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California Tenant Rights: Landlord Tenant Law (2019)

By on June 2, 2019

Table of Contents

Tenant rights: defined

What are tenant’s general rights in California?

By renting the unit from the landlord, the tenant receives the right to the exclusive use and possession of the rental property during the rental period. The contact information of the landlord must be written into the rental agreement (otherwise known as a “lease”), or, at the very least, must be posted conspicuously in the rental property and/or unit.

What is a landlord?

A “landlord” is an individual or an entity which owns the rental property. The landlord leases the property to an individual, otherwise known as the “tenant.” The landlord is generally the owner of the property.

What is a property manager or rental agent?

While the landlord is generally the owner of the property, he or she may have a property manager who manages the property and acts as a rental agent to the landlord. Therefore, a tenant can generally correspond with the property manager to deal with issues which arise in the rental property, and requirements to provide notice to the landlord can generally be accomplished by informing the property manager. The contact information for the property manager must also be included into the lease or be posted in a conspicuous area of the rental property and/or unit. (see Civil Code Sections 1961, 1962, 1962.5. See Moskovitz et al., California Landlord-Tenant Practice, Section 1.21A (Cal. Cont. Ed. Bar 2009))

How to rent an apartment

Factors in looking for a rental unit

When looking for a rental unit, the main factors to consider are:

  • the monthly amount that you can afford for rent and utilities.
  • the total amount that you can afford for required deposits (e.g., security deposit(s)).
  • your desired geographical location.

Additionally, you should consider these factors:

  • the type of rental unit that you want (e.g., a single-family house, an apartment complex, or a duplex).
  • the amenities that you want (e.g., the amount of bathrooms and bedrooms).
  • the length of the agreement (e.g., yearly, month-to-month).
  • Proximity to necessities and conveniences (e.g., schools, stores, public transportation, medical facilities, child-care facilities).
  • the community aesthetic of the neighborhood (for example, its safety and appearance).
  • the condition of the rental property.
  • other specific accommodations that you may have (e.g., handicapped access).

What to look for in an apartment inspection

Prior to signing a Rental Agreement, you should thoroughly inspect the rental property with the landlord and/or the landlord’s agent. Ensure the unit is in satisfactory condition. When you inspect the rental unit, look for the following problems:

  • Cracks or holes in the floor, walls, or ceiling.
  • Evidence of water or water damage in the floor, walls, or ceiling.
  • Signs of mold.
  • Signs of rusty tap water.
  • Leaky bathroom or kitchen fixtures.
  • Hot water issues.
  • Bad lighting or a shortage of electrical outlets.
  • Unsatisfactory heating or air conditioning.
  • Unsatisfactory ventilation or a presence of undesirable odors.
  • Faulty in electrical wiring/fixtures.
  • Beat-up flooring and/or furnishings.
  • Evidence of insects, vermin, or rodents.
  • Dirt and debris.
  • Insufficient trash receptacles.
  • Chipping paint in older buildings. (this often indicates the presence of lead, which can cause lead poisoning. If the building was built before 1978, you should read the following.

How to fill out an apartment rental application

Most landlords will require a rental application form (which is different from a rental agreement). A rental application form is used by the landlord to determine whether or not they want to rent to an applicant. Information usually requested includes names and contact information for past landlords, past/current employers, and rental application references.

Additionally, when you submit an application, a landlord may charge a fee to cover the cost of compiling information about you (Civil Code Section 1950.6.). The fee must be reasonable, and usually not over fifty dollars ($50).

Credit checks for apartment rentals: defined

The rental application may require your social security number, driver’s license number, bank account numbers, and information required for the landlord to obtain a copy of your credit information. This is to help a landlord decide whether or not they want to rent to you. If the landlord decides not to rent to you based solely on your negative credit information, they are required to give you written notice (15 United States Code Sections 1681-1681x and 1681m(a)).

Housing discrimination under California law: defined

It is illegal for a landlord to discriminate or harass you because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, or any disability (Civil Code Section 51),or whether you have persons under the age of 18 living in your household. (42 United States Code Sections 3601-3631; California Landlord Tenant Practice Sections 2.22-2.25 (CEB 2011)).  With the exception of source of income, the landlord may not ask you questions in writing or orally about your race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, any disability, or whether you have persons under the age of eighteen living in your household (Government Code Section 12955(b)).  Further, the landlord may not ask about your immigration or citizenship status. Civil Code Section 1940.3(b)).

Additionally, 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.

If you’ve been the subject of housing discrimination, you may have several legal remedies. There are also a number of resources available to help (such as The National Fair Housing Allowance, The California Department of Fair Housing and Employment and The US Department of Housing and Urban Development).

Before you agree to rent

What is a rental agreement v. lease?

In California, there are two kinds of rental agreements.

The first is a periodic rental agreement, which states the length of time between rental payments and expires and restarts at the end of every such period (Civil Code Sections 1945, 1946, 1946.1). The agreement must be made in either oral (Civil Code Section 1962(b) or written (Civil Code Section 827(a), 1946) form.

The second is a lease (Civil Code Sections 1091, 1624(a)(3). Although a lease is paid monthly, the tenant is required to pay every month until the lease expires.

When you have decided to rent

What should be included in the rental agreement?

The rental agreement should include the names of the landlord and the tenant; the address of the rental unit; the amount of the rent; when the rent is due, to whom it is to be paid, and where it is to be paid (Civil Code Section 1961-1962.7).

