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Landlord/Tenant Law

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California Landlord-Tenant Law

Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, you should typically be able to deal with legal issues without going to court. Other landlord-tenant disputes will leave you with no other option. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, the basics of fair housing laws, etc. This overview of key California landlord-tenant laws will help guide you.

From a landlord’s perspective, you may need help with San Francisco rent control laws or determining how to evict a non-paying Los Angeles tenant. Under California law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease), like about toxic mold levels or other safety hazards.

Tenants may need help understanding their rights to tenant safety, the return of security deposits and whether they can sublet. California has passed many tenant-friendly laws to help protect their rights. This article provides information and resources for both parties involved in the landlord-tenant relationship.

Lease Agreements

The lease outlines basic legal parameters of the landlord-tenant relationship, protecting the interests of both parties. Provisions found in a typical California lease agreement include the following:

  • The names of the two parties involved (tenant and landlord).
  • The address and description of the rental unit.
  • The rental rate and the date by which it must be paid each month.
  • The amount of the security deposit.
  • Whether pets are allowed.

California and Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

Even before a landlord-tenant relationship is formed, note that both California and the federal government impose anti-discrimination laws on the tenant selection process. This means that when deciding whether or not to lease to a potential tenant, a landlord may not discriminate based on the tenant’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Special accommodations for senior citizen housing
  • Familial status
  • Disability

Security Deposits

Most landlords require the payment of a security deposit prior to moving in but there are limits. The security deposit is separate and distinct from paying the last month’s rent and must be repaid in full, minus any deductions for repairs or costs associated with cleaning. If you are required to pay a deposit, you should consider signing a statement with the landlord outlining the exact condition of the unit in order to eliminate disputes at the end of the lease term.

California law limits deposits to two months’ rent (or three months’ if furnished). The law also states that the security deposit must be returned within 21 days after a tenant moves along with other restrictions on deposits.

Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $10,000. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should be well versed on these security deposit laws.

Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent in California

Tenants may withhold rent, move out without notice, sue the landlord, call state or local health inspectors or exercise the right to “repair and deduct” if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater.

California Termination and Eviction Rules

State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give a California tenant who has been assigning or subletting without permission an unconditional quit notice. This gives the tenant three days to move out before the landlord can file for eviction.

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

  • Restrictions on a landlord’s right to access rental property. (California landlords must provide 24 hours’ notice of entry or 48 hours for the initial move-out inspection.)
  • Tenant protections against landlord retaliation (such as when a tenant complains about an unsafe living condition).
  • Special protections for tenants who are victims of domestic violence.
  • Procedures for how landlords must handle abandoned property left behind by tenants.

Getting Legal Help from a California Attorney

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, you may want to take a look at the California Tenants guide put out by the Department of Consumer Affairs for more detailed information on California landlord-tenant law. If you find you are in need of legal counsel or advice, you may want to consider hiring a landlord-tenant lawyer to represent your interests.

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