California Landlord Tenant Law

Looking for clear and concise information on California landlord tenant law? Get all your answers from this plain English guide to the California Landlord Tenant Act.

The California Landlord and Tenant Act applies if you are renting a residence, such as a house, apartment, lodging or room. What makes California different from most states is that hotel and motel residents have the same rights as tenants in MOST cases - See California Civil Code Section 1940 for more details on the rights of hotel and motel residents in different situations.

Tenant Application

Application Fees

California landlord tenant law allows the landlord to ask prospective tenants for application fees to cover the costs of background and credit checks. The landlord can ask for a maximum of $30 as application fees.  CA Civ Code § 1950.6.(b)

The landlord has to give the tenant a receipt (with itemized expenses) after receiving the fees from the tenant. This receipt can be mailed to the tenant or delivered in person. If the landlord did not run any tenant screening checks, he or she has to return the fees to the tenant.

If the tenant has paid the application fees and requests to see his or her own consumer credit report, the landlord must give a copy of it to the tenant.  CA Civ Code § 1950.6.(f)

Background and Credit Check

You can screen tenant applicants with a background check or full credit report from RentPrep.

A background check will show a person's history of addresses, evictions, bankruptcies, judgments and liens.

A full credit report comes with a basic background check, credit check plus criminal check. A basic background check shows a person's history of addresses, evictions and bankruptcies.

Landlords do not need the tenant or applicant's consent to run background and credit checks.  Fair Credit Reporting Act § 604(a)(3)(F)

Avoiding Discrimination

The Fair Housing Act disallows landlords from discriminating against prospective renters based on their race, color, religion, sex, *familial status, national origin or physical/mental handicap.  42 U.S.C. § 3604

*Familial status - pregnant women and families with person(s) under 18.

In addition, California landlord tenant law (Unruh Civil Rights Act) also prohibits landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants based on their marital status, sexual orientation, language or immigration status.  CA Civ Code § 51

California landlords have to follow the above Fair Housing laws unless they are staying in a single family house and renting part of it to just one individual.  CA Gov't Code § 12927(2)(A)

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Tenancy Agreement

(also known as a lease agreement or rental agreement)

Whether you're a landlord or tenant, it's important to have a written lease agreement with terms and conditions that favors you and follows your state laws.

To save time and avoid mistakes, you can customize your own lease agreement at LawDepot. This site will ask you a set of questions related to your tenancy and create a state-specific agreement based on your answers.

If you are renting the property for one year or less, your tenancy agreement (also known as a lease agreement or rental agreement) can be verbal or written. If you are renting for more than one year, your lease agreement must be in writing.

Even if you have a verbal agreement, California landlord tenant law CA Civ Code § 1962.(b) still requires the landlord to give the tenant a written statement containing the following:

  • Name, address and phone number of landlord (or agent)
  • Contact information of person collecting the rent
  • How the rent is to be paid (e.g. cash, check, money order)

The landlord and tenant can choose between a month to month tenancy or fixed term lease. Difference between a month to month versus fixed term tenancy in CA landlord tenant law:

Changing Agreement Terms: If the landlord or tenant wants to change the terms and conditions of the rental agreement, he or she has to inform the other party seven days in advance for a week to week tenancy... and 30 days in advance for a month to month tenancy. The landlord or tenant cannot change the details of a fixed term lease until it expires.  CA Civ Code § 827.(a)

If BOTH the landlord and tenant wants to shorten the notice time for changing the terms of the agreement (including increasing rent) or terminating tenancy, they can do so in writing within the tenancy agreement. However this notice time must be at least seven days or longer.

Once the tenancy begins, the tenant has to be given a copy of the rental agreement within 15 days.

