California Property Management Laws

Property management laws can be complicated, even for those who are experts in the field. Although property laws in California aren't as complicated as in some other states, they're still comprehensive and, at times, difficult to navigate. Throughout the state, property management law is closely related to real estate law. In fact, the state requires all property managers to work under the supervision of a licensed real estate broker if they don't hold their own licenses. In addition to that, there are plenty of laws that property managers in California are required to follow, most of which are meant to protect the safety of tenants and those around them.

This guide contains a broad overview of the laws that pertain to property managers throughout the state of California, as well as information about where to read the official laws and how to obtain more detailed information about them. Use this guide as a quick reference when you're in need of details about what you can or cannot do as a property manager or landlord in California and the processes and rules you're required to follow when leasing a property.

Key Points

  • 1 Property managers in California must work under the supervision of a licensed real estate broker unless they hold a license themselves.
  • 2 California’s Ellis Act can help landlords and property managers in California evict tenants when they’re turning apartments into condos or repurposing buildings for alternative use.
  • 3 To obtain a real estate broker license in California, a person must be at least 18 years of age, a legal U.S. resident and able to pass a criminal record check. Additionally, they must have completed college-level real estate courses and pass a licensing exam.
  • 4 Property managers and landlords in California are subject to strict eviction laws, and without following them, delays in lease termination typically occur.

Note: This guide is intended to be used as an educational resource. The contents within do not constitute legal advice. To obtain information regarding property management laws in your state, consult a local attorney. This guide is based only on property management laws at the state level. Local county and city laws may exist that are not discussed in this guide. Consult a local attorney to obtain information that pertains to your specific location and situation.

Property Management Laws Overview in California

Code Description
10130 Licensing Laws
1950.6 Rental Application Laws
1950.5 Security Deposit Laws
1946 Lease and Termination Laws
1946/AB 1482 Rent and Late Fee Laws
1954 Disclosure Laws
1954 Landlord Responsibility Laws
1954 Property Maintenance and Repair Laws

Property Management Licensing Laws

In California, any person wishing to manage a property on behalf of its owner must be aware of the state’s licensing laws. Throughout the state, it’s considered unlawful for any person to professionally buy, sell or lease property without proper licensing (10131-b). In some cases, a property management company may employ unlicensed agents who can perform limited duties; however, those persons are required to work under the supervision of a licensed broker. 

Who can obtain a real estate license in California? 

There are several rules in California regarding who can obtain a real estate broker license. Applicants must meet the following criteria:

  1. A minimum of 18 years of age
  2. A legal U.S. citizen
  3. No criminal record and able to provide fingerprints and pass a background check
  4. Successfully completed at least three college-level courses, as approved by the California Department of Real Estate
  5. Successfully pass a licensing exam

Rental Application Laws

Are landlords/property managers permitted to collect application fees from potential tenants?

In California, property managers and landlords may charge a screening fee of no more than $30 per applicant (1950.6). The law also stipulates that the screening fee may not be greater than the property manager’s out-of-pocket costs for obtaining information such as credit reports. 

What is the law when it comes to requesting criminal records or credit checks from prospective tenants?

The law does not mention whether or not landlords and property managers may obtain information about an applicant’s criminal background; however, there may be municipal, county or federal laws that apply. According to code 1950.6, landlords are within their full legal rights if they choose to obtain a consumer credit report while screening an applicant. 

Do discrimination laws apply to tenant screening?

Property managers in California are subject to the laws of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (12920), which states that tenant applications may not be denied on the basis of ancestry, race or color, religion, disability, medical conditions, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity/expression or sexual orientation. 

Security Deposit Laws

Are additional move-in fees allowed?

While security deposits are allowed in California (1950.5), non-refundable move-in fees are not. 

Is there a limit on the security deposit amount that can be charged?

According to California’s legislative code, landlords may not demand a security deposit that exceeds the amount of two months’ rent for an unfurnished property, and individuals renting out a furnished property may not demand a security deposit that exceeds three months’ rent. (1950.5-c)

Does the landlord have to hold the security deposit in a specific way during occupancy?

There are no state laws in California that stipulate how security funds should be held by landlords or property managers; however, there may be municipal, county or federal laws that apply. 

