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Tenant Rights in California

UPDATED: February 13, 2020

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California tenants have certain rights and responsibilities according to the law. The most important aspects of tenant rights in California and California tenant law are discussed below.

California Tenant Rental Contracts

In California, you become a tenant when you enter into a rental agreement with a landlord. Among other provisions, your contract (the lease) should specifically state the names of all of the parties, state the amount of the rent you are to pay, when rent is due, how long your lease is, and what fees are charged for late rent payments or bounced checks. The lease must be dated and signed by all relevant parties. California tenants may generally be evicted only for non-payment of rent or for breach of major clauses within the signed lease contract.

California Tenant Security Deposits

According to California law, a landlord can collect a security deposit, and the deposit is not to exceed three times the monthly rent for a furnished unit and two times the monthly rent for an unfurnished unit. This can be increased by one and a half months rent if the tenant has a waterbed.

A landlord must offer a tenant an accounting of this security deposit three weeks prior to the tenant�s leaving the premises. The deposit may be used for repairs and cleaning of damage and dirt that went beyond reasonable wear and tear on the property from normal use by the tenant. The remainder of the deposit must be returned to the tenant within three weeks. If the landlord intends to keep some of the security deposit, he or she must notify the tenant within two weeks after the tenant moved out of the tenant�s right to be present at a walk-through. During the walk-through, the landlord should point out damage so that the tenant has the opportunity to make repairs.


California tenants must not be discriminated against based on sex, race, color, religion, disability, nationality, or ancestry.

Pet Policies

Landlords are not required to rent to tenants with pets, unless the animal is a dog assigned for the purposes of helping disabled tenants. Landlords are not permitted to charge additional rent or security deposits for such seeing-eye dogs and other disability-related animals.

Maintenance and Repairs

In California, a tenant must be given a habitable property, and a landlord must offer sufficient lighting, heating, garbage receptacles, etc. The landlord must adequately maintain the property and make or pay for repairs in a timely and effective fashion. A reasonable time frame is usually 30 days. If a landlord fails to make repairs in that time period, a tenant must inform the landlord in writing, and may then make repairs himself, and deduct the costs from the next rent payment. The tenant may even have the right to vacate an uninhabitable property and the landlord may be subject to legal penalties if he or she provides uninhabitable living conditions.

Privacy Rights for California Tenants

A landlord may only enter a tenant�s premises under certain circumstances, and during normal business hours. The tenant must be given at least 24 hours notice unless there is an impending emergency. The only acceptable reasons for entry by a landlord in addition to an emergency are for the initial move-in inspection, to make necessary repairs, to show the unit to prospective tenants or purchasers, when the unit has been vacated, or pursuant to a court order.

Handling of Defaults on Rent in California

If a tenant fails to pay rent, a landlord must inform the tenant that he or she has three days to pay or surrender the property to the landlord. If the landlord has reasonable cause to think that the tenant has abandoned the premises, the landlord may retake the premises and terminate the rental contract, within specific timeframes and according to specific state codes.

Tenant Rights in California Evictions

Landlords in California have the right to evict a tenant who has failed to live up to his or her end of the contractual agreement. To do so, the landlord must file with the court, and the court then presents eviction documents to the tenant, who then has five days to respond to the eviction papers. If a tenant fails to answer, the landlord has the right to file for an immediate possession of the property.

Getting Legal Help from a California Landlord Tenant Lawyer

If you are a tenant, you should familiarize yourself with these and all other relevant tenants� rights in California. Tenant law is designed to protect you, and if you feel you are the victim of a landlord�s discrimination, neglect, or some other impropriety, consider consulting a California landlord tenant attorney to learn how best to defend your rights.

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