It should also include the amount and purpose of the security deposit; the amount of any late charge or returned check fee; whether pets are allowed; the number of people allowed to live in the rental unit; whether attorney’s fees can be collected from the losing party in the event of a lawsuit between you and the landlord.

Other important inclusions – who is responsible for paying utilities (gas, electric, water, and trash collection) (Civil Code Section 1942.2), any promises by the landlord to make repairs (including the date by which the repairs will be completed), whether you can sublet the rental unit, and the conditions under which the landlord can inspect the rental unit. In addition, the rental agreement or lease must disclose the name, address, and telephone number of the authorized manager of the rental property and an owner (or an agent of the owner).

If you may make your rent payment in person, the agreement or lease must state the normal days and hours that rent may be paid in person. Otherwise, it may state the name, street address, and account number of the financial institution where rent payments may be made (if it is within five miles of the unit) or information necessary to establish an electronic funds transfer for paying the rent. If the rental agreement is oral, management and payment information must be given to the tenant within fifteen (15) days of agreement (Civil Code Section 2079.10a, Penal Code Section 290.46).

Finally, and most importantly, do not sign a rental agreement if you think the terms are unfair.

Tenant Legal Rights

No matter what the rental agreement may say to the contrary, tenants in California have basic legal rights that are always present. These rights include, but are not limited to the following:

  • limits on security deposits
  • limitations on the landlord’s right to enter the rental unit;
  • the right to a refund of the security deposit (or a written accounting of how it was used) after the tenant moves out;
  • the right to sue the landlord for violations of the law or your rental agreement or lease;
  • the right to repair serious defects in the rental unit and to deduct certain repair costs from the rent, under appropriate circumstances;
  • the right to withhold rent under appropriate circumstances;
  • Rights under the warranty of habitability;
  • protection against retaliatory eviction.

In addition, every rental agreement and lease mandates that the tenant and landlord treat each other honestly and reasonably.

Landlord Disclosures in California

Landlords are required by law to disclose the following:

  • Lead based paint (California Practice Guide, Landlord-Tenant, ¶ 2:104.20-2:104.23)
  • Periodic pest control treatments (Civil Code Section 1940.8)
  • Asbestos (The California Landlord’s Law Book, Vol. I, pages 245-248)
  • Carcinogenic material (Health and Safety Code Sections 25249.5-25249.13)
  • Methamphetamine contamination (Civil Code Section 1940)
  • Application by the landlord for a demolition permit of the dwelling in question (Civil Code Section 1940.6)
  • When a unit is within one mile of a closed military base wherein ammunition or military explosives have been previously used (Civil Code Section 1940.7)
  • If a prior occupant died in the rental unit within the past three years (Civil Code Section 1710.2)
  • If the building is in a condominium conversion project (Government Code Section 66459)

Apartment security deposits

Under California law, a lease or rental agreement cannot stipulate that a security deposit is non-refundable (Civil Code Section 1950.5(m)). This means that at the end of a lease, the landlord must return a tenant’s deposit unless said deposit is used for a lawful purpose such as application screening fee, new tenant processing fees (Civil Code Section 1950.5(b)). However, when you move out
of the rental, the law allows the landlord to keep part or all of the security deposit if you owe rent, fail to return personal property, or damage the rental unit. If no such factors are present, the landlord is required by law to return the entire amount that you have paid as security.

Finally, the landlord may require you to pay the first month’s rent in addition to the security deposit (Civil Code Section 1950.5(c)).

What is renters insurance?

Renter’s insurance usually protects a tenant’s personal property from losses resulting from theft or fire. However, carelessly causing such an event is called negligence, and would make the offender legally responsible (Civil Code Section 1714). In such an instance, the negligent party could be required to pay for the losses that the tenant and the landlord suffer.

What is rent control?

In some areas of California, cities have measures in place to limit or altogether prohibit rent increases. Some of the measures specify procedures that a landlord must adhere to before increasing tenants rent. Such measures differ, according to the area in which the rental unit is located.

Some kinds of property cannot be subject to local rent control. For example, property that was issued a certificate of occupancy after February 1995 is exempt from rent control. beginning January 1, 1999, tenancies in single family homes and condos are exempt from rent control if the tenancy began after January 1, 1996 (Civil Code Section 1954.52).

How to get an apartment with bad credit

In general, showing good faith and being proactive in nature is the best way to establish a new history that can help to clean up a bad credit report. The following steps can help:

  • Try and correct credit problems before searching for an apartment. Pay or dispute previous negative notations, and explain them in the comment boxes on your application. 
  • Speak candidly with your prospective landlord about your negative credit history and credit score. Whatever the reason for your negative history, admit this to management and discuss how you’ve changed the situation.
  • Have documentation of stable income and positive character references prepared to share.
  • Save up to have a deposit of several months’ rent. Potential landlords may charge a larger security deposit to protect themselves against risk and non-payment of rent.
  • Finally, you may consider offering to use a co-signer.

Living in a rental unit

Rental payments

Rental units typically require that rent be paid at the beginning of each rental period (e.g., month-to-month leases require rent to be paid at the beginning of each month). However, the rental agreement or lease may modify the due date, so long as both the landlord and tenant agree to said terms. California law assumes that rent is received by the landlord on the day it is postmarked (Civil Code Section 1962(f)).

