Tenants/ Renters

Guide to Laws for Renters (aka Tenants) in California

Coronavirus update: Through June 30, 2021, all renters in California who cannot pay their full rent due to circumstances related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are protected from eviction. Landlords may not evict for non-payment of rent for these reasons at this time, as long as renters pay at least 25% of the rent.

Residential rental laws generally apply to any unit being rented out to live in, including a house, apartment (loft, flat, studio, etc), condo (a condo aka “condominium” aka “common interest development” is usually treated the same as an apartment when rented out), etc. Most rental laws apply the same to apartments as to houses, although there are some exceptions (particularly with regard to rent control). Thus when talking about rules regarding “apartments” this can usually be assumed to include “houses” or other types of residences.

These rules apply to long-term rentals (more than 30 days), and may or may not apply to short-term rentals (aka Airbnb type rentals less than 30 days).

This area of law is generally called “landlord-tenant law” and falls under the larger category of “real estate law” or “real property law.”

While many cities simply follow the state laws, some cities have additional regulations, such as rent control. Thus it is important to know which city you are in (which is not always so simple in Los Angeles County): see our What City Am I in? for more info.

If you own a home, see our Guide to Laws for Homeowners.

1. Rent control

What is rent control?

If you live in a rent-controlled building (also called rent stabilized or RSO), your landlord is limited as to how much they can raise your rent each year. But being a tenant in a rent-controlled building also gives you a set of other rights as well, which are in addition to the rights for tenants in non-rent controlled buildings. See our Guide to Rent Control for details.

Does California have rent control?

Update October 9, 2019: Beginning Jan 1, 2020, there will be statewide rent control in California. The new law caps rent increases to no more than 5% + regional inflation.

In addition, some cities have even stricter rent control laws which apply within city boundaries. See our Guide to Rent Control.

If I am NOT in a rent-controlled building, can my landlord charge whatever they want?

Generally, yes, unless the lease says otherwise. But the landlord must give you proper notice before raising the rent. 30 days notice is required for rent increases of 10% or less, and 60 days notice is required before rent increases of more than 10%.1Civil Code Section 827(b).

Also, in the cities of Long Beach, Pasadena, and Glendale, although they do not have a formal “rent control” system, these cities require landlords to pay a “relocation fee” in certain circumstances.

Long Beach: as of August 2019, the City of Long Beach Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance2Long Beach Municipal Code Chapter 8.97 requires landlords who own at least 4 rental units (with some exceptions) to pay tenants a relocation fee (up to $4,500) for any of the following reasons:

  • rent increases by 10% or more in a 12 month period
  • the landlord requires the tenant vacant for rehab or renovation
  • A tenant in “good standing” receives notice to vacate for any reason. “Good standing” means that the tenant has resided in the unit for one year or more, is current in payment of rent and not in violation of lease, and has not damaged the unit, interfered with other tenants or used the property for an unlawful purpose.

This does NOT apply to single-family homes, condos, or duplexes, and it does NOT apply to any building built before 1995.

Glendale: as of March 2019 there is a requirement on some landlords who raise the rent more than 7% in a 12 month period: If the tenant moves out because of the rent increase, the landlord must pay tenants a “relocation fee” (aka “relocation benefit”). This does NOT apply to single-family homes, condos, or duplexes, and it does NOT apply to any building built before 1995.3Glendale Ordinance 5922, amending Glendale Municipal Code Section 9.30

Pasadena: the City of Pasadena Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO)4Pasadena Municipal Code, Title 9, Chapter 9.75 requires landlords to provide relocation benefits to tenants who are displaced under any of the following circumstances:

  • change in property ownership has occurred within 18 months prior to the tenant being issued a notice of eviction
  • the tenant is being vacated
  • rent increase which exceeds 5% plus inflation
  • demolition
  • conversion to condominium
  • permanent removal of the unit from the rental market
  • occupancy by the landlord or landlord’s family member
  • government order to vacate
  • displacement of tenants from housing owned by educational institutions under certain situations

Single-family homes and condominium units are exempt.

To be eligible for TPO relocation benefits, tenants must be in good standing with incomes not exceeding 140% of the Los Angeles County area median income. The current annual income limit for a household of 4 is $102,340.

2. Eviction

Can my landlord remove or evict me at any time for any reason?

If your building is rent controlled, you may only be removed or evicted for certain reasons.

If your building is NOT rent controlled, then the landlord may be able to remove you from the unit.

See our Guide to Evictions and Tenants’ Rights in California.

Can I evict my roommate or house guest?

See below.

