10 Things You Should Know about Tenants’ Rights In California


Know what Tenants’ Rights in California are to stop illegal evictions. Not all evictions are legal, deserved, or fitting. Some are just plain spiteful. We, at Viking Property Services, help families move, clean up after evictions, and conducts clean-up patrols for…

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10 Things You Should Know about Tenants’ Rights In California

Know what Tenants’ Rights in California are to stop illegal evictions. Not all evictions are legal, deserved, or fitting. Some are just plain spiteful.

We, at Viking Property Services, help families move, clean up after evictions, and conducts clean-up patrols for commercial properties.

We see both sides of an eviction and see both sides of the story.

Not all evictions are the tenants’ faults. However, when a tenant does not know what their rights are, they can get the short end of the stick.

Tenants’ Rights in California Are Protected

Knowing what you and your Landlord can and cannot do go a long way to building a lasting, positive relationship. Add good communication and mutual respect to create a win-win situation that works for everyone.

By no means is the list below an all-inclusive list. The list below is to get you started. Please click California Tenants:  Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlord’s Rights and Responsibilities for more information.

  1. Discrimination is illegal
  2. Leases longer than one year must be in writing
  3. Tenant’s rights can’t be signed away (surrendered)
  4. Limits on Security Deposits
  5. Right to refund or detailed accounting of the security deposit
  6. Right to habitability
  7. Right to withhold rent
  8. Limits on Landlord’s right to enter the property
  9. Right to sue for violations of the rental agreement/lease
  10. Retaliatory evictions are illegal

#1:  Discrimination Is Illegal

Discrimination based on medical conditions, mental health, personal characteristics like appearance or sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, marital status, ancestry, source of income, or familial status is illegal. This goes for Tenant’s Rights in California as well!

If you believe you have been denied housing based on the criteria listed above, call California’s Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210.

There is no place for discrimination – anywhere!

#2:  Leases Longer Than One Year Must Be In Writing

Having your lease or rental agreement in writing is a basic renter’s right in California.  Always have your lease agreements in writing. These written agreements protect you and the Landlord from misunderstands and miscommunication. This is especially important when it comes to special circumstances like:

  • Pets
  • Water-filled Furniture
  • Leases longer than one year

Document Your Lease/Rental Agreements

By setting the boundaries for the tenant-landlord relationship, each person knows what’s expected and where the line is that they should not cross. If either of you should cross those lines, the other person has a legal case against the line crosser.

#3: “Tenants’ Rights in California Can’t be Signed Away

Rights, by definition, are abilities that cannot be signed away. These abilities travel with you simply because you exist.

However, this does not stop exploiters from trying.

These bullies will use any angle to intimidate you. They may use your citizenship status, religion, gender, or national origin to create the illusion that you are powerless. Once you accept their lies as truth, they will threaten you and make you sign paperwork they claim is legally binding to put a limit on your rights.

In California, this behavior is NOT tolerated.

There is NO WAY you can sign your rights away. Even if you sign a document “waiving” your rights away, the legal system interprets that as proof of extortion and faults the Landlord for criminal intent to commit fraud.

In short, Tenant rights are always present regardless of what the rental or lease agreement states. You can’t sign your rights away.

#4:  Limits On Security Deposits

Security deposits are intended to protect both the Landlord and the Tenant. This financial promise covers damages outside normal wear and tear and that the Tenant will leave the rental as clean as or cleaner than they found it.

Per law, security deposits are always refundable regardless, even if the lease says otherwise. Always read the lease before signing it. If the lease says the security deposit is non-refundable, don’t sign it. It is a clear warning sign. Stop and look elsewhere for a place to live.

However, the Landlord does have a right to charge additional fees. These are often non-refundable fees like a credit check fee, an application screening fee, or a processing fee. Usually, these fees cover the Landlord’s cost of doing business.

Landlords can also require the first month’s rent at the same time as the deposit. When saving for a new place, it is best to assume first, last, and deposit or three times the rent to begin living in a new location. If your rent is $1,000 per month, save $3,000 to move.

Let’s break that number down:

  • First Months Rent ($1,000)
  • Security Deposit ($1,000) – usually equal or less to the first month’s rent
  • Moving Expenses ($1,000)
    • A moving truck, boxes, tape, bubble wrap, child care, gas, etc.
    • Utility bills from the previous address
    • Any repair costs to fix the old place

Moving to a new location is an expensive project. Therefore, creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with your Landlord is to your advantage.

#5: Right To A Refund Of The Security Deposit Or An Accounting of Deposit Expenditures

Tenants/Renters in California have the right to a refund of the security deposit. If any amounts are deducted from the security deposit, the Landlord has to itemize the reasons with dollar amounts. The security deposit cannot be used for:

  • Repairing defects that existed in the unit before you moved in OR
  • Conditions caused by normal wear and tear during your tenancy or previous tenancies OR
  • Cleaning a rental unit that is as clean as when you moved in

The best way to get your full deposit back is to do the following:

  1. Give Proper Notice – Check the lease or rental agreement for the exact timing
  2. Confirm all rents are paid. Make sure you have all of your receipts.
  3. Confirm all late fees are paid, if any. Make sure you have all of your receipts.
  4. Repair any damages. Keep all receipts.
  5. Clean the dwelling from top to bottom, including the ceilings, or pay someone to do it. If you are hiring someone else to do this task, keep your receipt.
  6. If you have animals, have the carpet professionally cleaned. Keep your receipt.