Additionally, landlords typically cannot require that you pay in cash. One exception to this rule is if a tenant has paid by check in the past three months, and said check bounced (Civil Code Section 1947.3).

Not paying rent on time may affect your credit report, lead to the assessment of late fees, and eviction. In addition, partial rent payments may result in the violation of a lease, and entitles the landlord to still serve the tenant with an eviction notice (Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161 paragraph 2).

Security deposit increases

Under a lease, a security deposit cannot be increased unless increases are permitted by the lease.

How much can a landlord increase my rent?

If a tenant and landlord have a lease in place, rent cannot be increased during the term of the lease.

If a tenant and landlord have a periodic rental agreement in place, the rent may be increased so long as the landlord gives proper notice in writing. The required notice is at least 30 days if less than a 10 percent increase is to take place. The required notice is at least 60 days if more than a 10 percent increase is to take place (Civil Code Section 827(b)).

Obtaining receipts for rent payments

A tenant who pays rent in cash or with a money order should always request a receipt from their landlord. The tenant should keep the receipts for the entire rental period so that they can have records of payment in the event of a dispute.

Can a landlord enter without permission?

California law says that a landlord can only enter a rental unit for the following reasons:

  • Emergencies
  • When a tenant has abandoned a unit
  • When making agreed-upon or necessary repairs
  • When a court order permits entry (Civil Code Section 1954(a)(4))
  • To inspect the installation of a waterbed (Civil Code Section 1940.5(f))

The landlord is generally required to give the tenant reasonable advance notice in writing before entering a unit, and may only enter during normal business hours.

if your landlord violates these access rules, talk to the landlord about your concerns. If that is not successful, send the landlord a formal letter asking the landlord to strictly observe the access rules stated above. if the landlord continues to violate these rules, talk to an attorney, or file suit in small claims court to recover damages that you have suffered due to the landlord’s misconduct. If the landlord’s violation of these rules was significant and intentional, and the landlord’s purpose was to influence you to move from the rental unit, you can sue the landlord in small claims court for a civil penalty of up to $2,000 for each violation (Civil Code Section 1940.2(b)).

What is a sublease?

A sublease is a separate rental agreement between an original tenant and a new tenant (a ‘subtenant’) who moves in temporarily, or who moves in with the original tenant and shares the rent. Most rental agreements and leases have a provision in place to prevent subleases or assignments by the tenant. When a sublease is permitted, the original agreement between the original tenant and the landlord remains in place for the duration of the original lease’s term.

In any permitted sublease situation, both the tenant and the subtenant must have a clear understanding of their obligations. To help avoid disputes between the tenant and the subtenant, this understanding should be put in the form of
a written sublease agreement that both parties involved sign. The sublease agreement should include the amount and due date of rent, to whom the subtenant sends the rent, who pays the utilities (e.g., gas, electric, water, trash, telephone), start and end dates, a
list of any possessions that you are leaving in
the rental unit, and any conditions of care and use of the rental unit and your possessions.

What is an assignment?

An assignment differs from a sublease in one important way – if the new tenant accepts the assignment, the new tenant is directly responsible to the landlord for the payment of rent, for damage to the rental unit, and so on. You might usean assignment if you have a lease and need to move permanently before the lease ends. like a sublease, an assignment is a contract between the original tenant and the new tenant (notthe landlord).

However, an assignment does not relieve the original tenant of his or her legal obligations to the landlord. if the new tenant doesn’t pay rent, or damages the rental unit, the original tenant remains legally responsible to the landlord (Civil Code Section 822). For the original tenant to pass this responsibility to the new tenant, the landlord, the original tenant, and the new tenant all must agree, in writing, that the new tenant will be solely responsible to the landlord under the assignment.

Dealing With Problems

What a landlord cannot do

There are numerous protections for tenants in the State of California, and if your landlord has engaged or is engaging in a practice that seems suspect, seeking legal assistance may be a good course of action.

A landlord cannot refuse to rent to a tenant, or engage in any other type of discrimination, on the basis of group characteristics specified by law that are not closely related to the landlord’s business needs. Race and religion are examples of group characteristics specified by law. Arbitrary discrimination on the basis of any personal characteristic such as those listed under this heading also is prohibited.

The California legislature has declared that the opportunity to seek, obtain and hold housing without unlawful discrimination is a civil right (Government Code Section 12921(b)).

Landlord repairs responsibilities

Habitable means that a rental unit is suitable for a tenant to live in, and that it complies with State and local building and health codes. California law makes landlords and tenants each responsible for certain repairs.

The landlord must repair problems that make the rental unit unfit (or “uninhabitable”). A rental unit may be considered uninhabitable if it contains a lead hazard that endangers the occupants or the public, or is
a substandard building because, for example, a structural hazard, inadequate sanitation, or a nuisance endangers the health, life, safety, property, or welfare of the occupants or the public (Civil Code Sections 1941, 1941.1). A dwelling also may be considered uninhabitable (unlivable) if it substantially lacks any of the following:

  • effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
  • plumbing facilities in good working order, including hot and cold running water, connected to a sewage disposal system.
  • Gas facilities in good working order.
  • heating facilities in good working order.
  • An electric system, including lighting, wiring, and equipment, in good working order.
  • Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and appurtenances (for example, a garden or
  • a detached garage), free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
  • Adequate trash receptacles in good repair.
  • Floors, stairways, and railings in good repair.

