Landlord Tenant Relationships

Matters dealing with the relationship between landlord and tenant are generally governed by California law. Legal problems between residential landlords and tenants typically involve rent or other payments, repairs, and terminations. Each of these matters is briefly discussed below. 

Rental Agreements & Leases

There are two kinds of agreements creating a tenant's right to live in a rental unit: (1) a periodic rental agreement and (2) a lease. A lease provides for the total period of time it will be in effect (for example, for one year).  A rental agreement does not provide for the total period it will be in effect and can continue indefinitely from period to period (for example, from month to month) as long as the tenant continues to pay the rent and the landlord does not terminate the tenancy.

A Tenant's Basic Legal Rights

Tenants have basic legal rights that are protected by statute, no matter what the rental agreement or lease states. These rights include (1) limits on the amount of security deposit that the landlord can require, (2) limits on the landlord's right to enter the rental unit, (3) the right to a refund of the security deposit, or a written accounting of how it was used, after the tenant moves, (4)  the right to sue the landlord for violations of the law or the agreement, (5) the right to repair serious defects in the rental unit and deduct certain repair costs from the rent, (6) the right to withhold rent under appropriate circumstances, (7) rights under the warranty of habitability, and (8) protection against retaliatory eviction.

Repairs & Habitability

California law makes landlords and tenants each responsible for certain kinds of repairs. 

A rental unit must be habitable. In legal terms, "habitable" means that the rental unit is fit for occupation by human beings and that it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that materially affect tenant's health and safety. A landlord is responsible for making the rental unit habitable before renting it and during the term of the tenancy. A landlord is, therefore, responsible for repairing substantial defects in the rental unit and substantial failures to comply with state and local building and health codes. However, a landlord is not responsible for repairing damages caused by a tenant or the tenant's family, guests or pets. California Civil Code Sections 1929, 1941.2, 1941.3.

California law is specific as to what kinds of conditions make a rental unit uninhabitable. It may be considered uninhabitable if it substantially lacks any of the following: (1) effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors, (2) plumbing facilities in good working order, including hot and cold running water, connected to a sewage disposal system, (3) gas facilities in good working order, (4) heating facilities in good working order, (5) an electric system, including lighting, wiring, and equipment, in good working order, (6) clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and appurtenances, free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin, (7) adequate trash receptacles in good repair, and (8) floors, stairways, and railings in good repair. California Civil Code Section 1941.1.

Terminations & Evictions

A landlord can terminate a month-to-month tenancy simply by giving a tenant 30 days' advance written notice. Generally, a 30 day notice does not have to state a landlord's reason for ending the tenancy.  

A landlord can terminate the tenancy by giving a tenant only 3 day's advance written notice if a tenant has done any of the following: (1) failed to pay rent; (2) violated any provision of the lease or rental agreement;  (3) materially damaged the rental property; (4) substantially interfered with the other tenants; or (5) used the rental property for an unlawful purpose.

If a tenant does not voluntarily move out after a landlord has properly given the required notice, a landlord can evict the tenant. In order to do so, a landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. This type of lawsuit allows the court action to move very quickly. In most cases, a tenant has only 5 days to file a written response to the lawsuit after being served with a copy of the landlord's complaint. Normally, a judge will hear and decide the case within 20 days after the tenant files an answer. It is, therefore, imperative that a tenant get legal advice and assistance immediately upon being served with the landlord's complaint.