How long does the landlord have to return the security deposit after a move out?

According to section 1905.5-g-1 of the legislative code of California, landlords or property managers must return any unused portion of a tenant’s security deposit within 21 days of the tenant vacating the premises. 

What are the reasons a landlord can withhold part or all of the security deposit?

There are several reasons that a landlord may withhold security funds once a tenant has vacated their property (1905.5-f-1). These include cleaning and repair costs and unpaid rent. 

What is the penalty if the landlord doesn’t return the security deposit?

In California, tenants who have not received either their security funds or an itemized receipt explaining how the funds were used within a reasonable amount of time may sue a landlord or property manager in small claims court (1905.5-n), provided the total amount of the funds equals $10,000 or less. 

Are there any exceptions in which the tenant may forfeit the deposit?

There are no laws in California regarding forfeiture of security funds; however, municipal, state or federal laws may apply. 

Laws About Leases and Lease Termination

What types of lease terms are allowed?

Fixed-term and month-to-month leases are permitted in California (1946). Although most fixed-term leases are for one year, there is no law in California stipulating the allowed term. Municipal, state or federal laws may apply. 

What happens if a tenant violates a lease?

In California, a tenant who violates their lease by failing to pay rent must take corrective action within three business days (1161). Corrective actions include making the payment or providing proof of payment to the owner. In the event corrective action is not taken, the property manager or landlord may serve notice for the tenant to evict the property. This notice may be served anytime within 365 days of the default in payment. 

How much notice is required for a month-to-month lease termination?

In California, a minimum of 30 days’ notice is required to terminate a month-to-month lease (1946). 

When can a tenant terminate a term lease without penalty?

Tenants in California may terminate a lease without penalty in several situations (1946.7). 

  • The tenant is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or other abuse
  • The tenant is starting active military duty
  • The landlord has failed to maintain a safe, habitable residence and is breaking health or safety codes
  • The landlord harasses the tenant or violates their privacy

How much notice do service members have to supply before terminating the lease?

Although there aren’t state laws in California that stipulate when and how a tenant may terminate their lease if they’ve been called to duty, there are federal laws that permit uniformed service members to break a residential lease under the following conditions: 

  1. They provide their landlord with written notice of their intent to terminate the lease due to military reasons. 
  2. They submit a copy of their military orders or a letter from their commanding officer to their landlord, along with the written notice. 
  3. Deployment is a minimum of 50 miles away from the residence. 
  4. Deployment lasts for a period of 90 days or longer. 

Once a property manager receives the tenant’s written notice, the lease is to terminate 30 days after the next rent payment is due. 

Are there special lease termination rules for victims of domestic violence?

In California, victims of domestic violence may terminate a lease without notice or penalty (1946.7).

How much notice does a landlord have to give before making changes to the property that result in termination of the lease?

If the lease is month-to-month, a property manager is required to provide 30 days’ notice to the tenant (1946.1). On longer, fixed-term leases, the landlord must wait until the lease term has ended unless enacting the Ellis Act (7060).

Laws About Rent and Late Fees

When can a landlord increase rent?

Rent control laws in California (AB 1482) stipulate that property managers and landlords may not increase rent more than 5% plus inflation, or 10% of the lowest rate charged in the previous 12 months. 

Is there a maximum amount of rent that a landlord can charge tenants?

While there are no state laws that govern the total dollar amount that a landlord or property manager can charge for a residence, there may be municipal, county or federal laws in effect. 

Is there a state-mandated grace period that landlords must give tenants before charging a late fee?

There is no automatic grace period in California for tenants who do not pay their rent on time. There may be municipal, county or federal laws that apply, or a property manager or landlord may predetermine a grace period and include it in the initial lease. 

Is there a limit on how much of a late fee the landlord can charge tenants?

California law doesn’t govern the amount that landlords are permitted to charge in the event that a rent payment is late. However, municipal, county or federal laws may apply. 

Legally Required Disclosures

What types of disclosures are landlords required to supply regarding ownership of the property?

While there are no laws in California regarding disclosures that landlords must make with regards to ownership of the property, municipal, county or federal laws may apply.