In addition to these requirements, each rental unit must have all of the following:

  • A working toilet, wash basin, and bathtub or shower. the toilet and bathtub or shower must be in a room which is ventilated and allows privacy.
  • A kitchen with a sink that cannot be made of an absorbent material such as wood.
  • Natural lighting in every room through windows or skylights. Windows in each room must be able to open at least halfway for ventilation, unless a fan provides mechanical ventilation.
  • Safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway. stairs, hallways, and exits must be kept litter-free. storage areas, garages, and basements must be kept free of combustible materials.
  • Operable dead bolt locks on the main entry doors of rental units, and operable locking or security devices on windows.
  • Working smoke detectors in all units of multi-unit buildings, such as duplexes and apartment complexes. Apartment complexes also must have smoke detectors in common stairwells.
  • A locking mail box for each unit. the mail box must be consistent with the United States Postal Service standards for apartment housing mail boxes.
  • Ground fault circuit interrupters for swimming pools and anti-suction protections for wading pools in apartment complexes and other residential settings (but not single family residences).

It’s important to note that a rental unit is not uninhabitable merely because the rental unit is not in perfect, aesthetically pleasing condition (Health and Safety Code Sections 116049.1, 116064). Also, even if a rental unit is unlivable because of one of the conditions listed above, a landlord may not be legally required to repair the condition if the tenant has not fulfilled the tenant’s own responsibilities.

The landlord is not responsible for repairing damages that were caused by the tenant or the tenant’s family, guests, or pets. Tenants are required by law to take reasonable care of their rental units, as well as common areas such as hallways and outside areas. Tenants must act to keep those areas clean and undamaged. Tenants also are responsible for repair of all damage that results from their neglect or abuse, and for repair of damage caused by anyone for whom they are responsible, such as family, guests, or pets. (Civil Code Sections 1929, 1941.2).

How long does a landlord have to fix something?

In California, State law gives landlords 30 days to fix “habitability problems.” Additionally, less time is given if the circumstances warrant prompter attention (e.g. – a broken front door lock requires immediate attention). The best initial course of action is always to discuss the matter with your landlord. If you are in a situation where discussion with your landlord is not feasible, you may want to seek legal representation to help with the matter.

Mold in your apartment

According to the California Health and Safety Code, mold is a defect that could make a rental unit unlivable. The implied warranty of habitability requires landlords to maintain their rental units in a condition fit for the “occupation of human beings.” In addition, the rental unit must “substantially comply” with building and housing code standards that materially affect tenants’ health and safety (Health and Safety Code Sections 25400.10-25400.46).

Who can I report my landlord to?

For legal help with a housing or eviction matter:

  • LawHelpCA and the State Bar offers help for a list of legal aid programs as well as other free or low-cost resources in your area.
  • Tenants Together is California’s statewide renters’ rights organization for information about tenant issues. It also provides a local resource directory.
  • Local county court websites offer help within their jurisdiction.
  • The Department of Fair Employment and Housing receives and investigates complaints related to housing discrimination.
  • If a complaint relates to health or safety of tenants, contacting local health department or building and code enforcement department can help. You can enter the city or county name and “code enforcement” in an internet search engine.

Finally, if the situation is complex, you may want to seek legal representation to help with the matter.

Moving Out

Move out notice

Tenants are required to give their landlord proper written notice to end a periodic rental agreement. Tenants must give the landlord the same amount of notice as there are days between rent payments (Civil Code Section 1946).


This means that if you pay rent monthly, you must give the landlord written notice at least 30 days before you move. If you pay rent every week, you must give the landlord written notice at least seven days before you move. This is true even if the landlord has given you a 60-day notice to end the rental agreement and you want to leave sooner (Civil Code Section 1946).

However, if your rental agreement specifies a different amount of notice, you must give the landlord the notice required by the agreement (Civil Code Section 1946).

If you or another member of your household has been a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking, you may notify your landlord that you intend to move out immediately. You are still, however, responsible for rent payment for thirty (30) days following your notice. You are also required to attach to your notice to the landlord a copy of the restraining order, emergency protective order, or police report, within 180 days of the day such order or report was issued or made (Civil Code Section 1946.7).

60 day move out notice

A landlord may end a periodic tenancy (e.g., a month-to-month tenancy) by giving the tenant proper advance written notice. The landlord must give sixty (60) days advance written notice that the tenancy will end if every tenant or resident have lived in the rental unitfor a year or more (Civil Code Section 1946.1(b)). If a tenant does not move by the end of the notice period, a landlord may file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict the tenant.

Can i use my security deposit for last month rent

A landlord may require a tenant to pay “last month’s rent” at the beginning of the tenancy as part of the security deposit at the time the security deposit is paid. Depending on the language in the agreement, the tenant may or may not be able to use this amount as the last month’s rent.

Security deposit refund

The most common problem between landlords and tenants is the return of security deposits.

California law allows a landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit for four (4) purposes:

  • Unpaid rent.
  • After a tenant has moved out, for cleaning a unit up to the pre-move in condition.
  • For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant and/or the tenants’ guests.
  • For the cost of replacing items damaged (not including normal wear and tear).

A landlord may only withhold an amount that is reasonably necessary (Civil Code Section 1950.5(b), (e)). Additionally, a lease can never make a security deposit “non-refundable.” (Civil Code Section 1950.5(m)).

