10 California Renters’ Rights You Need to Know

A 2015 study by Forbes placed six California cities on the list of the top 10 most expensive places to rent in the U.S. Since you’re shelling out so much dough to live in the Golden State, it’s important to keep up with your rights as a renter. You could track down this info, but tenant law documents are laden with tons of legalese, and a lot of it is pretty obscure and probably not that important to you. Luckily you have friends at RadPad (that’s us!) who dug through all this info to pick the top 10 California renter rights you should be aware of.

1. How much can a landlord charge for a late rent payment?

There’s actually no clear law on this, but California courts have upheld 5-10% of the rent as a reasonable penalty for late checks.  Landlords should specify a reasonable amount in the lease to avoid any confusion or surprises.

2. How much can a landlord charge for a bounced check?

Landlords can charge renters $25 for the first bounced check and $35 for each additional bounced check. But seriously, why are you still dealing with checks? Renters can use their debit or credit card to pay rent with Pay with RadPad, even if your landlord only accepts checks like it’s 1999.

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3. When can a landlord enter a rental property, and how much notice do they need to give?

While renters are always welcome to invite their landlords over for afternoon tea, there aren’t too many situations where a landlord can come over unannounced. 

According to California rental laws, a landlord is required to give 24 hours notice before entering the rental unit (to make repairs, give potential new tenants a tour, etc.), unless it’s for a move-out inspection, which requires 48 hours notice. If there is an emergency, or a tenant has moved out or abandoned the rental unit, the landlord can enter without warning. 

4. How much can a landlord charge for a security deposit?

Unfurnished units: no more than two months of rent.

Furnished units: no more than three months of rent. 

If you’re the classy owner of a waterbed, add a half month of rent onto the max amount a landlord can charge. But seriously, a waterbed? Groovy …

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5. What’s the deal with landlords paying interest on security deposits?

There’s a lot of wrong info floating around about this, so here’s the deal:

California landlord/tenant laws state that landlords are not required to pay tenants interest on a security deposit if the unit is not rent-controlled.  Rent-controlled units in a few cities require landlords to pay interest on security deposits.  Only two of these cities actually specify the interest rate that must be paid:

San Francisco: 0.2%

Los Angeles: 0.06% (as of 2016)

As of 2016, the following cities do NOT require landlords to pay interest on security deposits, even for rent-controlled units:

West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills

6. How do I find out if a unit is rent-controlled?

There are three criteria necessary for a unit to be rent-controlled:

  1. 1. The unit is in a city with rent control laws. There are about a dozen of these cities in California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica.
  2. 2. The unit was built before October 1, 1978. (And no, the outdated wallpaper that looks like it’s been around since before your grandmother was born doesn’t count.) 
  3. 3. There are at least two units on the property.

When a tenant moves out of a rent-controlled unit, the landlord can increase the rent for the new tenant but only by a certain percentage, which is different for each city.  For example, in Los Angeles, it’s 3%. 

7. When does a landlord need to return a security deposit?

Landlords have 21 calendar days after a tenant moves out to return a full security deposit or to provide a written statement detailing withholdings.

8. When can a tenant legally break a lease?

Let’s say Eric has signed a one-year lease but wants to move out after a few months. There are four scenarios that would allow Eric to break his lease without penalty:

  1. 1. Eric or a family member is the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or elder abuse
  2. 2. Eric is starting active military duty
  3. 3. The rental unit is unsafe or violates California Health or Safety Codes
  4. 4. Eric’s landlord harasses or violates his privacy rights

If Eric isn’t in one of the unfortunate situations above, he may still break his lease early. Though Eric may be liable to pay the rent owed on the remainder of his lease, CA law requires his landlord make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit to prevent this from happening. 

9. How much can a landlord increase rent?

There are very few renter rights when it comes to rent increase. For non-rent-controlled units, a landlord can increase the rent as much as they want, (yes, really) as long as they give proper notice. (See below.)

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10. How much notice does a landlord need to give a tenant before increasing the rent? 

Rent cannot be increased during the term of a lease, unless the lease allows for it.

For month-to-month rental agreements, rent can be increased, but landlords have to give renters notice based on the percentage of the increase:

- Increase of less than 10%: at least 30 days’ written notice required

- Increase of 10% or more: at least 60 days’ written notice required

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