California Landlord Tenant Law and Regulations
Are there rent laws in California?
There are rent control laws in some California cities that restrict or prohibit rental increases, support rent control, and can even make the eviction process more problematic. Each city’s regulations are different.
May I charge an application fee, late rent charge or a returned payment fee?
In California, the application fee cannot be more than the landlord's actual out-of-pocket costs, and can never be more than $49.50 per applicant. Additionally, landlords must provide rental applicants with an itemized accounting of the landlord's screening expenses.
Technically a late fee cannot be predetermined but there is an exception when it is difficult to assess the actual cost. But keep in mind when determining a late fee, that it must be reasonably related to the actual costs a landlord may incur as a result of the tenant's late payment.
Returned payment charges must not be more than $25 for the first check and a service fee of up to $35 for each subsequent check to that same payee. Reasonable cost should always be kept in mind when instituting any charges.
Are there any special considerations regarding security deposits in California?
Many states have limits and requirements regarding the security deposit, and California is no exception. A landlord may not demand or receive security in excess of an amount equal to two months' rent in the case of an unfurnished residential property, and an amount equal to three months' rent in the case of a furnished residential property. Security deposits are considered refundable, and include pet, lock, key, carpet etc., and in combination, none of these may exceed the amounts stated above.
California law mandates that a landlord notify a tenant in writing of the option of having an initial inspection two weeks before terminating a rental agreement or lease in order to identify problems (and possible deductions from the security deposit) and be given a chance to rectify them and avoid the deduction. Failure of the landlord to do this may void the opportunity to collect for damages.
Do I have to pay interest on the security deposit?
Some jurisdictions such as San Francisco and Berkeley require interest to be paid to the tenant. Generally this is based on the CPI and is paid annually. Landlords should check with either their attorney or the local jurisdiction for exact requirements.
How much time do I have to return the security deposit after my tenant has moved?
Landlords have twenty-one days to either return the full security deposit or an accounting of any deductions with the balance, if any remains. Stated deductions must apply to property damage beyond normal wear and tear. It’s very important for a landlord to read and understand the detailed procedures set forth in Civil Code Section 1950.5. This information may be seen in the booklet: California Landlord-Tenant Law Guide.
What seems to be a common concern regarding security deposits?
Landlords often try to overreach, claiming deductions for items that are characterized by the court (when a tenant sues for the return of a security deposit) as normal wear and tear. This situation is preventable by reasonably assessing each deduction, including proof of damage, repair, receipts and pictures.
How can I terminate a California lease?
A fixed term lease starts and ends on specific dates. In this circumstance, a lease simply ends on the date specified within the lease. A periodic lease continues from term to term (i.e. month to month). Periodic leases remain in place until either a landlord or a tenant gives the other notice of at least the length of each term (i.e. month to month leases would require one month notice). In cases where the situation is based on subsidized housing, generally a ninety day notice is required; however we suggest contacting the housing agency for exact requirements. Properties that are under eviction control regulation, the landlord must have “just cause” to terminate the residential tenancy. Again, it is important to consult an attorney or your local state agency.
Are there circumstances where I am required to release a tenant from a lease?
There are many circumstances such as military relocation or entrance of service that require specific procedures on both landlord and tenant in order to "break a lease" in a lawful manner. Individuals involved as a direct victim or a child of a victim of domestic abuse may also be released from a tenancy provided specifc procedures are followed.
When a tenant, tenants occupant, or visitor is involved with certain criminal activities, a landlord, owner and the tenant all will be provided notice from the authorities and that landlord must file for evicton of that tenant using such notice as evidence.
My tenant is still living in the rental unit after the lease has been terminated. What do I do?
If a tenant continues their residence after the expiration or termination of the lease agreement, without consent or permission from the landlord, the landlord may start the eviction proceedings through court and recover any rent or damages. If the rental property is located within an eviction controlled jurisdiction, the landlord should either consult with an attorney or contact the local housing agency for exact requirements.
How much notice is required in order to evict my tenant?
A 3-day written notice is required before a landlord may file an eviction action in court. However, notices may differ based on the situation.
(1) If the situation is concerning non-payment of rent, the notice must specify the amount owed in rent only. The total may not include any other fees such as late charges, interest, or damages. This notice will give the tenant three days to pay or quit.
(2) If the reason for eviction pertains to other violations, a 3-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit may be filed. Landlords may use this type of notice if the tenant breaks the lease or rental agreement and the problem can be fixed. For example, if the tenant is subletting the unit, not keeping the unit clean, or some other violation of the agreement, the notice will ask the tenant to correct the violation within three days or vacate.
(3) A 3-Day Notice to Quit may be used if there have been ongoing problems with a tenant who causes or allows a “nuisance” on the rental property, or is using the property for criminal activity. A 3-Day Notice to Quit may also be used if a tenants behavior threatens the safety and health of other residents/general public or if waste is committed that lowers the value of the property significantly. This notice is more of a warning and does not require a tenant to remediate.
As soon as the three day period passes and the tenant remains in non-compliance, the landlord may file a suit for eviction. Rental properties located in areas that practice rent or eviction control, may have different requirements. Landlords should check with their local housing agency to ensure compliance.
Notices should be personally delivered to the tenant. If the tenant is absent from his or her place of residence, the landlord may leave a copy with some person of suitable age and discretion. Notices may also be mailed, preferably certified and return receipt requested to the tenant at his or her place of residence. If the whereabouts of the tenant is unknown, the landlord may affix a copy in a conspicuous place on the property.
I sent the eviction notice to my tenant and it was ignored. What do I do next?
The landlord may go to the local courthouse and file with the court clerk the necessary documents to begin an unlawful detainer lawsuit. This is when a hearing is held at which the parties can present evidence and explain their situation. If the court decides in favor of the landlord, the court will issue a writ of possession. The writ of possession authorizes the sheriff to force the tenant to vacate the premises. The tenant has five days from the date that the writ is served to leave willingly. If the tenant does not vacate by the end of the fifth day, the writ of possession allows the sheriff to physically remove the tenant and confiscate any personal property that is left in the rental unit. A landlord may not take possession until this is completed.
How long does the eviction process take?
Generally the process for eviction takes approximately two to eight weeks. However, this depends on many factors such as what type of case it is and whether or not the tenant chooses to defend.
How do I tell if my tenant has “skipped” out of the property?
It is considered abandonment when a tenant moves without the proper notice. In the California landlord tenant statutes it does not define the term “abandonment” although, there are clues to look for. It is a good idea to take some pictures and document your findings so that you will have proof for court, just in case.
What happens if my tenant files for bankruptcy?
Unfortunately, all rent collection and eviction efforts must stop, however, there are situations where a court will grant a relief. It is important for a landlord to consult with an attorney immediately.
Do I need to be licensed or registered in order to be a landlord?
Many jurisdictions require a business license. Some localities, like Berkeley, require registration of the rental unit with the local rent board. All first time landlords should check with their local court or housing agency to verify requirements.
Disclosure: The information provided herein is intended as a general discussion of legal issues concerning landlord tenant law. Information provided is not legal advice or a legal opinion, and it is recommended that the reader seek independent counsel for any specific issue.