As a tenant, knowing your rights is critical. Under California law, you are protected from certain rent increases and may be protected from certain types of evictions.
It is important to act quickly if your landlord serves you with an eviction notice, tells you to move out, increases your rent illegally, or if you know cannot afford your rent. Many legal processes affecting tenants move swiftly, so do not ignore important notices. Instead, reach out for legal assistance as soon as possible to discuss your options. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal aid. To find a legal aid office near where you live, please visit www.LawHelpCA.org.
As a landlord, it is vital to understand and uphold the protections available to California renters under the law. With so many provisions in flux during the pandemic and with the recently enacted Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) and other laws, it is important to be familiar with state and local developments to prevent legal violations.
Click on the links below to learn more about landlord-tenant protections:
- Statewide Rent Caps and Eviction Protections
- Tenant Protections Related to COVID-19
- Additional Topics Affecting Landlords & Tenants
- Getting Legal Help
- Know Your Rights Guides for Tenants
- Quick Reference Guide for Landlords and Property Managers
To stay informed about what the Attorney General is doing to protect tenants’ rights and address California’s housing crisis, please visit the Housing Strike Force webpage at https://oag.ca.gov/housing. For additional resources, visit the State of California’s Housing is Key website, and read the “Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords Rights and Responsibilities.” For residents and owners of mobilehome parks, read the “Mobilehome Residency Law Handbook.”
Statewide Rent Caps and Eviction Protections
In 2019, California enacted the Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482), which created significant new protections for tenants. Both tenants and landlords should be aware of the requirements of this new law.
Limits on Rent Increases
The Tenant Protection Act caps rent increases for most tenants in California. Landlords cannot raise rent more than 10% total or 5% plus the percentage change in the cost of living – whichever is lower – over a 12-month period. If the tenants of a unit move out and new tenants move in, the landlord may establish the initial rent to charge. (Civ. Code § 1947.12.) The percentage change in the cost of living for most areas can be found through the national consumer price index by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or California consumer price index by the California Department of Industrial Relations.
In addition to the statewide limit, local rent control laws may further restrict how much a landlord can increase rent annually. Tenants and landlords should consult local resources to see whether their city or county has rules that may offer additional protection to tenants.
Just-Cause Eviction Requirement
The Tenant Protection Act also creates new statewide eviction protections for most tenants who have been living in their units for at least a year. The law sets out two kinds of evictions: “at fault” evictions (where the landlord moves to evict the tenant where the tenant is allegedly “at fault”) and “no fault” evictions (where the landlord moves to evict the tenant through “no fault” of the tenant).
“At fault” evictions include:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Breach of a material term of the lease
- Nuisance, waste, or using the unit for unlawful purposes
- Criminal activity on the premises or criminal activity off the premises directed at the owner or agent
- Refusal to allow lawful entry
- Refusal to execute a new lease containing similar terms
“No fault” evictions include:
- Owner move-in
- Intent to demolish or substantially remodel the unit
- Withdrawal of the unit from the rental market
- The owner complying with a government order or local law that requires the tenant to leave
Landlords can only evict a tenant for one of the reasons listed above. Some of these reasons have their own specific requirements. For instance:
- Owner Move-In: Any landlord planning an owner move-in or a relative move-in for their rental unit must act truthfully and in good faith and only proceed in circumstances that comply with all state and local requirements. These requirements may include restrictions on the window of time a landlord has to move in after an eviction, the length of time that the owner intends live in the rental in order to qualify as a valid owner move-in, and the types of relationships that qualify for a valid relative move-in.
- Substantial Remodel: Similarly, landlords must act truthfully when evicting a tenant to conduct a substantial remodel of a unit, as not all repairs meet the definition of “substantial remodel.” To be a “substantial remodel,” the landlord must plan to either replace or substantially modify a structural, electrical, plumbing or other system in the unit in a way that requires a permit, or to abate hazardous materials within the unit. In addition, the work must not be able to be done in a safe manner with tenants in the unit and must require a tenant to vacate the unit for at least 30 days. Cosmetic renovations do not count. Please also be aware that there may be special protections for protected groups such as senior tenants.
Lying about the reason for evicting a tenant is illegal, and tenants with concerns about the legitimacy of their eviction should consult an attorney.
In addition to the statewide requirement that landlords have just cause before evicting a tenant, local laws may offer additional tenant protections. Tenants and landlords should consult local resources to see whether their city or county has rules that may offer additional protection to tenants.
Who These Protections Apply To
The Tenant Protection Act applies to ALL rental units in the state except:
- Single-family homes not owned or controlled by a corporation (the Act does apply to single-family homes owned or controlled by a corporation)
- Units covered by a local rent control ordinance that is more protective than the Tenant Protection Act
- Units constructed in the past 15 years (this is a rolling timeline, so tenants will gain protection once their building turns 15)
- Mobilehomes that are not owned and offered for rent by the owner or manager of a mobilehome park
- Duplexes where the owner is living in one of the units at the time the tenant moves into the other unit, but only as long as the owner continues to live there
- Housing that is restricted as affordable housing by deed, government agency agreement, or other recorded document, or that is subject to an agreement that provides housing subsidies for affordable housing
The Tenant Protection Act applies to recipients of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. It includes a narrow exception for housing that is restricted as affordable housing by deed, government agency agreement, or other recorded document, or that is subject to an agreement that provides housing subsidies for affordable housing. (Civ. Code § 1946.2, subd. (e)(9).) Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers help tenants pay for market-rate housing that owners/operators offer to the general public at market-rate rents, not for affordable housing as referenced in the Act. Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers also apply to specific tenancies, not to the housing itself. Market-rate tenancies subsidized by Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are therefore not exempt from the Act’s protections.
