Tenancy Laws in California


Tenancy laws establish the rules for people who rent their living spaces and landlords who own rental property as a source of income. Each state sets its own tenancy laws, with cities and local municipalities often adding provisions such as rent control or building codes. In the state of California, the Department of Consumer Affairs is responsible for establishing and enforcing tenancy laws to protect residents and landlords.

Rental Agreements and Leases

California law requires landlords and tenants to produce either a rental agreement or lease to govern the tenancy. A rental agreement is a continuously renewable agreement that expires at the end of each rental period, which is usually one month. A lease is essentially a long-term rental agreement that specifies how many months the tenant must continue to pay rent, usually one year or more. Rental agreements and leases both guarantee rights to the tenant and landlord, and both can be either oral or written. Leases that last more than one year require a written document, and landlords must produce written documents that include basic contact information and rent fees to support any oral lease or rental agreement.


The California state legislature considers access to housing a basic human right. This means that California's tenancy laws make it illegal for landlords or rental managers to discriminate when deciding who may rent from them. A landlord can't make decisions on the basis of race, religion, marital status, medical condition (including pregnancy) or source of income. Landlords can still use income and credit history to refuse tenants, and senior housing landlords can turn away tenants who don't meet the minimum age criterion.

Rights and Obligations

California's tenancy laws provide for many basic rights and obligations for landlords and tenants. Landlords must provide rental units that are habitable, meaning they have proper insulation and utility service and are reasonably clean and safe. Tenants must pay rent according to the agreed-upon schedule and amount in the lease or rental agreement. If a tenant falls behind on rent, the landlord may initiate an eviction process which includes giving a three-days notice prior to locking the tenant out of the unit.

Tenants vs. Guests

California's tenancy laws apply only to residents who qualify as tenants. Others who rent living spaces are known as guests. A guest is anyone who occupies a nonresidential hotel or motel for less than 30 days or rents from an establishment that meets certain conditions, such as allowing residents to rent for periods of less than seven days, using a central telephone system, providing maid service and having an affiliation with an attached or nearby restaurant. California guests must pay the state hotel tax and are subject to being locked out for nonpayment of rent without a formal eviction process.

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