California Apartment Laws

The State of California maintains laws to protect both tenants and landlords. Apartment dwellers have rights of privacy, reasonable living conditions and non-discriminatory rental practices. The California State Legislature and local county and city governments make laws governing apartment rental agreements, ranging from habitability to rent control. Landlords and tenants facing legal conflicts can settle issues through arbitration processes or through the court system.

Landlord, Rental Unit and Tenant Definitions

The legal definition of landlords, tenants and rental properties assigns various rights and obligations. California law defines a landlord as a company or person who owns residential rental property. The law defines a tenant as a person who leases or rents a property as a residence. A person defined as a tenant has exclusive rights to use the property during the terms of the lease or rental agreement. California defines residential rental units as apartments, rooms, houses, duplexes or condominiums. California typically assigns the rights of a tenant to residents who live in motels, hotels or residential hotels for more than 30 days.

Unlawful Discrimination

Under California law, landlords are prohibited from denying a rental property to a tenant based on race, medical condition, physical or mental disability, color, source of income, religion, familial status, sex, ancestry, sexual orientation, national origin or marital status. A landlord cannot require a different income or financial standard for unmarried couples than he requires for married couples. A landlord cannot inquire about the immigration status of a prospective resident or current tenant. However, if an owner of a home rents a single room to a lodger and has no other rental rooms in the home, the owner is not subject to all of the same unlawful discrimination regulations. Nevertheless, the owner of such a rental property cannot make statements or publish advertisements stating a preference about race, disability, color, source of income, religion, familial status, ancestry, sexual orientation, national origin or marital status.


The State of California defines an “implied warranty of habitability” for rental units, which includes heating, door locks and electrical repair. When a tenant experiences damages in a rental unit that are not caused by the tenant, the law stipulates they must notify the landlord and ask for repairs. Damages that fall under implied warranty of habitability require the landlord to make repairs. In the event a landlord fails to make repairs, the law affords a tenant a number of options. The tenant can make the repair, or pay a service to make the repair and deduct an amount up to one month's rent to compensate for the repair costs. In the event a repair will cost more than one month's rent, the tenant can move out of the rental unit. This method applies to conditions affecting a tenant's safety or health. A tenant also has the option of withholding rent. Such methods do not prohibit a landlord from attempting an eviction and require tenants to document conditions of the rental unit and attempts to seek repairs from a landlord.