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Landlords in California face a complex set of laws governing their relationships with tenants. To effectively manage your properties and avoid legal pitfalls, it’s critical to understand the intricacies of landlord-tenant law in this state. This blog post by Abdallah Law Group, PC, provides an in-depth look at legal requirements, best practices, and strategic advice tailored for landlords.

Mastering Landlord-Tenant Law In California

In California, the eviction process, formally referred to as “unlawful detainer” proceedings, is governed by Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161 et seq. The most common reasons for eviction include the tenant’s failure to pay rent as required by the lease, violation of a lease requirement other than its obligation to pay rent, and holding over at the end of its term.

The eviction process is a landlord-driven process, and knowing the finer details of the relevant forms and notices can make the difference between the matter going smoothly or becoming unnecessarily protracted and complicated.

Before commencing an eviction action, the landlord must draft and serve the tenant(s) with at least one of the following notices: For nonpayment of rent cases, the landlord must prepare and serve a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit.3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. This notice must strictly comply with the requirements in Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(2), be in writing, and state that the tenant(s) must pay the back rent demanded within three days of receiving the notice or, in the alternative, move out. For anything other than failure to pay rent, a 3-Day Notice to Perform Covenant (Cure) or Quit, 3-Day Notice to Quit, or a 30 or 60-Day Notice.

In some cases, a tenant may assert defenses based on retaliatory or seek relief under the Tenant Protection Act 2019 (“TPA). Therefore, landlords should be aware of these protections when navigating the eviction process as it is a complex process that requires strict adherence to statutory requirements and careful consideration of tenant rights.  Landlords should familiarize themselves with the relevant laws and regulations, including the California Civil Procedure Code, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, and the TPA to ensure a smooth and lawful eviction process.

  1. Crafting Effective Lease Agreements:
    1. Essential Clauses: California Residential Lease Agreements must reference several essential clauses. Firstly, the agreement should clearly define the extent and boundary of the property leased, the agreed term, the agreed rent, and the time and manner of payment of rent. The landlord’s right to access the leased unit is also a crucial clause. The landlord may enter the leased unit only in case of an emergency, to make necessary repairs, to show the unit to prospective tenants, for an inspection related to a security deposit, when the tenant has abandoned the premises, or pursuant to a court order.The lease should also indicate whether smoking is permitted on the premises. California law permits a landlord to require the premises and the building to be smoke-free. The lease should also contain clauses for repair and maintenance, requiring the landlord to place and maintain the premises in a safe and sanitary condition and comply with all laws respecting the condition of the premises.In addition, the lease should address the issue of subletting and assignment of the lease. Unless the lease provides otherwise, the tenant remains liable for its obligations under the lease if the tenant assigns the lease or agrees to sublet all or a portion of the premises.

      Furthermore, it’s important to note that any provision of a lease or rental agreement of a dwelling by which the lessee agrees to modify or waive certain rights shall be void as contrary to public policy. This includes the tenant’s rights or remedies under Section 1950.5 or 1954, his right to assert a cause of action against the lessor which may arise in the future, his right to a notice or hearing required by law, his procedural rights in litigation in any action involving his rights and obligations as a tenant, and his right to have the landlord exercise a duty of care to prevent personal injury or personal property damage where that duty is imposed by law.

      Lastly, it’s worth noting that all arbitration agreements within residential leases are invalid with regard to disputes relating to a tenant’s rights or obligations. This is due to the interpretation of Section 1953, which renders such agreements void. These are some of the essential clauses that must be referenced in California Residential Lease Agreements.


  1. Legal Requirements In California: California Residential Lease Agreements must reference several statutory disclosures. These include the Megan’s Law disclosure, which requires landlords to provide the registered sex offender disclosure as per Cal. Civ. Code § 2079.10. Landlords are also required to provide a statutory notice to all tenants regarding bed bugs. The California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, known as Proposition 65, requires landlords to disclose the presence of certain chemicals and byproducts known to be carcinogens, cause birth defects, and be reproductive toxicants.In addition, landlords must provide notice if they know or have reason to know that the property has a presence of mold exceeding permissible exposure limits or poses a health threat. Landlords with more than 10 employees must notify potential tenants of possible carcinogens. If a building was built before 1979, landlords must disclose any known asbestos-containing construction materials. If a health inspection indicates the presence of methamphetamine production chemicals within the apartment, the landlord must serve a copy of the health inspector’s notice to all prospective tenants.Furthermore, Civ. Code, § 1962 requires owners of rental property to make certain written disclosures to their tenants including the name, phone number, and usual street address at which personal service may be effectuated for all people who are managers of the premises, owners, or persons authorized to act on behalf of the owner for the purpose of service. These disclosures are essential to the creation of a valid lease agreement, and failure to comply with these requirements can have legal consequences. For instance, noncompliance with disclosure requirements can serve as a defense in an unlawful detainer action. Therefore, it is crucial for landlords to ensure that they are fully compliant with all statutory disclosure requirements in California Residential Lease Agreements.