Tenant Protections Related to COVID-19
Tenants have limited statewide protections related to COVID-19. Please visit the tenant consumer resource page to learn what protections may apply to you. Tenants and landlords should also consult local resources to see whether their city or county offers additional protections to tenants.
Additional Topics Affecting Landlords & Tenants
Landlords and those who act on their behalf, such as property managers, realtors, and attorneys, are responsible for complying with all state and local laws, including the following important points. Tenants should also read the below so they understand their rights as renters.
Landlords are responsible by law for keeping tenants’ units safe and well-maintained. This is known as habitability. This includes things like providing safe and working plumbing, heating, electrical equipment, floors, and stairs; effective waterproofing; windows and doors with working locks; and keeping the property free from roaches, rats, and other vermin. (Civil Code § 1941.1.) Even if tenants knew that their unit was not up to these standards when they moved in, it is still the landlord’s responsibility to make all units habitable. Additionally:
- Tenants with health or safety issues in their homes have a right to ask their landlords to make repairs. Tenants should make repair requests and complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions in writing. Tenants should document issues by text messages, emails, letters, and certified mail, and also by videos and photos. Tenants should keep a copy of any communications they have with their landlord.
- If a landlord refuses to make repairs, tenants should contact their local code enforcement office or local health department. Cities or counties may also have their own rent board or rent control program that deals with building health and safety.
- If a tenant living in a unit with health or safety issues is served with an eviction notice, it is very important for the tenant to inform a lawyer or the court about those health and safety issues. Doing so may help the tenant’s defense or affect the landlord’s right to evict the tenant. (Civ. Code §§ 1942.3, 1942.4.)
- Tenants have an obligation to keep their units clean and sanitary, to use appliances and fixtures as intended, and to avoid damaging the unit. If tenants cause damage to the unit, they are responsible for repairing it.
Notice for Rent Increases
When raising a tenant’s rent, landlords must deliver the tenant a formal written notice of the change. It is not enough for a landlord to call, text, or email that they plan on raising the rent. Landlords must also give tenants sufficient warning before increasing rent. If the rent increase is less than 10%, landlords must provide notice 30 days before the increase can take effect. If the rent increase is more than 10%, the landlord must provide notice 90 days before it can take effect. (Civ. Code § 827). If a notice is not in writing or delivered on time, a tenant should consult a lawyer about their rights.
It is illegal to try to “evict” a tenant by locking them out, shutting off the water or electricity, or removing their personal property. The only lawful way to evict a tenant is to file a case in court and go through the legal process. A tenant who has been locked out should consult a lawyer about their rights, including returning to their unit and getting damages from the landlord. (Civ. Code § 789.3.)
Landlords must return a tenant’s security deposit upon move-out except for amounts deducted for lawful purposes. Lawful purposes include unpaid rent, cleaning, repair of damage caused by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear, and in some cases, replacing furnishings. Landlords have 21 days from a tenant’s move-out to issue a full refund of the security deposit or to provide a statement explaining any deductions along with the remainder of the security deposit and any receipts. (Civ. Code §1950.5.)
Price-gouging protections, including protections under city or county price gouging ordinances and as a result of local emergency proclamations, may apply to rental housing, effectively limiting rent increases. Many cities and counties have enacted additional rental protections, including rent stabilization and just-cause eviction ordinances that may apply to both rental units and/or to mobilehome owners renting lot spaces from a mobilehome park owner. Landlords and mobilehome park owners should remain aware of the legal requirements applicable to the cities and counties where their rental properties are located.
Landlords may not retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights. For example, it is against the law for a landlord to try to evict a tenant who has asked for repairs or pointed out that a rent increase is unlawful, or to take away services or rights that the tenant previously enjoyed, like a storage space or parking. (Civ. Code § 1942.5.)
Tenants with disabilities must receive reasonable accommodations to allow them the use and enjoyment of their unit. Specifically:
- Reasonable accommodations may involve adjusting certain policies in a way that helps a person with a disability have equal access to housing. For example, a landlord is permitted to have a “no pets” policy, but must make a reasonable accommodation for a tenant with a service animal by waiving the “no pets” policy for that tenant.
- Landlords cannot charge tenants the cost of offering a reasonable accommodation.
- Additionally, landlords must allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable physical modifications to the unit so that they have “full enjoyment of the premises.” In most situations, tenants are responsible for covering the costs of the reasonable modification.
- If a tenant with a disability is being denied or charged for a reasonable accommodation, they should contact an attorney.
Landlords are prohibited from discriminating against tenants based on the tenant’s race, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, ancestry, disability status, marital status, familial status, source of income (Section 8 vouchers, for example), veteran status, or certain other characteristics.
- Additionally, private housing providers are prohibited from discriminating against tenants on the basis of citizenship, immigration status, primary language, age, medical condition, or any other arbitrary personal characteristic.
- Discrimination may take many different forms, but can include refusing to rent to a certain tenant, providing a tenant with less favorable rental terms, targeting certain tenants for eviction, or more.
- In most cases, landlords are not allowed to ask a tenant or prospective tenant their immigration or citizenship status. Landlords are never allowed to threaten to disclose a tenant or occupant’s immigration status in order to pressure a tenant to move out. Landlords are also never allowed to harass or retaliate against a tenant by disclosing their immigration status to law enforcement.
- If a tenant has concerns that they are being treated unfairly on the basis of a protected characteristic, they should consult a lawyer.
Getting Legal Help
If you are a tenant facing an eviction, struggling to pay rent, or otherwise concerned about your ability to stay in your unit, free or low-cost legal help may be available. To find a legal aid office near where you live, please visit www.LawHelpCA.org. If you don’t qualify for legal aid, you may obtain a referral to a certified lawyer referral service from the California State Bar. If you are unable to find legal assistance, consult the California Court’s self-help resources for tenants facing evictions.