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California landlord lease agreements guide [Free template]

landlord lease california
by Jeff Rohde, posted in Investment Strategy

As a California landlord, you’re expected to keep up with an ever-growing set of rules and regulations that govern landlord-tenant relations. Ultimately, you’re responsible for executing state-compliant lease agreements and implementing disclosures and rules specific to California. 

For example, every landlord in California must be aware of and abide by the Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482), which establishes significant protections for tenants. This Act includes statewide rent caps, eviction protections, and stipulations for just-cause eviction. 

This guide helps provide you with the knowledge to navigate California’s specific lease rules and disclosures confidently. Remember, you’re not merely a property owner; you’re providing a home to your tenants. Understanding the nuances of AB 1482 and other regulations is about more than compliance; it can help foster a fair and harmonious landlord-tenant relationship that keeps you out of court.


California state lease agreement template

If you’re a California landlord, we’ve provided a California State Lease Agreement Template here to assist with drafting your lease agreements.

ca lease agreement template stessa

This template should only serve as a starting point. Having your lease agreement reviewed by a local real estate attorney is highly recommended to ensure compliance with all state and local laws.


Required disclosures specific to California

When renting out residential property in California, landlords are legally responsible for providing tenants with certain disclosures. These disclosures notify tenants about a rental unit’s condition, potential hazards, and their rights and responsibilities.

Lead-based paint

Lead-based paint was often standard in homes built before 1978. Landlords must disclose any known presence of lead-based paint in a rental unit. This information is particularly crucial for tenants with young children since lead-based paint can pose significant health risks.

Periodic pest control treatments

If the rental unit undergoes periodic pest control treatments, landlords must apprise tenants of the schedule and nature of these treatments.

Bed bugs

Landlords must disclose any known information about the presence of bed bugs in the rental unit. Tenants must be made aware of potential infestations, and landlords must take necessary measures to prevent and address bed bug issues.


If the rental unit includes asbestos-containing materials, landlords must communicate this to tenants. Exposure to asbestos can lead to several serious diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Carcinogenic material

Landlords must disclose any known presence of carcinogenic materials in the rental unit. Some examples of carcinogenic materials, in addition to asbestos, are arsenic, benzene, and lead.

Methamphetamine contamination

If the rental unit experienced contamination by methamphetamine, landlords must reveal this information to tenants. Methamphetamine contamination can have severe health effects, and tenants need to be fully informed about their living environment.

Demolition permit

Should you have a pending demolition permit for the rental unit or the property, you must, as a landlord, disclose this information to tenants. This acknowledgment allows tenants to anticipate potential disruptions or find alternative housing if necessary.

Military base or explosives

Landlords must notify tenants if the rental unit’s location is near a military base or explosives storage facility. It helps tenants be aware of potential noise, safety, or other concerns related to such proximity.

Death in the rental unit

Landlords must disclose whether there has been a death in the rental unit within the past 3 years. Tenants can then make an informed decision about renting the unit, considering personal preferences or cultural beliefs.

Condominium conversion project

Landlords must inform tenants if the rental unit is part of a condominium conversion project. This way, tenants know about potential changes in ownership or future plans for the property.

Flood hazard

Should the rental unit be in a flood hazard area, landlords must communicate this to tenants so they know about potential risks and can acquire proper renter’s insurance and/or take necessary precautions during flood events.

Megan’s Law

Landlords must provide information about California’s Megan’s Law website, which mandates notifying the public about registered sex offenders.

Smoking policy

Landlords of residential dwellings have the authority to prohibit smoking of cigarettes or other tobacco products on their property, including in any building or portion of the building. The lease or rental agreement must include a provision specifying where on the property smoking is prohibited.

Shared utilities

If separate gas and electric meters aren’t available for each tenant’s dwelling unit, landlords must explicitly disclose this. A landlord must then either execute a mutual written agreement with the tenant for payment of gas or electric services provided through the tenant’s meter that serves any areas outside the tenant’s dwelling unit or make other mutually agreed arrangements in writing.