What Landlord Must Disclose

California landlord tenant law also requires the landlord to disclose the following to the tenant:

  • Bed Bug Infestation: Before the tenancy begins, the landlord has to provide the tenant a written notice containing information about bed bugs and how to report suspected infestations to the landlord.  CA Civ Code § 1954.603
  • Lead Paint: If the property was built before 1978, the landlord must inform the tenant if the property contains lead-based paint (before signing the rental agreement). In addition, the landlord has to give the tenant a pamphlet of Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.  Health and Safety Code § 17920.10
  • Pest Control: If the property undergoes regular pest control, the landlord has to give all new tenants a copy of the pest control notice. (provided by the pest control company).   CA Civ Code § 1940.8
  • Carcinogenic (Cancer Causing) Material: If the landlord has 10 or more employees, he or she must disclose all known carcinogenic material (e.g. asbestos) to prospective tenants.  Health and Safety Code § 25249.5 to § 25249.13
  • Methamphetamine (Meth) Contamination: The landlord has to inform prospective tenants in writing if the property has been contaminated with meth-related chemicals in the past. The tenant has to acknowledge that he or she has been informed before signing the lease agreement.
  • Demolition Permit: If the landlord has applied for a permit to demolish the rental property, he or she has to give prospective (and current) tenants a written notice stating the (earliest) expected date of demolition and termination date of tenancy. The landlord has to inform all prospective tenants before entering into a tenancy agreement OR accepting any fees from the tenant.  CA Civ Code § 1940.6
  • Military Ammunition or Explosives: If the property is within one mile of any former military bases where ammunition or explosives were used, the landlord must inform any prospective tenant before signing the rental agreement.  CA Civ Code § 1940.7
  • Death on Property: If a previous tenant or occupant has died on the property within the last threes years, the landlord must inform any prospective tenant and also disclose the manner of death BEFORE entering into a rental agreement.  CA Civ Code § 1710.2
  • Mold: If there is mold in the rental unit (or building) that affects health and safety, the landlord must inform prospective tenants in writing before entering into a tenancy.  Health and Safety Code § 26147

Required for Tenancy Agreement

California landlord tenant law CA Civ Code § 1962.(a) requires all tenancy agreements to contain the following details:

  • Name, address and phone number of landlord (or agent)
  • Name, address and phone number of person collecting rent
  • How the rent is to be paid (e.g. cash, check, money order)
  • When the person collecting rent is available if the tenant is paying rent in person OR the account details for sending payment if the tenant is paying rent by other methods
  • Where smoking is disallowed if the landlord limits or prohibits smoking  CA Civ Code § 1947.5

Recommended for Tenancy Agreement

  • Name and address of tenant(s)
  • Number of people (occupants) staying on the property
  • Type of tenancy: month to month tenancy or fixed term lease
  • How much is the rent
  • When, how and where the rent is to be paid
  • When is rent is considered late and the penalties for late rent payment
  • How much is the security deposit and pet deposit (if any)
  • Who holds the deposit(s) and where will it be held
  • What utilities and services are provided and who pays for them
  • What are the landlord's and tenant's duties for property maintenance
  • Can the tenant sublet the property or assign the lease
  • When to inform the landlord if tenant will be away for a long time
  • Prohibited activities and items

Disallowed for Tenancy Agreement

According to California landlord tenant law, your lease agreement CANNOT:

  • make security deposit(s) nonrefundable  CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(m)

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Security Deposit

According to the California Landlord Tenant Act CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(c), the maximum amount of security deposit the landlord can ask will depend on whether the property is furnished AND whether it has a waterbed:

Maximum Security Deposit Amount

Unfurnished property with waterbed

2 month's rent

Unfurnished property without waterbed

2.5 month's rent

Furnished property with waterbed

3 month's rent

Furnished property without waterbed

3.5 month's rent

In addition to security deposit, the landlord is also allowed to ask for the first month's rent in advance (if the tenant is agreeable).

Deductions and Returns

California landlord tenant law requires the landlord to inform the tenant of the terms and conditions for security deposit deductions.

Valid reasons for security deposit deductions under California landlord tenant law CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(b) include:

  • Rent owed
  • Property damage due to negligence, misuse or abuse by tenant, occupants or tenant's guests
  • Costs and losses incurred by landlord due to the tenant failing in his or her duties - See Tenant Duties and Responsibilities below

The landlord is NOT allowed to take money from the security deposit due to damage from *normal wear and tear. *Normal wear and tear is the natural deterioration of the property (and its contents) from normal everyday use.  CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(e)

Once the lease terminates and the tenant returns the property, the landlord must send the tenant a list of security deposit deductions and refund any remaining deposit within 21 days. This list has to individually account for all damages and rent owed in writing.