A landlord has twenty-one (21) calendar days to return a deposit, or deliver an itemized statement of deductions, including receipts, and the reason for the deductions. (Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)(1)).

If a landlord does not return a tenant’s security deposit as required by law, or makes improper deductions from it, and the tenant cannot successfully work out the problem with the landlord, the tenant can file a lawsuit in small claims court for the amount of the security deposit plus court costs, and possibly also a penalty and interest, up to a maximum of $10,000 (Civil Code Section 1950.5(n)). If the claim is for a little more than $10,000, the tenant can waive(give up) the extra amount and still use the small claims court). For amounts greater than $10,000, a tenant must file in superior Court, and ordinarily will need a lawyer in order to effectively pursue the case. in such a lawsuit, the landlord has the burden of proving that the deductions from the tenant’s security deposit were reasonable. (Civil Code Section 1950.5(l)).

30 day move out notice

A lease expires automatically at the end of a lease term. A tenant is expected to either renew the lease or move out. Sometimes, a landlord will give a tenant a 30-day notice before the lease ends to be certain that the tenancy does not continue after the lease expires. If a tenant doesn’t move in time, and if the landlord refuses to accept rent, the landlord may be able to file an eviction (this may not apply to rent controlled jurisdictions).

30 day notice to landlord: California template

Below is a description of all of the emails in a detailed template of a letter for a tenant to provide to his or her landlord in order to inform the landlord that he or she is moving out their apartment.

  • Date (Be certain that your letter is dated at least 30 days from the scheduled move-out date)
  • Your Name Your Address and Apartment Number
  • City, State and ZIP Code
  • Attention: Landlord’s Name (or the property management company)
  • Your Landlord’s Address
  • City, State and ZIP Code
  • Please accept this written notification that I will be vacating my residence at the address provided below effective MM/DD/YYYY.
  • This notice satisfies the required notice of XX days which was stipulated on my original rental agreement. I will deliver all keys for the property to the business office on or before the date indicated above. Please send my refundable deposit and any other monies that are owed to me to the address below.
  • (your new address here)
  • Your Name
  • Please feel free to contact me by phone if you have any questions at (enter a phone number where your landlord can reach you).
  • Sincerely, Your Name (typed)
  • Your Signature

A pdf version of a California template for 30 day notice can also be found here:

Terminations and Evictions

When can a landlord evict a tenant

A landlord can terminate (end) a month-to-month tenancy by properly giving the tenant advance written notice. Additionally, the landlord can terminate the tenancy by giving the tenant only threedays’ advance written notice if the tenant has done any of the following (Civil Code Section 1161 (2)-(4)):

  • Failure to pay rent.
  • Violation of any provision of the lease or rental agreement.
  • Materially damaging the rental property.
  • Substantial interference with other tenants.
  • Commission of domestic violence or sexual assault against, or stalking another tenant or subtenant on the premises.
  • Using the premises for an unlawful purpose.
  • Unlawfully using, cultivating, importing, dealing, or manufacturing illegal drugs.
  • Using the building or property to conduct dogfighting or cockfighting.
  • Unlawful conduct involving weapons or ammunition.

If a tenant doesn’t voluntarily move out after the landlord has properly given the required notice, the landlord can evict the tenant. However, in order to evict the tenant, the landlord must first file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in Superior Court.

How to respond to a 30-day or 60-day eviction notice

If a landlord has properly served a tenant with a 30-day or 60-day notice to terminate the tenancy, the tenant should either move out or try to make arrangements with the landlord to stay during said period. Otherwise, the tenant should ask the landlord what you need to do to stay. While a landlord is not required to state a reason for giving a 30-day or 60-day notice, most landlords do have a reason for terminating a tenancy.

If a tenant believes that a landlord has acted unlawfully in giving a 30-day or 60-day notice, or that the tenant has a valid defense to an unlawful detainer lawsuit, the tenant should carefully weigh the pros and cons of contesting the landlord’s likely eviction lawsuit against. As part of that decision-making process,the tenant should consult with a lawyer.

How to response to a three-day eviction notice

If a landlord properly servesa three-day notice because the tenant hasn’t paid the rent, the tenant must either pay the full amount of rent that is due or vacate (leave) the rental unit by the end of the third day, unless there is a legal basis for not paying rent.

if the tenant decides to pay the rent, they should call the landlord or the landlord’s agent immediately and tell the landlord or agent that they intend to pay the amount demanded in the notice (if it is correct) and arrange a time/location where the tenant can deliver the payment to the landlord or agent. The tenant must pay the rent by the end of the third day by cashier’s check, money order, or cash. Whatever the form of payment, the tenant should get a receipt signed by the landlord or agent that shows the date and the amount of the payment. The landlord normally cannot require that you pay the unpaid rent in cash.

How to serve an eviction notice properly

The terms “serve” and “service” refer to procedures required by the law. A landlord’s three-day, 30-day, or 60-day
notice to a tenant must be “served” properly
to be legally effective. These procedures are designed to increase the likelihood that the person to whom notice is given actually receives the notice.

A landlord can serve a three-day notice on the tenant in one of three ways: by personal service, by substituted service, or by posting and mailing. the landlord, the landlord’s agent, or anyone over 18 can serve a notice on a tenant.