What are my rights if I become homeless?

See our Guide to Laws about Homelessness in California.

3. Leases

What is a “lease”?

A “lease” to rent a residence is simply a type of agreement (aka contract) which states the terms of the rental. Most leases include various rules for what you can and can’t do with the place.

Am I required to be on a lease to rent an apartment?

Many landlords require all adult residents of an apartment to be on a lease, and the landlord can usually evict (through proper proceedings) those not on a lease.

However, some rental situations are more informal and do not have a written lease. In this case, there is considered to be an “oral agreement” (aka “verbal agreement”) about the lease. Oral rental agreements are usually valid and can be enforced in court, however, it is usually quite difficult to prove the terms of the oral agreements. Thus, it is in everyone’s interest to get rental agreements in writing.

While most cities do not require leases to be written, as of March 2019 the city of Glendale requires most landlords to offer a written lease of a 1-year term to a prospective tenant (or a current tenant when the landlord wants to increase the rent).5Glendale Municipal Code Sec 9.30.025 (Note: the tenant is NOT required to accept the offer, and may agree to a shorter term lease). This Glendale rule does NOT apply to any unit on a property of 4 units or less.

What is a “month to month” lease?

A month to month lease simply means that the lease is valid for one month at a time, but by default it renews for the next month, and then the next month, and so on. It’s essentially an ongoing lease, but the tenant has the option to terminate at any time, one month in advance. Usually the landlord can also terminate at any time, one month in advance, except if the apartment is rent-controlled.

A month to month lease can be created from the beginning of a rental arrangement, but it is much more common to start with a 1 year lease, which then automatically converts to a month to month after the 1st year.

Do I have to give notice on the 1st of the month?

If you want to terminate your lease and move out (and you are on a month to month lease), you must give your landlord written notice at least 30 days in advance (unless the lease says otherwise). This can be done on any day, not just the 1st (or last) day of the month. But you must pay rent through the move-out date.

For example, if you have paid rent on January 1 and you give notice on January 10, the lease will terminate on February 10, and you will need to pay rent for Feb 1-10.6See Brown, Warner and Portman, The California Landlord’s Law Book, Vol. I: Rights & Responsibilities, pages 357-358 (NOLO Press 2009)

4. Standard of living and other basic rights

Does my landlord need to provide me with basic necessities as part of my tenancy?

Yes, your landlord must provide access to certain necessities as part of your tenancy, including plumbing (running water), electricity, gas, and heating in the winter.

See more at our page Minimum Standards for Rentals in California.

Is the landlord responsible for making repairs?

Yes, although if damage is your fault (not just normal wear and tear), then the landlord may charge you for the repairs. See more at Minimum Standards for Rentals in California

Can my landlord enter my apartment whenever he wants?

NO. Landlords may only enter in the following situations:

  • In an emergency
  • If you have moved out or abandoned the apartment
  • To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, decorations, alterations, or other improvements
  • To show the rental unit to prospective tenants, purchasers, or lenders
  • To conduct an initial inspection before the end of the tenancy
  • If a court order permits the landlord to enter
  • To inspect a waterbed

If your landlord does not have one of the above reasons or is inappropriately using one of these reasons, this is considered trespass against you.

Does my landlord need to give me notice before entering my apartment?

Generally, YES your landlord must give you at least 24 hours written notice. Exceptions are for emergencies, or if you are in your apartment and allow the landlord to come in, or if you have agreed ahead of time on an approximate date and time for when the landlord may enter.

Can a landlord prohibit people from smoking on the property?

Yes.7Cal. Civ. Code §1947.5

Can a landlord restrict the number of occupants in a rental unit?

Yes, and actually occupancy limits are set by state law. The simple rule of thumb is that there should be no more than 2 occupants or residents per bedroom, plus one additional occupant (“two plus one” formula). So, a 1 bedroom apartment would have a max of 3 occupants, and a 2 bedroom apartment would have a max of 5 occupants.

However the actual restrictions are a bit more complicated, and are based on square footage. Every residential rental unit must have at least one room that is at least 120 square feet; other rooms used for living must be at least 70 square feet; and any room used for sleeping must increase the minimum floor area by 50 square feet for each occupant in excess of two. Different rules apply in the case of “efficiency units.” 8Health and Safety Code Section 17922. See 1997 Uniform Housing Code Section 503(b); Health and Safety Code Section 17958.1.

If an additional tenant moves into the unit, the landlord may increase the rent up to 10% for as long as that tenant is occupying the unit. See additional rules on this at our Guide to Rent Control.

