California has a wide variety of tenant-protection laws. As a tenant in
California, you have rights from the moment you apply for a rental through
the end of your lease or rental agreement.
Your rights as a tenant in California include:
- Equal opportunity housing
- Reasonable application fees
- Refundable security deposits
- The right to information (about mold, utilities, etc.)
- The right to make claims in small claims court
- Rent control
- The right to habitable premises
- The right to withhold rent or “repair and deduct” when a landlord
doesn’t make repairs
- Protection under California termination and eviction rules
- The right to privacy
- Written notice if your landlord is to enter your property for non-emergency matters
- Protection from landlord retaliation
- Special protections after domestic violence incidents
- Notice about property you may have left behind
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you also have additional protections if you
have been affected by COVID-19-related financial hardships.
Applying for an Apartment or Rental Property
Your rights begin when you first apply for an apartment or rental property.
First, you have the right to equal opportunity housing under the federal
Fair Housing Act of 1968 and
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Under these laws, landlords may not discriminate against you due to your
race or color, religion, sex, national origin, family status, or disability.
When you apply for an apartment or rental property, landlords cannot charge
an application screening fee unless there is a current vacancy, and the
fee may not exceed $52 as of 2021. The fee is meant to cover the out-of-pocket
costs of obtaining information about potential residents.
In Oakland (and some other counties and cities across California), landlords
may not ask about an applicant’s criminal history or run a criminal
background check. If a landlord considers applicants’ criminal histories,
they must do so in a consistent, non-discriminatory manner.
For unfurnished rentals, landlords can charge up to 2 months’ rent
as a security deposit. If the apartment is furnished, landlords can charge
up to 3 months’ rent. By definition, security deposits are refundable
and must be used or returned within 21 calendar days. Your landlord cannot
charge nonrefundable pet or cleaning fees, and if your landlord does not
return your security deposit, they must provide you with an itemized statement
of how the deposit was used and return any portion of it they did not use.
Before you move in, your landlord must disclose certain information about
the rental. For example, your landlord must let you know if your gas or
electricity extends to areas outside your rental and notify you about
any toxic mold that may be present in your apartment.
Usually, you will find these disclosures in the lease or rental agreement.
NEVER move into an apartment or rental unit before signing a lease or rental
Paying Rent and Making Repairs
Once you sign a lease or rental agreement and move into your new home,
you must pay the agreed-upon rent on the date specified in the lease or
If you are late paying rent, your landlord can charge you reasonable late
fees. Landlords may also charge $25 for the first bounced check and $35
for each additional bounced check. In some situations, your landlord can
also request you pay rent in cash for up to 3 months at a time.
In California, however, you also have the right to habitable premises or
livable space. If there is a problem that interferes with your health
and safety, the problem was not caused by you or your guest, and your
landlord is not fixing the problem, you can withhold rent until the problem
You can also hire a handyman or fix the problem on your own and deduct
the cost of the repair from your rent. Keep in mind you may only use the
repair and deduct remedy twice in a 12-month period.
Can My Landlord Raise the Rent?
Yes, your landlord can raise the rent in accordance with local and statewide
rent control rules. In California, landlords can only raise the rent once
a year, and they cannot raise the rent by more than 5% plus inflation.
Cities and counties also have special rules about how, when, and by how
much a landlord can raise the rent.
If you receive notice of an unreasonable rent increase, you may want to
discuss your case with a lawyer before the next months’ rent is due.
California tenants can be evicted for failure to pay rent and other lease
violations. If a landlord wants to evict you for nonpayment of rent, they
must provide you with a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit (move out). If
you do not move out, the landlord can file an eviction suit.
Similarly, if you violate the rules of your lease (e.g., having a pet despite
a no-pets policy), your landlord can give you a 3-day notice to cure (fix
the problem) or quit.
In some situations, landlords may give you a 3-day notice to quit without
an opportunity to fix the problem. If you sublet without permission or
use the rental for illegal activity, your landlord can file an eviction
lawsuit after giving you 3 days to move out.
Getting Your Security Deposit Back
Most tenants move out of their apartments or rental units without being
evicted. Once you move out and terminate your lease or rental agreement,
your landlord has 21 days to return your security deposit or charge you
for cleaning and repairs.
If you need help recovering your security deposit, you have the right to
sue your landlord in small claims court. You can sue for up to $10,000.
A Note About Privacy
Landlords may not enter your apartment or rental property without written
notice unless there is an emergency, or you have abandoned the unit.
If a landlord wants to enter your unit for inspection or to make repairs,
they must give you 24 to 48 hours of notice, and their entry notice must
be in writing.
If you have concerns about privacy in your apartment or rental unit, you
may need to speak to an attorney.
Protecting Tenant Rights
Allen, Semelsberger & Kaelin LLP, we have been handling
landlord-tenant law cases since 1987, and our team helps all kinds of tenants.
We have a special passion for
mobile home law, so we are well-equipped to handle claims for mobile home residents.
Whether you rent an apartment, rental unit, or space in a mobile home park,
we are prepared to help you stand up for your rights.
Call us at (888) 998-2031 or contact us online
to get started today.