To serve a tenant personally, the person serving the notice must hand the tenant the notice (or leave it with the tenant if it’s refused). The three-day period begins the day afterreceipt of the notice  (Civil Code Section 1162 (1)).

if the landlord can’t find the tenant at home, the landlord should try to serve the tenant personally at work. If the landlord can’t find the tenant at home or at work, the landlord can use “substituted service” instead of serving the tenant personally.  (Civil Code Section 1162 (2)).

To comply with the rules on substituted service, the person serving the notice must leave the notice with a person of “suitable age and discretion” at the tenant’s home or work and also mail a copy of the notice to the tenant at home.  A person of suitable age and discretion normally would be an adult at the tenant’s home or workplace, or a teenage member of the tenant’s household. Service of the notice is legally complete when bothsteps have been completed. The three-day period begins the day after both steps have been completed.

If the landlord can’t serve the notice on a tenant personally or by substituted service, the notice can be served by taping or tacking a copy to the rental unit in a conspicuous place (such as the front door of the rental unit) andby mailing another copy to you at the rental unit’s address (this service method is commonly called “posting and mailing” or “nailing and mailing”). Service of the notice is not complete until the copy of the notice has been mailed. the three- day period begins the day after the notice was posted and mailed.  (Civil Code Section 1162 (3)).

California eviction process

What is an unlawful detainer?

In order to evict a tenant, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in Superior Court.

An unlawful detainer lawsuit moves forward very quickly, and the time given to the tenant to respond during the lawsuit is very short. In most cases, the tenant has only five days to file a written response to the lawsuit after being served with a copy of the landlord’s summons and complaint. Normally, a judge will hear and decide the case within 20 days after the tenant or the landlord files a request to set the case for trial. (Code of Civil Procedure Section 1170.5(a)).

The court-administered eviction process gives the tenant of the right to a court hearing if the tenant believes that the landlord has no right to evict the tenant. The landlord must use this court process to evict the tenant, and cannotuse self-help measures to force the tenant to move. For example, the landlord cannot physically remove or lock out the tenant, cut off utilities such as water or electricity, remove outside windows or doors, or seize the tenant’s belongings in order to carry out the eviction. The landlord must use the court procedures.

if the landlord uses unlawful methods to evict a tenant, the landlord may be subject to liability for the tenant’s damages, as well as penalties of up to $100 per day for the time that the landlord used the unlawful methods (Civil Code Section 789.3). In such a lawsuit, the court holds a hearing at which the parties can present their evidence and explain their case. If the court decides in favor of the tenant, the tenant will not have to move, and the landlord may be ordered to pay court costs (e.g., the tenant’s filing fees). The landlord might also have to pay the tenant’s attorney’s fees, if the rental agreement contains an attorney’s fee clause and if the tenant was represented by an attorney (Civil Code Section 1717).

How to respond to an unlawful detainer?

If you are served with an unlawful detainer complaint, you should get legal advice or assistance immediately.

Retaliatory Actions, Evictions, and Discrimination

Landlord retaliation and eviction

Landlord sometimes try to evict tenants for exercising legal rights or complaining about problem(s) in the rental unit. Or, the landlord may raise the tenant’s rent to punish the tenant for complaining or lawfully exercising a tenant right. In either situation, the landlord’s action(s) are said to be “retaliatory”because the landlord is punishing the tenant for the tenant’s exercise of a legal right. the law offers tenants protection from retaliatory eviction and other retaliatory acts (Civil Code Section 1942.5). 


California law assumes that the landlord has a retaliatory motive if the landlord tries to evict a tenant (or takes other retaliatory action) within six months after the tenant has exercised any of the following tenant rights (Civil Code Section 1942.5):

  • Opposed practices that are unlawful under the Act;
  • Informed law enforcement officials of practices that the person believes are unlawful under the Act; or
  • Aided or encouraged a person to exercise rights protected by the Act.

A tenant who can prove that the landlord’s eviction action is based on a discriminatory motive has a defense to the unlawful detainer action. A tenant who is the victim of retaliatory discrimination also has a cause of action for damages under the Fair employment and housing Act.

If you are a tenant who believes your eviction action is based on a discriminatory motive, you should get legal advice or assistance immediately.

California’s eviction process

In order to evict a tenant, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in Superior Court.

An unlawful detainer lawsuit moves forward very quickly, and the time given to the tenant to respond during the lawsuit is very short. In most cases, the tenant has only five days to file a written response to the lawsuit after being served with a copy of the landlord’s summons and complaint. Normally, a judge will hear and decide the case within 20 days after the tenant or the landlord files a request to set the case for trial. (Code of Civil Procedure Section 1170.5(a)).

If the landlord uses unlawful methods to evict a tenant, the landlord may be subject to liability for the tenant’s damages, as well as penalties of up to $100 per day for the time that the landlord used the unlawful methods (Civil Code Section 789.3).

How does eviction work?

California calls eviction lawsuits unlawful detainer actions, and the entire process generally takes about one month. The landlord is the “plaintiff,” and the tenant is the “defendant.” The State of California also gives priority to eviction lawsuits over all other legal matters, aside from criminal cases. Landlords may be able to evict a tenant if the tenant:

  • Fails to pay the rent on time;
  • Breaks the lease or rental agreement and will not fix the problem (like keeping your cat when pets are not allowed);
  • Damages the property bringing down the value (commits “waste”);
  • Becomes a serious nuisance by disturbing other tenants and neighbors even after being asked to stop; or
  • Uses the property to do something illegal.