A landlord’s policy that is more restrictive than two occupants per bedroom plus one additional occupant is suspect as being discriminatory.

5. Security Deposits

See our Guide to Security Deposits.

6. Discrimination & Free Speech

Is it illegal to discriminate in renting an apartment?

You have the right to protection against discriminatory actions with regard to the sale or rent of a home, if the actions are based on your race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, disability, or genetic information, or whether you have persons under the age of 18 living in your household.9California Civil Code Sec 51; California Fair Housing Act found at Govt Code Sec 12955; also see federal Fair Housing Act at U.S. Code, Title 42, Section 3604(a)–(e); Government Code Sections 12955(b), 12955.1-12955.9; 12989-12989.3; 42 United States Code Sections 3601-3631; Moskovitz et al.,. California Landlord Tenant Practice Sections 2.22-2.25 (CEB 2011).

In general, “source of income” does NOT include “Section 8” housing vouchers., so in most cities it is legal for landlords to refuse renters who want to use these vouchers. However, many cities explicitly ban discrimination of Section 8 renters, including Los Angeles, beginning Jan 1, 2020. A new statewide law does not require landlords to take the vouchers, but prohibits discrimination against recipients of the vouchers.10SB 329 (2019)

See more about Civil Rights in California.

What can a landlord ask a prospective tenant?

A landlord may not ask about any of the protected categories above, including race, religion, etc., except that they may ask about your source of income. The landlord also may not ask about your immigration or citizenship status.11California Civil Code Section 1940.3(b). See California Practice Guide, Landlord Tenant, Paragraph 2:569.1 (Rutter Group 2011).

The landlord may ask you about the number of people who would be living in the rental unit. In order to prevent overcrowding of rental units, California has occupancy limits (see above).

However, the bottom line is: A landlord can establish reasonable standards for the number of people per square feet in a rental unit, but the landlord cannot use overcrowding as a pretext for refusing to rent to tenants with children if the landlord would rent to the same number of adults.12Brown, Warner and Portman, The California Landlord’s Law Book, Vol. I: Rights & Responsibilities, pages 166-167 (NOLO Press 2011). This reference suggests that a landlord’s policy that is more restrictive than two occupants per bedroom plus one additional occupant is suspect as being discriminatory

Can my landlord stop me from putting up political signs on my unit?

No, see our Guide to Free Speech.

7. Sublets, AirBnB, and short term rentals

Is subletting illegal in California?

A sublet (aka “sublease”) is when a tenant rents his/her place to someone else. This includes both long-term and short-term rentals (short term is generally defined as less than 30 days).

If you are a tenant, you probably can’t legally rent out your place to anyone, since most leases prohibit subletting. Some leases allow it with approval from the landlord, but many landlords will never approve this.

But if your lease doesn’t say anything about subletting, then you probably have the right to do it. As for short-term rentals in particular, many cities restrict or ban short-term rentals.

Can I Airbnb my apartment?

See our Guide to Short Term Rental Laws in California.

8. Roommates

Can I legally kick out my roommate?

See our Guide to Laws about Roommates and Houseguests

9. Houseguests

When does a houseguest become a tenant?

See our Guide to Laws about Roommates and Houseguests

Can I legally kick out my house guest?

See our Guide to Laws about Roommates and Houseguests

Can a landlord evict me and/or my house guest if the house guest isn’t on the lease?

See our Guide to Laws about Roommates and Houseguests

10. Rental Assistance

What if I can’t afford the rent?

Unfortunately, if you can’t pay your rent, whether it is rent-controlled or not, you can be evicted from your unit. But there are various programs that can help. First, you may qualify for a Section 8 housing voucher (see below), although these are very hard to get right now. Also, due to the homeless crisis, many cities and counties are temporarily assisting renters with rent payments. Contact your city or county for more on this.

In addition, many buildings have a certain number of “affordable” units set aside only for lower-income and middle-income people. Talk to the property managers of these buildings to determine if you qualify.

What is Section 8?

“Section 8” generally refers to the financial assistance for low income tenants provided by the federal government. If you qualify, you can get a voucher to help pay all or part of the cost of a rental unit. However, not all landlords accept Section 8, although many cities require them to do so (see Discrimination, above).

Further Research

For a much more detailed guide to the California state laws for renters, see the publication by the Department of Consumer Affairs Tenants’ Guide.

Get Help

If you need help with your case, we can help you find a good “landlord tenant lawyer” or alternative options.

Related Pages

Guide to Laws about Short Term Rentals in California

Guide to Laws for California Homeowners

Guide to Laws about Rent Control in California

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