  1. Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords:
    1. Landlord Rights In California, landlords have the right to collect rents, access the property for inspections with reasonable notice, and enforce lease terms. However, these rights are subject to certain limitations and obligations.

Regarding the collection of rents, landlords are not required to accept rent from third parties unless the third party provides a signed acknowledgment stating that they are not currently a tenant of the premises for which the rent payment is being made and that acceptance of the rent payment does not create a new tenancy with the third party. Furthermore, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act allows landlords to establish the initial rental rate for a dwelling or unit, giving them the ability to impose whatever rent they choose at the commencement of a tenancy.

As for access to property for inspections, landlords may enter the premises to make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations, or improvements, or to conduct inspections of exterior elements. They must give the tenant reasonable notice in writing of the intent to do so and enter only during normal business hours, except in cases of emergency or if the tenant consents at the time of entry.


  1. Landlord Responsibilities: In terms of enforcing lease terms, landlords are prohibited from terminating leases without Just Cause. The most common reasons include the tenant’s failure to pay rent as required by the lease, violation of a lease requirement other than its obligation to pay rent, and the tenant holding over at the end of its term.In addition to these, a tenant can be evicted for substantial violation of a material term of the tenancy, disorderly conduct, or refusal to allow the landlord access to the unit, provided the landlord has given the tenant prior written notice to cease the offending behavior. A tenant may also be evicted for willfully causing substantial damage to the premises, but only if, after written notice from the landlord, the tenant has refused to cease damaging the premises or has refused to either make satisfactory correction or to pay the reasonable costs of repairing such damage over a reasonable period of time.Furthermore, local rent control laws often require “just cause” to evict, meaning a landlord may only evict a tenant for one or more of the reasons stated in the rent control law.  Thus, “just cause” reasons can vary and are often subject to local rent control laws. It is important for landlords to be aware of these laws and to ensure they are acting in accordance with them when seeking to evict a tenant.


  1. Navigating the Eviction Process:
    1. Legal Grounds for Eviction. In California, a landlord may evict a tenant for any legal reason or for no reason at all, as long as it is not an improper or retaliatory reason. Some valid legal grounds for eviction include the tenant being in default on rent payments, the tenant violating a term of the lease agreement, the landlord wanting to move into the unit themselves, or the landlord withdrawing the unit from the rental market.However, a landlord may not evict in retaliation for the tenant exercising legal rights, such as reporting housing code violations.  Tenants can raise a defense of retaliatory eviction in an unlawful detainer proceeding if the eviction is in retaliation for the tenant exercising such rights.While landlords have broad discretion to evict tenants, based for “at fault” and “no fault” reasons, there are limitations that a landlord should first address with an attorney to comply with the just cause requirements and avoid improper grounds including retaliation against tenants exercising legal rights.


  1. Step-by-Step Eviction Guide:
  2. Provide Proper Notice to Vacate
    1.1. For month-to-month tenancies, provide written 30-day or 60-day notice of termination of tenancy (Civil Code § 1946).
    1.2.  For fixed-term leases, provide written 30-day notice if tenant has resided in unit for less than 1 year.  Provide 60-day notice if tenant has resided for 1 year or more (Civil Code § 1946.1).
    1.3.  Notice must state specific date tenancy will terminate.2.  Serve Eviction Notice
    2.1.  If tenant fails to vacate after notice period expires, serve written 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit (Civil Code § 1161(2)).
    2.2.  Notice must state exact amount of rent owed and period for which it is owed.
    2.3.  Notice must provide tenant alternative to pay full amount or vacate within 3 days.3.  File Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit
    3.1.  If tenant fails to pay or vacate after 3-day notice expires, landlord can file unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict (Code of Civil Procedure § 1161 et seq. ).
    3.2.  Complaint must describe facts and attach 3-day notice.
    3.3.  Pay filing fee to court clerk (currently $240).

