlord’s Right to Enter the Dwelling
The landlord can only enter the tenant’s premises for specific reasons. Such reasons include:
- Pursuant to court order
- When the tenant has vacated or abandoned the premises
- To show the rental to prospective renters, mortgagees or purchases
- To make agreed repairs
- To make the necessary repairs
- In an emergency
In California, landlords have the right to enter the tenant’s premises during normal hours and only after notifying the tenant.
2. The Condition, Maintenance, and Repairs
It is the landlord’s responsibility to keep their rental units habitable. But what exactly is a habitable premise? Here are some characteristics that fall under habitable premise in California property laws:
- Conforming locks
- Floors, stairways, and railings in good maintenance and repair
- Adequate receptacles for garbage
- Building, grounds, and appurtenances clean and free of vermin at the time of renting
- Electrical, lighting and heating facilities are up to code and in good condition
- Water supply up to code and provides hot and cold water
- Plumbing is up to code and in good condition
- Effective weatherproofing of the roof, exterior walls, and unbroken windows
3. California’s Housing Discrimination Laws
California’s rental law prohibits housing discrimination against renters based on certain characteristics.
According to the Fair Housing Rules, it’s illegal to discriminate against a renter based on disability, the source of income, gender identity, gender, sexual orientation, medical condition, familial status, age, ancestry, national origin, marital status, sex, religion, color or race.
Besides the federal Fair Housing Rules, the following are state laws that landlords must adhere to:
- Unruh Act (Civil Code 52-53)
- Handicapped Rights (Civil Code 54)
- Senior Citizen Housing (Civil Code 51.3)
- Fair Housing Act (Rumford) Govt. Code 12955)
4. Security Deposits
California only recognizes a unitary security deposit. The law doesn’t distinct between the types of deposits. Pet deposits, rental deposits and more all get grouped together.
In California, a security deposit is defined as any advance payment to the landlord to be used to:
- Fix damage to specified landlord personal property in the custody of the renter where the rental agreement so provides.
- Repair damage to the property exclusive of normal wear and tear.
- Clean the premises upon vacation by the renter.
- Remedy defaults in rent payments.
5. Required Landlord Disclosures
California’s landlord-tenant laws state that at the start of the tenancy, landlords must make certain disclosures to renters. This should be in the form of writing, usually printed in the lease agreement.
The disclosures are as follows:
- Landlords of single-family homes and multifamily properties (4 units or less), who have received a notice of default for the rental property that has not rescinded, must disclose this fact to potential renters before they sign a lease.
- If the landlord prohibits or limits the smoking of tobacco products on the rental property, the lease or rental agreement must include areas where smoking is allowed.
- Landlords or their agents who have applied for a permit to demolish a rental unit must give written notice of this fact to prospective tenants, before accepting any deposits or screening fees.
- Prior to signing a rental agreement, California landlords must provide written disclosure when they have reason to know, that mold exceeds permissible exposure limits or poses a health threat.
- Prior to signing a rental agreement, landlords must disclose whether gas or electric service to tenant’s unit also serves other areas. Also, they must disclose the manner by which costs will be fairly allocated.
- Landlords must include the following passage in their rental agreements: “Notice: Pursuant to Section 290.46 of the Penal Code, information about specified registered sex offenders is made available to the public via www.meganslaw.ca.gov.
6. Renters Rights to Withhold Rent in California
If a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, tenants have several options. For example, they can:
- Exercise their right to “repair and deduct”
- Call state or local health inspectors
- Sue the landlord
- Move out without notice
- Withhold rent
7. Small Claims Lawsuits in California
Conflicts over security deposits are fairly common. Issues often arise against landlords who have failed to return the deposit at all or who unfairly withheld it from their renters.
California tenants have the right to sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $10,000.
Please note that this summary is not intended to be legal advice. Neither is it exhaustive of all relevant California Landlord-Tenant Laws.