A landlord cannot evict a tenant for an illegal reason (e.g., discrimination, retaliation for taking action against the landlord).

How long does an eviction stay on your record?

In general, an eviction stays on a person’s record for seven years after the conclusion of a legal eviction proceeding. After the seven-year period expires, evictions are deleted from public record and thereby from your credit report and rental history. So if you’ve got an eviction on your record and can’t get anyone to lease to you, in the worst case scenario you can just let the eviction lapse from public record after seven years.

Eviction notices in California

A landlord’s three-day, 30-day, or 60-day
notice to a tenant must be “served” properly
to be legally effective. These procedures are designed to increase the likelihood that the person to whom notice is given actually receives the notice. If a landlord properly serves a notice because the tenant hasn’t paid the rent, the tenant must either pay the full amount of rent that is due or vacate (leave) the rental unit by the end of the notice period, unless there is a legal basis for not paying rent.

If the tenant decides to pay the rent, they should call the landlord or the landlord’s agent immediately and tell the landlord or agent that they intend to pay the amount demanded in the notice (if it is correct) and arrange a time/location where the tenant can deliver the payment to the landlord or agent. Whatever the form of payment, the tenant should get a receipt signed by the landlord or agent that shows the date and the amount of the payment.

The landlord normally cannot require that you pay the unpaid rent in cash.

3-day eviction notice

In California, a landlord may terminate a tenancy by giving the tenant only threedays’ advance written notice if the tenant has done any of the following (Civil Code Section 1161 (2)-(4)):

  • Failure to pay rent.
  • Violation of any provision of the lease or rental agreement.
  • Materially damaging the rental property.
  • Substantial interference with other tenants.
  • Commission of domestic violence or sexual assault against, or stalking another tenant or subtenant on the premises.
  • Using the premises for an unlawful purpose.
  • Unlawfully using, cultivating, importing, dealing, or manufacturing illegal drugs.
  • Using the building or property to conduct dogfighting or cockfighting.
  • Unlawful conduct involving weapons or ammunition.

If a tenant doesn’t voluntarily move out after the landlord has properly given the required notice, the landlord can evict the tenant. However, in order to evict the tenant, the landlord must first file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in Superior Court.

Wrongful eviction help

If a tenant doesn’t voluntarily move out after the landlord has properly given the required notice to the tenant, the landlord can evict the tenant; but in order to evict the tenant, the landlord must first file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in superior Court.

If a tenant feels that they have been wrongly evicted, seeking legal assistance may be a good course of action. For example, some ordinances allow landlords to evict tenants only for “just cause.” under these ordinances, the landlord must state and prove a valid reason for terminating a month- to-month tenancy. (Civil Code Section 1942.5(a)).

How long do you have to move out after eviction?

California law gives exact requirements to end a tenancy, with different types of termination notices and procedures required for different types of situations. However, in general, a tenant has three days to move out after being served with a Three-Day Notice. The notice informs the tenant that the tenant must move out of the rental unit within three days of receiving the notice. The tenant is not allowed any time to fix the violation, and if the tenant does not move out within three days, the landlord can go to court to file an eviction lawsuit. However, the tenant is not required to actually vacate the premises until the court issues a judgement against them.

How long does an eviction take?

In California, how long the eviction process takes is dependent upon when the Unlawful Detainer is actually filed with the court – and depends upon the County you are in. For example, sometimes the courts can be backlogged for weeks. A couple weeks later, they can be open. We don’t have control over the court.

Generally, it takes between thirty-five and sixty days for an uncontested eviction. However, if the tenant contests the eviction, the process can then take between sixty and ninety days. However, it must be understood that the notice process contributes to the total time the eviction process takes from the time of first serving the notice. In other words, if you serve a tenant a 60 Day Notice to Vacate, the time frame for the Unlawful Detainer runs after that 60 days expires.

How many months late on rent before being evicted?

Legally, a tenant can pay their rent as late as the landlord allows them to pay. This is why landlords sticks to their rental agreement (written or verbal). Serving the tenant a notice between 1 and 5 days from when the rent is due prohibits tenants from paying their rent late. A tenant can also be evicted for failure to pay late rent fees stipulated in the rental agreement.

Allowing the tenant to pay rent whenever they can or feel like paying without giving a notice to pay rent or quit within 1 to 5 days after the rent is due, can construed to be a change in terms of tenancy.

Even if a notice of change of terms was not served, not serving the tenant notice can be used against the landlord when they are ready to evict the tenant.

Can a landlord evict you for no reason?

In California, a landlord can generally only evict a tenant with cause, or with proper notice in some instances.

A landlord can terminate a California tenancy early and evict the tenant for a variety of reasons, including failure to pay rent, violating the lease or rental agreement, or committing an illegal act. Before terminating the tenancy, the landlord must give the tenant written notice. The reason for the termination will determine the type of notice needed. In those case, the landlord can evict the tenant with a 30-day or 60-day notice to quit without saying why the tenant must move out.

Can a landlord evict you without going to court?

No, never. A landlord who wants to end a tenancy can only do so by properly serving a written 30-day or 60-day notice to the tenant.  If the tenant doesn’t voluntarily move out after the landlord has properly given the required notice to the tenant, the landlord can only evict the tenant by filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit in superior Court.