In addition, the landlord must inform the tenant in advance before making any deductions from the security deposit.

If the landlord fails to follow California landlord tenant law for deducting and returning security deposit, the tenant can sue the landlord for twice the amount of security deposit PLUS actual damages.  CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(l)

Lawsuits involving $10,000 or less can be filed at the small claims court while lawsuits involving more than $10,000 have to be filed at the superior court.

If Property is Sold

California landlord tenant law requires the former landlord to inform the tenant in writing that the property is being sold. This written notice must include the name, address and phone number of the new landlord and has to be delivered in person or by first class mail.  CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(j)

Once the property ownership is transferred, the former landlord must do ONE of the following:

  1. Transfer the security deposit (after making deductions) to the new landlord - The former landlord has to send the tenant a written notice stating the list of deductions, remaining amount of security deposit (transferred to the new landlord) and contact details of the new landlord. This written notice has to be delivered in person or by first class mail.
  2. Return the security deposit (after making deductions) to the tenant - The former landlord has to send an itemized list of deductions to the landlord in person or by first class mail.  CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(h)

Once the former landlord has taken ONE of the two actions above, he or she shall no longer be responsible for the tenant's security deposit.

If the former landlord fails to transfer or return the security deposit, both the former and new landlord will be responsible for the tenant's security deposit.  CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(j)

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Los Angeles, California CA

California Landlord Tenant Law

Rent

According to California landlord tenant law, the landlord cannot force the tenant to pay rent (or security deposit) by cash or electronic fund transfer unless the tenant agrees to. Besides cash and electronic fund transfer, the landlord has to offer the tenant an alternative payment method (e.g. check, money order, credit card) as well.  CA Civ Code § 1947.3.(a)(1)

However, the landlord can demand cash as the ONLY payment method for up to three months if the tenant's check bounced (due to insufficient funds) OR the tenant cancelled the check. If the landlord chooses to only accept cash payments, he or she has to give the tenant a written notice stating that the check had bounced and the period where tenant has to pay by cash. The landlord also has to attach a copy of the bad check to this notice.  CA Civ Code § 1947.3.(2)

California landlord tenant law allows the landlord to charge the tenant $25 for the first bounced check and $35 for each additional bounced check.

Whenever the tenant makes a payment to the landlord, he or she can request a written receipt from the landlord.  CA Civ Code § 1499

Late Rent

There are no California landlord tenant statutes on imposing charges for late rent payments.

If the landlord wants to impose late rent charges, it has to be specified in the tenancy agreement. While there are no state laws on late fees, landlords cannot overcharge or impose unfair terms. Otherwise the tenant can refuse to pay and challenge the late fees in court.

Most states consider reasonable late fees to be around 3 to 5% of the rent amount. In addition, landlords should wait until rent payment is at least three days late before charging late fees.

Raising Rent

Before increasing the rent for a week to week or month to month tenancy, the landlord has to give the tenant a written notice in person or by mail. If the rent increase is 10% or less, the landlord has to inform the tenant at least 30 days in advance. If the rent increase is more than 10%, the landlord has to inform the tenant at least 60 days in advance.  CA Civ Code § 827.(b)

For a fixed term tenancy, the landlord isn't allowed to raise the rent until the tenancy expires.

Rent Control

Some cities in California have rent control laws that limit or prohibit rent increases. Some cities limit the rent increase percentage, while others require the landlord to follow certain steps or fulfill certain conditions before increasing rent.

If the tenant moves out voluntarily or gets evicted for not paying rent, the landlord is allowed to rent out the property at market rates (even if the property is in a rent controlled city).

California cities with rent control laws include Berkley, Beverly Hills, Campbell, East Palo Alto, Fremont, Hayward, Los Angeles, Los Gatos, Oakland, Palm Springs, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and West Hollywood.