Suppose you have done these, and the Landlord still does not provide you with the full security deposit or a reasonable accounting statement of expenses. In that case, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

#6:  Right to Habitability

Per the California Supreme Court Case, Green vs. Superior Court in 1974, the Landlord must make repairs. Furthermore, all residential leases and rental agreements contain implied “habitability”.

“Habitability” has two parts. The first part is the rental unit is fit for occupation by human beings. The second part is the structure complies with state and local building codes and health codes that materially affect Tenants’ health and safety.

If the rental unit does not meet both qualifications, it is not habitable. (Click here to find out the specifics.)

It is the Landlords responsibility that the rental unit is up to code. If it is not, the Landlord is responsible for fixing it immediately.

If the Landlord fails to fix it immediately, California Tenants have the right to either fix it and deduct it from the rent, abandon the property or report the lack of action to local authorities.

#7:  Tenants’ Right To Withhold Rent in California

By law, a tenant can withhold some of the rent if the Landlord does not fix severe defects that violate the implied warranty.

Uninhabitable includes open wiring- Tenants Rights in California include a right to a safe dwelling

Green v. Superiour Court (1974) describes the defects severe enough to justify withholding rent.  These defects include but are not limited to:

  • Collapse and non-repair of bathroom ceiling
  • The continued presence of rats, mice, and cockroaches
  • Lack of heat in four of the apartment’s rooms
  • Plumbing blockages
  • Exposed and faulting wiring
  • Click here to find out the specifics.

Suppose a Tenant tries to withhold rent for cosmetic or non-structural reasons. In that case, the Landlord may have grounds to begin the eviction process.

#8:  Limits On The Landlord’s Right To Enter The Property

Landlords cannot just enter the property a Tenant is leasing at any time for any reason.

The Landlord must give reasonable advanced notice in write before entering the unit and can only enter during regular business hours.

California law specifically states that a Landlord can enter a rental unit only for the following reasons:

  • In an emergency
  • After a tenant moves out or abandons the property
  • Make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, decorations, alterations, or other improvements
  • Showing the unit to a prospective tenant, buyer, or lender
  • Inspect the installation of a waterbed
  • Conduct an initial inspection before the end of a tenancy
  • Give access to contractors and repair workers
  • With a Court Order

#9:  Right To Sue The Landlord For Violations Of The Law Or Your Rental/Lease Agreement

Always do your best to attempt to work out any issues before they become a problem.  Some third-party arbitrators can help to mediate and de-escalate a misunderstand.

However, if this does not work, a Tenant does have the right to sue a Landlord. Here are some reasons a Tenant may feel compelled to sue a Landlord:

  • Has not kept the dwelling habitable
  • Tries to raise the rent during a lease
  • Fails to make repairs
  • Does not pay for repairs done by a tenant,
  • harrasses the tenants
  • Enters the premises without prior written notice

If the situation gets so bad that you have to sue, start saving for a new place to live.

Rarely do Landlord/Tenant relationships improve after a lawsuit.

#10:  Retaliatory Evictions Are Illegal

Landlords cannot punish a tenant for exercising a legal right. The law protects tenants from retaliatory eviction, discrimination, and other revenge-based actions like shutting off your electricity or water.

The law assumes that the Landlord has a retaliatory motive if the Landlord seeks to evict within six months after the Tenant has exercised their rights.

Tenants' Rights in California forbid Retaliatory Evictions

This includes but is not limited to:

  • Using the Repair & Deduct Remedy – where the Tenant pays for a repair and deducts the repair from the rent
  • Complaining about the dwelling’s habitability
  • Notifying a public agency about the dwelling’s issues like violations of the health code
  • Filing a lawsuit or beginning arbitration
  • Causing the appropriate public agency to inspect the property or issue a citation to the Landlord

There are limits and restrictions on is and is not “retaliatory” to protect the Tenant and the Landlord from revenge-based actions.  (Click here to find out the specifics.)

We at Viking Property Services have a unique perspective. We see what happens to hard-working Tenants and Landlords when one side decides the rules do not apply to them.

It never ends well.

It does not matter if the relationship is between a Tenant and a Landlord, neighbors, marriage partners, families, or between businesses. Everyone has rights and responsibilities.

Knowing what those rights and responsibilities are can make all of the difference between a bitter ending and a successful, long-lasting relationship.


References:  California Tenants:  A Guide to Residential Tenant’s and Landlord’s Rights and Responsibility, State of California Department of Consumer Affairs

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