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    What California Renters Need to Know Before Renting a Home


    When renting a home or an apartment in California, it’s a good idea to learn your rights as a potential tenant. Not only do you need to know about the application process, but also your rights as a tenant.

    For the California renter, not only will you learn about your rights when submitting a rental application, but also your rights regarding security deposits, landlord access to your rental property and if there is a lease breach situation.

    Rental Applications

    For a landlord to feel secure in who they rent their property to, they must gather information about the potential tenant. The collected information indicates that there will not be problems with receiving rental income on time or other issues that could require filing a lawsuit. However, a landlord can only go so far in this information collection process before they tread on the rights of the potential tenant.

    Now, as a California renter, you can look at a legal rental application sample to see if the application you are required to submit does not infringe on your rights. But, first, look at some of the rental application sections that you should examine to ensure your rights are not violated.

    Application Fee



    When it comes to the application fee, make sure that it is not an excessive amount. For example, when a landlord receives an application, they will perform background and credit checks and other application processes that will incur costs. These costs are why they charge an application fee.

    Landlords can charge a potential tenant up to $52.46 under California law Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6. Landlords can also base the application fee on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In this case, they must provide itemized receipts for any costs paid to collect the information for approval or disapproval of the application.

    Criminal Background and Credit Checks

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    Credit Check & Criminal Background Check

    Here is another section of the application to examine for legalities. A landlord must request the potential tenant’s permission to do criminal background and credit checks. Therefore, the application must have a section where the applicant can grant their consent and provide a signature that indicates that the background and credit checks can proceed. Without this application section, the landlords have no right to investigate your background or credit worthiness.

    Fair Housing Act (FHA)



    The FHA was created to ensure that when a landlord is looking at an applicant’s ability to rent their property, they aren’t considering personal information, such as:

    • Race or ethnicity
    • Disability
    • Criminal record
    • Religion
    • Gender
    • Sexuality

    Security Deposits

    Now that the application process rights have been examined, it’s time to move on to Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5 regarding renter’s security deposits. This law explains what a security deposit is and how the landlord will use it. A security deposit is a fixed amount of money paid at the beginning of the tenancy in addition to the rent. The security deposit helps the landlord recoup funds that the landlord may lose due to:

    • Default in the payment of rent
    • Repair of damages above and beyond normal wear and tear
    • To return the premises to a cleanliness level that the tenant received at move-in
    • To rectify any other tenant defaults as per the rental agreement

    Landlord Access

    Couple bought new house

    While you are a tenant, what are your rights to the landlord accessing your property? According to Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.4, the landlord has the right to have access and a key to a rental property or apartment during the tenancy. The landlord can enter the property to make repairs or respond to an emergency, such as a sewer pipe leak. However, the landlords can only enter if they give 24-hour notice, if there is a severe emergency or if they have a court order.

    If the landlord is denied entry by the tenant by, for example, changing the locks, this can create the following consequences:

    • You, as the tenant, will be served a three-day notice to provide entry.
    • If the three-day notice is ignored, you can be evicted.

    Lease Termination Breach

    If a tenant decides to move out before the end of the term of the leasing agreement, this will have monetary consequences. The landlord can sue for the unpaid rent that was to be paid until the end date of the leasing agreement.



    The landlord can also sue for any other amount the landlord lost, which would not have resulted if the tenant had carried out the lease terms because the tenant failed to fulfill the obligations under the lease.

    However, even if the tenant breached the lease, the landlord must put forth a good-faith effort to mitigate the damages, like reletting the property as soon as possible. Even if the landlord can do this, this does not let the tenant off the hook for monetary damages.


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    Ecbert Malcom
    Ecbert Malcom
    I am a resident author at Broodle.
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