Tucker Smith

Familiarizing yourself with the relevant laws governing residential rental properties in your state will head off a number of potential pitfalls. In this article, we’ll summarize some of the more common laws and statutes in California. However, we want to note that you should always engage legal counsel when you have a significant concern rather than relying upon the internet for advice.

Providing an exhaustive overview here is far beyond the capabilities of this medium because laws and statutes change so frequently. We strongly advise consulting the appropriate governmental agency and/or a qualified attorney if you have a pressing legal problem. The California Bar Association is a good place to start if you need help locating an experienced lawyer,

Having said that, among the most common areas of concern are:

 

Security Deposits

The maximum amount of a security deposit in California is two months rent for unfurnished dwellings and three months for furnished places. Landlords are not required to pay interest on security deposits at the end of a lease. Neither pet deposits nor additional fees are permitted. Landlords have 21 days within which to return security deposits if properties are in good order when a tenant moves out.

Retaining a security deposit is permitted if rent is unpaid, a unit must be cleaned (but only to the condition it was in when a tenant took possession), or damages (other than normal wear and tear) are discovered. The security deposit can be retained to replace furnishings displaying undue wear and tear in furnished units. In this instance, landlords must supply an itemized list of repairs, but receipts are not required if costs are less than $126.

 

Rents, Fees and Lease Payments

Rents are due at the end of the month, unless the lease agreement states otherwise. Landlords must accept checks in addition to all other agreed upon forms of payment, unless the tenant bounces a check. In that event, landlords can require cash. Bounce fees may be assessed but only equivalent to the actual bank fee. However, a landlord can impose a flat service fee of $25 for the first bounced check and $35 for each one thereafter.

Late fees may be assessed, but they must be reasonable, in accord with rent control laws and specified in the lease or rental agreement. One month of pre-paid rent is permitted (the first month’s payment), plus two or three months’ security deposit as allowed.

A tenant must be provided 30-days’ notice before a rent increase can take effect if the increase is less than 10 percent of the lowest amount charged within the last 12 months. If it’s more than 10 percent, 60-days’ notice must be given.


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Tenants are allowed to withhold rent if heat and water fail to be provided, as these items are among those considered essential to habitability. Tenants can also withhold an amount equivalent to one months’ rent payment to make repairs once every 12 months.

 

Terminating Leases & Evictions

A fixed end date lease ends automatically at the end of the designated period in the lease agreement, so landlords and tenants are not required to provide notice. Landlords can terminate leases early in the event of sublets without permission, or illegal activities.

A tenant must be afforded three days’ notice before eviction for nonpayment of rent. In the case of a lease violation, the tenant gets three days to make it right before eviction can take place.

If a landlord sells a property, tenants must be afforded 30 days’ notice if:

  • The unit is sold to a person who intends to occupy it for at least a year after the end of the tenant’s tenancy.

 

  • The landlord has opened escrow with a licensed agent or broker and provided the tenant 30 days’ notice within 120 days of opening escrow—if they haven’t previously afforded the tenant a 30 or 60-day notice.

 

  • The unit is one that can be sold separately from other units in the building.

 

Entry Notice 

Emergency entrances are permitted without notice. All other entry (such as maintenance and repairs) requires permission, either on the spot or with 24-hours’ notice.

Entry is not permitted without the tenant’s permission if a tenant is away for an extended period and has notified the landlord.

Lockouts and utility shutoffs are prohibited under all circumstances.

For more on California’s rules and regulations, download California’s Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities.


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