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Property Maintenance

Landlord Duties and Responsibilities

The California Landlord Tenant Act CA Civ Code § 1941.1 requires the landlord to maintain the property in a safe and habitable condition:

  • Weather Protection: Waterproof and protect roof and exterior walls against the weather. Ensure doors and windows are not broken
  • Maintenance: Maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, kitchen facilities in safe working condition.
  • Heating: Supply running water, hot water and heating (as far as conditions allow)
  • Common Areas: Keep all common areas clean and safe
  • Waste Disposal: Provide outlets for waste disposal and arrange for waste removal
  • Repairs: Make all repairs to keep the property safe and habitable. This includes floors, stairs and railings)

Tenant Duties and Responsibilities

California landlord tenant law CA Civ Code § 1941.2 also requires the tenant to keep the property in a clean and safe condition:

  •  Cleanliness: Keep the property clean and safe (as far as conditions will allow)
  • Waste Disposal: Dispose all waste from the property in a clean and safe manner
  • Proper Usage: Use all facilities and appliances properly. This includes all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, kitchen and common area facilities (e.g. elevators).
  • Property Damage: Avoid property damage due to negligence, misuse or abuse by the tenant, occupants or tenant's guests
  • Security: Inform the landlord if locks or security devices are not working properly

If Landlord Fails to Maintain Property

If the property requires repairs or maintenance (under landlord's responsibilities), the tenant should inform the landlord of the problems and request for repairs. The tenant should inform the landlord with a written notice AND phone call.

If the landlord fails to make the requested repairs within a reasonable period of time, the tenant has four choices:

1. Repair and Deduct - The tenant can make repairs and deduct the cost from rent

The tenant can choose this method IF the repairs costs do not exceed one month's rent and the property defects affect the tenant's health and safety. The tenant has to inform the landlord in writing that he or she intends to fix the problem and deduct the expenses from next month's rent. The tenant should keep the receipts for all related costs.  CA Civ Code § 1942

2. Abandonment - The tenant can move out

The tenant can choose this method IF the property defects are serious and affects the tenant's health and safety. If the landlord fails to make the repairs in time, the tenant may move out and return all keys to the landlord.  CA Civ Code § 1942

3. Rent Withholding - The tenant can stop paying rent until the landlord fixes the problems

The tenant can stop paying part or all of the rent IF the property defects are very serious and threaten the tenant's health and safety. How much less rent the tenant pays will depend on how much of the property is no longer habitable. Once the landlord has made the repairs, the tenant shall continue paying full rent.  Green v. Superior Court , 10 Cal.3d 616

4. Filing a Lawsuit - The tenant can sue the landlord for damages

The tenant can sue the landlord for damages in small claims court IF the property defects are serious and affects the tenant's health and safety. If the tenant win the lawsuit, the landlord will have to pay for actual damages and special damages (of $100 to $5,000) PLUS the tenant's attorney fees and court costs. The tenant should file in the lawsuit in superior court if the total amount exceeds $10,000.  CA Civ Code § 1942.4.(b)

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Property Access

When Tenant's Permission is Required

According to California landlord tenant law CA Civ Code § 1954.(a), the landlord is only allowed to enter the property for the following reasons:

  • Performing property maintenance or repairs
  • Supplying essential (or mutually agreed) services and utilities
  • Showing property to prospective buyers, tenants or contractors
  • Court order granting landlord access to the property

In the above situations, the landlord must inform the tenant in writing at least 24 hours in advance before entering the property. This written notice has to state the date, time (normal business hours) and purpose of entry.

However if the tenant is at home and agrees to let the landlord in, then the landlord does not have to give the tenant a written notice in advance.  CA Civ Code § 1954.(e)(2)

When Tenant's Permission is NOT Required

According to California landlord tenant law CA Civ Code § 1954.(e), the landlord may enter the property without permission in the following situations:

  • Emergencies such as smoke, fire, flooding or explosion
  • Tenant has abandoned the property

If Landlord Enters Property Illegally

The landlord must have a valid reason and obtain the tenant's permission (whenever required) to enter the property. If the landlord fails to do so or harasses the tenant, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages.

If the landlord enters the property illegally to pressure the tenant into moving out, the tenant can sue the landlord in small claims court for up to $2000 per violation.  CA Civ Code § 1940.2.(b)

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Subletting

California landlord tenant law allows the tenant to sublet or assign the lease unless the lease agreement prohibits it.  CA Civ Code § 1995.210

We highly recommend that the subtenant follow similar terms and conditions as the tenant. A subtenant cannot have greater or more rights than the tenant as well. Since a subtenant makes payments to the tenant (and NOT the landlord), the tenant will be responsible for the subtenant.