Do you have to pay rent if you get evicted?

In most instances, yes. An eviction is a legal proceeding, and you are not automatically evicted when the time period stated in the eviction notice runs out. If you did not comply with the eviction notice, your landlord can then go to court and file the necessary paperwork to begin the eviction lawsuit against you. Depending on how busy the courts are, it could take anywhere from a week to months before a sheriff is ordered to evict you on a certain date. You can remain living in the rental unit until then, but remember that you will be required to pay the landlord rent until the day you move out of the unit.

If you feel your situation may release you from payment obligations, you may want to seek legal representation to help with the matter.

Paying rent after eviction

A landlord is required to give a tenant a three-day notice to pay rent or quit before filing an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant pays rent during the three-day period, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction (Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1161(2)). The tenant should ask for a time-stamped receipt if paying rent because of a three-day notice. This way, if the landlord continues with the eviction anyway, the tenant can use the receipt as proof that rent was paid during the three days.

Additionally, as with any situation, the best way to resolve a potential dispute with your landlord is to discuss it with them, and to give as much advance notice as possible. If you are in a situation where discussion with your landlord is not feasible, you may want to seek legal representation to help with the matter.

Landlord discrimination

A landlord, managing agent, real estate broker, or salesperson is in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act by harassing, evicting, or otherwise discriminating against a person in the sale or renting of housing when the “dominant purpose” is to retaliate against a person who has done any of the following (Government Code Section 12955(f), 12955.7.):

  • Opposed practices that are unlawful under the Act;
  • Informed law enforcement officials of practices that the person believes are unlawful under the Act; or
  • Aided or encouraged a person to exercise rights protected by the Act.

A tenant who can prove that the landlord’s eviction action is based on a discriminatory motive has a defense to the unlawful detainer action. A tenant who is the victim of retaliatory discrimination also has a cause of action for damages under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, and should contact an attorney immediately.

Landlord harassment

California State law requires that your landlord give you 24 or 48 hours’ notice to enter the rental property (Cal. Civ. Code § 1954). If a landlord repeatedly violates this rights to privacy, or does things like removing windows or doors, turning off your utilities, or changing the locks, the tenant is considered to be “constructively evicted.” This usually justifies the tenant breaking the lease without further rent obligation.

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal?

California law permits a landlord to deny a request to keep a service or support animal (e.g. – dog, bird, etc.) in California as a reasonable accommodation if the specific animal: poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or. would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.

However, in general, California law dictates that landlords must allow service dogs and support animals unless they threaten the safety or property of others.

Breaking a lease in California

If you need to move, a lease may be difficult for you to break, especially if another tenant can’t be found to take over your lease. If you move before the lease ends, the landlord may have a claim against you for the rent for the rest of the lease term.

As with any situation, the best way to resolve a potential dispute with your landlord is to discuss it with them, and to give as much advance notice as possible. If you are in a situation where discussion with your landlord is not feasible, you may want to seek legal representation to help with the matter.

How to break a lease

For a tenant, the easiest way to break a lease is to find another person to take over your lease. If another person can’t be found, it’s the tenant’s responsibility to pay out the duration of the agreed upon amount unless one of the following conditions is met:

  • You or a Family Member Are a Victim of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking, or Elder Abuse

State law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.7) provides early termination rights for tenants who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, stalking, or elder abuse, provided that specified conditions are met (such as the tenant securing a temporary restraining order).

  • You Are Starting Active Military Duty

If you enter active military service after signing a lease, you have a right to break the lease under federal law. (War and National Defense Service members Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. § § 501 and following.) You must be part of the “uniformed services,” which includes the armed forces, commissioned corps of the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard. You must give your landlord written notice of your intent to terminate your tenancy for military reasons. Once the notice is mailed or delivered, your tenancy will terminate 30 days after the date that rent is next due, even if that date is several months before your lease expires.

  • The Rental Unit Is Unsafe or Violates California Health or Safety Codes

If your landlord does not provide habitable housing under local and state housing codes, a court would probably conclude that you have been “constructively evicted;” this means that the landlord, by supplying unlivable housing, has for all practical purposes “evicted” you, so you have no further responsibility for the rent. California law (see Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 616 (1974) and Cal. Civ. Code § 1942) sets specific requirements for the procedures you must follow before moving out because of a major repair problem. The problem must be truly serious, such as the lack of heat or other essential service.

  • Your Landlord Harasses You or Violates Your Privacy Rights

California law requires that your landlord must give you 24 hours’ (or 48 for final move-out inspection) notice to enter the rental property (Cal. Civ. Code § 1954). If your landlord repeatedly violates your privacy rights, or does things to render you “constructively evicted,” (e.g., turning off utilities, changing locks, removing windows/doors). This would normally be justification for breaking the lease without further obligation.

What happens if you break a lease?

If you move before the lease ends, the landlord may have a claim against you for the rent for the rest of the lease term.

Additionally, breaking a lease carries several other consequences. They include:

  • Difficulty renting a new place.  Landlords usually require rental references and review applicants’ credit reports. Negative information like an eviction or breach of contract on your report will almost always make renting a new place challenging.  
  • A judgment issued against you. A credit judgment is an order to pay a debt, and after hearing your case, he or she might issue one against you. 
  • Civil lawsuit. If you break a lease in California, in most cases, your landlord will win the lawsuit and a judge will order you to pay off the lease balance. 

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