Optional disclosures specific to California

California Proposition 65 notice

California Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires businesses to provide warnings about significant exposures to chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects, or other physical or reproductive harm.

Although not required by law, landlords may opt to include a Proposition 65 warning in lease agreements. This notice tells tenants they may risk exposure to certain chemicals on the property, such as tobacco smoke or vehicle exhaust.


Other things California landlords should know about lease rules

The California Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) gives tenants considerable protections. It restricts rent increases and offers eviction protections, creating a safety net for many tenants.

AB 1482 extends to all rental units in California, with some exceptions. Exceptions include single-family homes not owned by corporations, units covered by more protective local rent control ordinances, and units newly constructed within the past 15 years.

Limits to rent increases and local rent stabilization programs

Rent increases are subject to several rules and restrictions under California law. The Tenant Protection Act of 2019 limits rent increases to either 5% plus the change in the cost of living or a 10% increase, whichever is lower, within a 12-month period.

However, some properties may be exempt from this rent increase limit, such as housing that is less than 15 years old (unless it is a mobile home) and single-family homes or condominiums (unless owned by a corporation or real estate investment trust).

Some cities and counties also have local rent stabilization programs that offer further protections for tenants. These programs may impose stricter limits on rent increases and provide additional rights and eviction protections.

Here’s the list of cities in California that have enacted rent control or rent stabilization ordinances:

  • Alameda
  • Berkeley
  • Beverly Hills
  • Campbell
  • East Palo Alto
  • Emeryville
  • Fremont
  • Hayward
  • Los Angeles
  • Los Gatos
  • Mountain View
  • Oakland
  • Palm Springs
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • San Leandro
  • Santa Monica
  • West Hollywood

Notice for rent increases

When raising rent, landlords must provide tenants with a formal written notice. Verbal notices or notifications via calls, texts, or emails are not deemed valid.

For rent increases of less than 10%, landlords must give 30 days’ notice. If the increase exceeds 10% (when allowed under an exemption from existing legislation), a 90-day notice is required. Failure to provide written notice or deliver it on time can impact the landlord’s right to increase the rent.

Price gouging

Price-gouging protections may apply to rental housing and limit rent increases. Many cities and counties have enacted additional rental protections that prohibit price gouging in specific circumstances.

Basic rules governing security deposits

Terms of a security deposit

A security deposit is money a tenant gives their landlord at the beginning of the tenancy. The landlord holds this deposit as security against damage, cleaning costs beyond normal wear and tear, unpaid rent, or other obligations the tenant may have.

The landlord must return the security deposit, with an itemized statement of deductions, if any, to the tenant within 21 days after the tenant has vacated the premises.

Amount of security deposit based on unit type

The maximum amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit varies based on the type of rental unit:

  1. Unfurnished units: A landlord can charge up to 2 months’ rent for the security deposit for unfurnished units. 
  2. Furnished units: For furnished units, a landlord can charge up to 3 months’ rent for the security deposit.
  3. Waterbeds: If the rental agreement allows waterbeds, the landlord may charge an additional half month’s rent for the security deposit.

Other important factors landlords should know about security deposits

  1. No non-refundable deposits: In California, all security deposits are considered refundable. Landlords cannot label part of the deposit “non-refundable” for any purpose.
  2. Interest on security deposits: Some localities require landlords to pay interest to their tenants on the security deposits, typically paid annually.
  3. Walk-through inspection: Landlords must offer a “pre-move-out inspection,” which allows tenants to fix any damages that might cause a deduction from their deposit.
  4. Transfer of security deposit: If the property changes ownership, the new owner is responsible for the return of the security deposit or any related claims on it.