Can the owner or landlord designate an agent to serve and receive disclosures on their behalf?

There are no laws in California that govern who may serve disclosures to tenants. Municipal, county or federal laws may apply. 

What disclosures related to mold are landlords required to supply?

Landlords or property managers must disclose any potential health risks due to mold before a lease agreement is signed (26148-a). When disclosing this information, landlords must distribute a booklet that is provided by the California Department of Health. 

What disclosures related to lead paint are landlords required to supply?

In cases where a residence was constructed prior to January 1, 1978, landlords must disclose to prospective tenants if lead paint dust or corroded lead pipes exist on the premises (26148).

Other required disclosures in California?

There are several other disclosures that landlords in California are legally required to make to prospective tenants: 

  • In the event a registered sex offender resides in the same ZIP code as the residence, it must be disclosed in the lease (2079-10-a).
  • If utility costs are shared among tenants in separate units, details of the cost and allocation must be disclosed (1940.9). 

Laws About Landlord Responsibilities

How much notice does the landlord have to supply before entry?

In most cases, the landlord or property manager must provide reasonable notice in writing of their intent to enter (1954-d-1). Entry is only permitted during regular business hours. In the event that entry is to show the unit to prospective purchasers, notice may be given orally or in writing; however, a minimum of 120 days’ notice must be provided to notify the tenant of intent to sell. Situations when the landlord is permitted to enter without notice include: 

  • Fire, flood, medical emergencies or acts of crime
  • The tenant is home and consents to entry
  • The tenant has abandoned or surrendered their unit
  • There is a court order permitting the landlord to enter
  • The landlord must comply with the provision of the Health and Safety Code

When can the tenant refuse to allow the landlord entry?

If a landlord fails to give reasonable notice or attempts to enter outside of business hours, the tenant may refuse entry (1954). 

What steps must the landlord take to keep the property habitable?

Landlords must ensure that the property is fit for habitation (1941). This means the property must have: 

  • Well-maintained plumbing and gas facilities
  • Effective weather protection
  • Well-maintained heating, lighting and electrical systems
  • Grounds that are sanitary and kept free from debris and vermin
  • Well-maintained floors, stairways and railings

What amenities must the landlord supply and maintain?

There are no laws in California that stipulate amenities that must be supplied by landlords or property managers; however, municipal, county or federal laws may apply. 

What utilities must the landlord supply and maintain?

Landlords must ensure tenants have access to working heat, electricity and clean running water (1941). 

Does the landlord have to supply a certificate of inspection to the tenant?

California does not have laws that govern move-in inspections or certificate disclosures. Municipal, county or federal laws may apply. 

Is the landlord required to supply locks and keys?

Landlords in California must supply a working deadbolt and keys (1941). 

Are retaliatory actions prohibited in California?

Landlords in California may not retaliate against a tenant who has filed a formal complaint or organized or joined a tenant union (1942.5). 

How long does a landlord have to retain a tenant’s property if they abandon it on the property?

If a tenant abandons their property when vacating the premises (1983), the landlord must notify the tenant in writing, including a description of the property and details regarding how and where to claim it. If the tenant does not respond within 15 days, the landlord must continue to store the property for an additional 18 days. If the value of the property totals less than $300, the landlord may keep it or sell it. Any property totaling more than $300 must be sold at auction and donated to the county. 

Additional Rental Law Resources for the State of California

The additional resources below can provide further information to tenants, landlords and property managers regarding the laws discussed above, as well as provide assistance with questions, concerns and landlord-tenant disputes.

Name Phone Number Description
California Tenants’ Guidebook N/A A guide to the laws that govern relationships between landlords and tenants in California. 
The California Department of Fair Housing and Employment (800) 884-1684 Manages complaints against property managers and landlords throughout California and provides information on fair housing laws. 
California Courts Self-Help  (334) 244-9200 Provides information and forms for landlords and property managers with regards to eviction and security deposits. 

Note: This guide is intended to be used as an educational resource. The contents within do not constitute legal advice. To obtain information regarding property management laws in your state, consult a local attorney. This guide is based only on property management laws at the state level. Local county and city laws may exist that are not discussed in this guide. Consult a local attorney to obtain information that pertains to your specific location and situation.