Assignment of Lease

An assignment transfers the lease agreement from the original tenant to a new tenant - The new tenant will be directly responsible to the landlord under the same lease terms and conditions (including paying rent to the landlord).

However original tenant is still NOT free from his or her responsibilities to the landlord. If the new tenant violates the lease agreement or fails to pay rent, the original tenant shall be responsible as well. To be released from the lease agreement, the original tenant has to sign a novation agreement with both the landlord and new tenant.

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San Diego, California CA

San Diego, California CA

Termination of Tenancy

Number of Days for Notice to Quit

California landlord tenant law requires you to give the other party a written notice to quit before terminating a tenancy.

Before the lease terminates or expires, the landlord has to inform the tenant in writing that the tenant can request for an initial inspection. If he or she requests for it, the landlord (or landlord's agent) shall have to inspect the property before the termination date and point out any damages or problems that would be deducted from the security deposit. This gives the tenant a chance to fix the problems and avoid security deposit deductions.  CA Civ Code § 1950.5.(f)(1)

TENANT

If you are the tenant, the following are the minimum number of days for giving your landlord a notice to quit:

Week to week tenancy

7 days

Month to month tenancy

30 days

Tenant is deployed in the armed forces

See below

Tenant passes away

See below

Tenant is Deployed in the Armed Forces

If a tenant serving the military is deployed to another location for at least 90 days, he or she can terminate the tenancy by giving the landlord a written notice of termination and a copy of the deployment orders. California landlord tenant law requires the tenant to deliver these documents to the landlord in person or by certified mail.

The tenancy will be terminated 30 days after the next rent due date. Example: Rent is due on the first day of each month. The tenant pays the rent on 1 March and gives the landlord a notice of termination on 15 March. In this case, the tenancy will terminate on 1 May (30 days after 1 April).

Tenant Passes Away

For a fixed term lease, the lease shall continue - The tenant's executor or administrator (person in charge of distributing the deceased's wealth) shall be responsible for paying rent until the lease ends.

For a month to month tenancy, the tenancy is terminated once the landlord is informed of the tenant's death.  CA Civ Code § 1934

Notice to Quit Contents

If you are the tenant, your notice must contain the following:

  • Address of rental property
  • Termination date and time
  • Signature of person giving the notice

If you're the landlord, your notice must ALSO contain the following:

  • Why the tenancy is being terminated
  • Any corrective action that tenant may take to avoid termination of tenancy and when it must be completed (if applicable)
  • Landlord may sue to remove tenant from the property if tenant doesn't move out by termination date
  • “State law permits former tenants to reclaim abandoned personal property left at the former address of the tenant, subject to certain conditions. You may or may not be able to reclaim property without incurring additional costs, depending on the cost of storing the property and the length of time before it is reclaimed. In general, these costs will be lower the sooner you contact your former landlord after being notified that property belonging to you was left behind after you moved out."  CA Civ Code § 1946.1.(h)

The landlord can serve an eviction notice to the tenant in three ways:

  • Deliver the notice to the tenant in person
  • Leave the notice with a suitable person at the tenant's home or work place
  • Mail the notice to the tenant's home  CA CCP § 1162

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Eviction

According to California landlord tenant law CA CCP § 1946, CA Civ Code § 1161, CA Civ Code § 1946.7, the following are valid reasons for evicting tenants and the minimum number of days for giving them a notice to quit:

Week to week tenancy - Tenant has stayed for less than one year

30 days

Week to week tenancy - Tenant has stayed for one year or more

60 days

Month to month tenancy - Tenant has stayed for less than one year

30 days

Month to month tenancy - Tenant has stayed for one year or more

60 days

Tenant did not pay rent   

3 days

Tenant violated tenancy agreement

3 days

Tenant deliberately caused property damage

3 days

Tenant harassed, abused or assaulted another tenant or subtenant

3 days

Tenant or related person was involved in illegal activities on property

3 days

Whether you are a landlord evicting someone or a tenant facing eviction, it's important that you handle matters correctly according to your state laws.