    4.  Serve Tenant with Lawsuit
    4.1.  Arrange for personal service of summons and complaint on each tenant named in lawsuit.
    4.2.  Service must be by registered process server, sheriff, or any competent person 18 years or older (Code of Civil Procedure § 1162).

    5.  Request Default Judgment (if tenant doesn’t respond)
    5.1.  Request entry of default if tenant fails to file response within 5 days of service (Code of Civil Procedure § 1167).
    5.2.  Request default judgment from court clerk or judge.  Submit necessary proofs.

    6.  Attend Court Hearing
    6.1.  If tenant contests lawsuit, attend unlawful detainer trial.  Be prepared to present evidence.
    6.2.  If court rules in landlord’s favor, obtain Writ of Possession from clerk.

    7.  Schedule Sheriff Lockout
    7.1.  Deliver Writ of Possession to sheriff with instructions to remove tenant from unit.
    7.2.  Sheriff will post notice on unit and return in 5 days to forcibly remove tenant if necessary.

    8.  Regain Possession of Unit
    8.1.  Once sheriff removes tenant, landlord regains legal possession and can change locks.
    8.2.  Store any personal property left behind by tenant.

  1. Managing Security Deposits:
    1. Regulations on Security Deposits: In California, a landlord may not demand or receive security, in an amount or value in excess of two months’ rent for an unfurnished residential property, and three months’ rent for a furnished residential property, in addition to any rent for the first month paid on or before initial occupancy.


Within three weeks after the termination of tenancy, a landlord must return the security deposit paid by a former tenant and provide a written accounting of any portion retained as compensation for unpaid rent, repairs, and cleaning.  There is no state law requiring that landlords pay interest on tenant security deposits held by them.

The landlord may use the security deposit for specific purposes, such as repairing damages to the premises caused by the tenant or a guest or licensee of the tenant, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear.

  1. Resolving Disputes: Disputes over security deposits between landlords and tenants are typically governed by state statutes, lease agreements, or a combination of both. The California Civil Code § 1950.7(e) states that a new landlord can usually require tenants to replenish the security deposit to the maximum amount permitted if the previous landlord had deducted permissible amounts.
    1. If a landlord retains any portion of the security deposit for a commercial unit in bad faith, the tenant may be entitled to damages of up to $200 plus any actual damages. Withholding any security deposit funds may also subject a California landlord to an unfair competition claim under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 as an unfair or fraudulent business act or practice.In the case of commercial leases, the security deposit can be used as an interim remedy for nonmaterial breaches or at the end of the term to correct unfulfilled conditions or obligations. If the commercial lease does not contain language regarding treatment of the security deposit, the landlord must follow the statutory requirements under Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.7.


  1. For residential leases, any provision in a lease or rental agreement by which a tenant agrees to modify or waive his or her statutory remedies with respect to a security deposit is void as contrary to public policy. The landlord may claim only amounts from the security deposit that are reasonably necessary to accomplish the purposes specified in Civ. Code § 1950.5(b).
  1. Keeping Up with Legal Changes:
    1. Updates in the Law: Landlord-tenant law is a complex and evolving area of law that governs the relationship between landlords and tenants. It includes provisions related to rental agreements, eviction procedures, tenant protections, and more.


One of the key aspects of the California landlord-tenant law is the rental agreement. The terms of the agreement are intended as a final, complete, and exclusive expression of the parties’ agreement and may not be contradicted by evidence of any prior agreement or contemporaneous oral agreement. The law also provides for statutory procedures for mobile home landlord-tenant arrangements, with some provisions applying only to owner-occupants.

The law also provides additional statutory protections for certain groups of people, such as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, elder abuse, or dependent adult abuse, as well as members of the military. These protections include the right to change the locks of the rental without the landlord’s permission under certain circumstances, and the right to early lease termination under certain conditions.

In addition to the state law, local jurisdictions may have additional protections and obligations The law is subject to changes and amendments, and it is crucial for the landlord to stay updated on these changes.

Recent changes to California’s landlord-tenant law have significantly altered the relationship between landlords and tenants. These changes include modifications to the common-law rules applicable to abandonment and termination of leases, changes to the landlord’s obligation to repair and maintain, changes to the landlord-tenant relationship after lease expiration, and, the introduction of the TPA.


  1. Educational Resources for Landlords: Landlords in California have access to a variety of educational resources developed by state agencies to help them understand and comply with accessibility and health requirements.