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What Are My Rights as a Tenant in California?


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 agreement.

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 rental agreement.

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 is repaired.

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.

Moving Out

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

At 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.