If you have any questions or doubts on eviction, you can ask a local landlord tenant lawyer online.

Tenant Did Not Pay Rent

If the tenant did not pay rent on time, the landlord can send the tenant a three day written notice to pay rent or quit.  CA CCP § 1161(2)

If the tenant fails to pay the rent within three days (of receiving the notice), the landlord can file an unlawful detainer in court to evict the tenant.

Tenant Violated Tenancy Agreement

If the tenant violates the tenancy agreement, the landlord can send the tenant a three day written notice to terminate the tenancy.  CA CCP § 1161(3)

If the tenant corrects the problem within three days, the tenant may stay. If the tenant does not or cannot fix the problem, then the landlord can proceed to evict the tenant.

Exception: If the tenant sublets the property without the landlord's consent, California landlord tenant law allows the landlord to evict the tenant WITHOUT giving the tenant a chance to fix the problem.  CA CCP § 1161(4)

Tenant Deliberately Caused Property Damage

If the tenant deliberately caused damage to the property, the landlord can send the tenant a three day written notice to terminate the tenancy. In this case, California landlord tenant law allows the landlord to evict the tenant WITHOUT giving the tenant a chance to make repairs.  CA CCP § 1161(4)

Tenant or Related Person was Involved in Illegal Activities on Property

If the tenant (or tenant's occupant or tenant's guest) engaged in illegal activity on the property, the landlord can evict the tenant by sending the tenant a written three day notice. In this case, California landlord tenant law allows the landlord to evict the tenant WITHOUT giving the tenant a chance to make amends.  CA CCP § 1161(4)

Examples of illegal activities include abuse of other tenants (or subtenants), dog fighting, prostitution, gambling, illegal drug production or sale.

Eviction Notice

Also known as "Notice of Termination of Tenancy" or "Notice to Quit", California landlord tenant law requires all eviction notices to contain the following:

  • Reason(s) for termination of tenancy (for three day notice)
  • Date and time that tenancy will terminate
  • State that the tenant must move out of the property by the termination date and time
  • State that the landlord may sue to remove the tenant from the property if the tenant doesn't move out by termination date and time

If California landlord tenant law allows the tenant to avoid eviction by correcting the problem(s), the eviction notice must also contain:

  • Corrective action(s) to be taken by for the tenant
  • Date and time that the correction action(s) must be completed

Unlawful Eviction

According to California landlord tenant law, the landlord CANNOT force the tenant to move out by shutting off utilities (electricity, water, gas, sanitation), changing the locks, taking the tenant's belongings or taking possession of the property by force without a court hearing.  CA Civ Code § 789.3

If the landlord forces the tenant to move out with the unlawful methods above, the tenant can sue the landlord for ALL of the following:

  • Actual damages
  • Additional damages of up to $100 per day as long as the landlord is still violating eviction laws - Regardless of the duration, the landlord has to pay at least $250 in damages for each separate violation.
  • Attorney fees and court costs

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Abandonment

Dealing with Abandoned Belongings

If the tenant wants to recover his or her belongings that were left behind on the property, the tenant has send the landlord a written request within 18 days of vacating the property. California landlord tenant law requires this written request to include a description of the belongings and the mailing address of the tenant.  CA Civ Code § 1965

Before the landlord returns the belongings, he or she can demand (in writing) that the tenant pay for the costs of storing and removing the belongings. This demand has to be mailed to the tenant or delivered in person within five days of the landlord receiving the tenant's request.

After receiving the landlord's written demand (for payment of storage and removal costs), the tenant has 72 hours to pay the landlord and recover his or her belongings from the landlord.

If the landlord violates this section of the California landlord tenant law, the tenant can sue the landlord for actual damages, additional damages of up of $250 for each deliberate violation PLUS attorney fees and court costs.

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Resources

California Landlord Tenant Law: California Civil Code CIV Section 19XX

California Landlord Tenant Handbook: A Guide to Residential Tenants' and Landlords' Rights and Responsibilities

Eviction: California Code of Civil Procedure CCP Section 1161

If you have any questions or need legal advice, you can ask a local landlord tenant lawyer online.

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