Eviction protections

Just-cause eviction requirement

The Tenant Protection Act outlines 2 categories of evictions: “at fault” and “no fault.” “At-fault” evictions include nonpayment of rent, breach of lease terms, nuisance, and criminal activity. Conversely, “no-fault” evictions include owner move-in, substantial remodels, withdrawal from the rental market, and compliance with government orders.

Terminations and evictions

In California, a landlord can terminate a tenancy for several reasons. However, they must follow specific legal procedures and provide written notice to the tenant. The reasons for termination can include the following:

  1. Non-payment of rent: If a tenant fails to pay rent on time, a landlord can issue a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, giving the tenant 3 days to pay the outstanding rent balance or vacate the rental unit.
  2. Violation of lease terms: If a tenant violates the terms of the lease or rental agreement (for example, having pets when the lease prohibits them), the landlord can issue a Three-Day Notice to Cure or Quit. This notice gives the tenant 3 days to correct the violation or leave the rental unit.
  3. Landlord’s desire to move into the rental unit: If the landlord or their close family member wishes to live in the rental unit, the landlord can terminate the current tenancy. Depending on local laws and the length of the tenancy, the landlord may need to provide a Thirty-Day or Sixty-Day Notice to Quit.

As regulated by law, landlords can’t forcibly remove a tenant without going through the legal eviction process. If a tenant doesn’t leave voluntarily after receiving one of these notices, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in superior court.


It’s illegal for landlords to evict tenants by locking them out, shutting off utilities, or removing their personal belongings. The only legal way to evict a tenant is through the court process. Tenants who get locked out may consult a lawyer to understand their rights and potentially seek damages from the landlord.


Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights. That includes attempting to evict a tenant who requested repairs or highlighted an unlawful rent increase or withdrawing services or rights the tenant previously enjoyed. Tenants who believe they are victims of retaliation may consult a lawyer.

Tenant protections related to COVID-19

California tenants have limited statewide protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional protections may be available at the local level depending on the area.

Inventory checklist

An inventory checklist is a critical document detailing the rental unit’s condition at the start and end of the tenancy. It should include descriptions and photographs of the unit’s state, noting any pre-existing damages or issues.

The landlord and tenant should each review and sign the checklist, which serves as a mutual acknowledgment of the unit’s state. This tool protects tenants from being held responsible for damages they didn’t cause and provides evidence should disputes over security deposit deductions arise.

Renter’s insurance

Although not legally required, having renter’s insurance is highly recommended for tenants. It covers personal belongings in the event of theft, fire, or other covered losses and provides liability protection if someone gets injured within the rental unit.

Renter’s insurance can help tenants recover the value of their lost belongings and safeguard them from potential legal and financial liabilities. A landlord may require a tenant to have renter’s insurance, specifically liability coverage, and can set the minimum terms of coverage. The details of any required renter’s insurance is typically spelled out in the lease document. 

Housing conditions

California landlords are required to provide safe, habitable, and well-maintained rental units. That includes ensuring working plumbing, heating, and electrical equipment; maintaining floors and stairs; providing effective waterproofing; and offering windows and doors with functioning locks.

Landlords are also responsible for keeping the property free from pests and vermin. Tenants’ rights include requesting repairs and reporting unsafe or unhealthy conditions in writing. Non-compliance by the landlord can lead to tenants contacting local code enforcement or the health department.

Reasonable accommodations

Tenants with disabilities have the right to receive reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access to housing. That may involve adjusting policies or allowing physical modifications by the tenant to the unit. 

Landlords can’t charge tenants for providing these accommodations. However, they may require a financial guarantee that sufficiently covers the cost of restoring the property to its original condition.


Landlords cannot discriminate against tenants based on protected characteristics such as race, national origin, religion, sex, or disability status. 

Discrimination can manifest in various ways, including refusing to rent to specific tenants, providing less favorable rental terms, targeting tenants for eviction based on protected characteristics, and more. Landlords are not allowed to inquire about a tenant’s immigration or citizenship status in most cases.

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