Key Issues in California Landlord-Tenant Law

  • August 27, 2015
  • devinlucas

Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Orange County are abundant rental markets, but landlords must use caution as California laws are extremely harsh on landlords and overly tenant friendly.  I’s must be dotted, and T’s must be crossed.  Sacramento is constantly trying to figure out ways to squeeze property owners, and landlord-tenant laws are among the sneakiest ways they chip away at ownership rights.  Here are some key issues for landlords, tenants, and REALTORS® involved in rentals to keep in mind.  This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but an overview of frequent issues that cause problems (and lawsuits):

– Use the up-to-date California Association of REALTOR® forms!  If you don’t have access, there’s also AIR forms and some other trade groups that provide excellent template forms.  Don’t download something off the internet.  If you don’t have access to up-to-date forms, pay an attorney or REALTOR® to assist you.  A few hundred dollars for a lease can save you dramatically in the long run.   
– Landlords should consider removing, or at least capping, the attorney’s fees provision in the lease (paragraph 40 in the current CAR form).   What’s more likely in a legal dispute over rent, habitability, etc. – the landlord will collect from a tenant; or that a tenant will be able to collect from a landlord? (Hint: in most cases, it’s the later.)  This can be done via an addendum and/or old-fashion crossing out and initialing.

– Background check your tenants! Use websites like to have the tenants fill out an application, pay the screening fees directly, and sit back and have the reports delivered to you.

– Disclosures – like with selling, over disclose! When in doubt, disclose it out.  If you’re in an HOA, be sure to give the tenant copies of any HOA rules and regulations as well.  This is very important (i.e. pool usage, quiet hours, parking, etc.).

– Move-in and move-out inspections.  Use the CAR or similar form and take photos before and after.

– Repairs and repair requests – tenants will want to document these all in writing.  Landlords should ensure diligent follow-up on repairs and keep records.

– Within 21 days after the tenants move out, landlords must postmark the return of the security deposit and/or an itemized accounting of any deductions back to the tenants.  Receipts must accompany any deductions over $125.  Sorry landlords, no DIY repairs (you can; you just can’t charge the tenants for your own labor).  The return of the security deposit is by far the most common dispute in landlord-tenant matters.   If you’re going to deduct from the security, make sure it’s valid, provide supporting documents, receipts, and get it postmarked within 21-days of move-out.

Consult these authorities, especially the Civil Code, for more information well beyond the scope of this article: California Civil Code § 1940 – 1954.1 (See 1950.5 re: deposits); Fair Housing Foundation (; Judicial Council of California – Bench Guide 31 – Landlord-Tenant Litigation; Rutter Guide – Landlord-Tenant; CEB – California Landlord-Tenant Practice. The first three are free resources you can find on Google; the last two are legal reference guides you can buy and/or view at a local law library. If your property is in a rent control jurisdiction (i.e. lots of LA), check local ordinances as well, and good luck! Of course, consult a real estate attorney for additional questions and guidance.

-Devin Lucas

Author Devin R. Lucas is a Real Estate Attorney, Broker and REALTOR®, specializing in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Orange County, serving individual, investor and small business interests in real estate.  Active with the Newport Beach Association of REALTORS® and Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, Devin R. Lucas Real Estate is an independent real estate brokerage and law practice located in Newport Beach, California.

Devin R. Lucas Real Estate
Real Estate Attorney | Real Estate Broker | REALTOR® | | BRE No. 01912302
949.478.1623 office | 888.667.6038 fax

2901 West Coast Highway Suite 200
Newport Beach | California | 92663-4023

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