What a Landlord Can’t Do in California: Your Ultimate Guide

California landlords must abide by a number of state and federal laws to ensure that their rental practices are fair and reasonable. While there are many things landlords can do when it comes to screening and selecting tenants, there are also certain things they cannot do. Here are some of the things that landlords in California cannot do under the state’s Fair Housing Act:
  • Discriminate based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, family status, or disability
  • Refuse to accommodate tenants with disabilities
  • Harass tenants or prospective tenants based on any protected characteristics
  • Charge excessive fees or security deposits
  • Retaliate against tenants for exercising their legal rights
  • Enter a tenant’s rental unit without proper notice or permission
  • Change the locks on a tenant’s unit without appropriate legal action
  • Fail to provide essential services or maintain the rental property
  • As a landlord in California, it is important to understand your responsibilities and obligations under the law to avoid any legal issues or disputes with tenants. Familiarizing yourself with the Fair Housing Act and consulting with legal experts can help ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of the laws and regulations that govern rental properties in the state.

    What a Landlord Cannot Do in California

    As a landlord, it’s important to know the laws that govern rental properties and the tenant-landlord relationship. In California, the Fair Housing Act protects tenants from discrimination based on certain characteristics, and there are other laws in place that define the landlord’s responsibilities. Here are some of the things that landlords cannot do in California.
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    Discriminating against Prospective Tenants

    According to the Fair Housing Act, it’s unlawful to discriminate against a prospective tenant due to their race, sex or color, national origin or religion, family status, or disabilities. This means that landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone based on these characteristics, nor can they set different terms or conditions for them. It’s also illegal to advertise housing that indicates a preference or limitation based on these characteristics. As a landlord, you can still screen tenants for things like their credit history and rental history, but you must apply these criteria fairly and consistently across all applicants. If you have any doubts about what’s legal when screening tenants, it’s best to consult with a lawyer or a local housing authority.

    Denying Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities

    Landlords in California must also accommodate tenants with disabilities. This means making reasonable changes to the rental property or rental process so that tenants with disabilities can have equal access to rental housing. Some examples of reasonable accommodations might include installing a wheelchair ramp, allowing a service animal in the rental property, or providing a reserved parking spot close to the tenant’s unit. Landlords cannot charge extra fees for these accommodations, nor can they deny them without a legitimate reason. Important note: Landlords are not required to make accommodations that would cause an undue financial or administrative burden.

    Setting Unfair Rental Terms or Conditions

    Landlords in California must provide tenants with rental agreements that are fair and reasonable. This means that the terms and conditions of the rental agreement should be clear and easy to understand, and they should not contain any provisions that violate California law.
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    For example, it’s illegal to include an escalator clause in a rental agreement that would allow the landlord to raise the rent at any time. It’s also unlawful to ask tenants to waive their rights or remedies under California law, or to require them to pay for repairs that are the landlord’s responsibility. Example bullet points:
    • Rental agreements must be in writing and must include certain disclosures
    • Rents cannot be raised during the term of a lease without a specific clause
    • Security deposits are limited to no more than two months’ rent (for unfurnished units)

    Retaliating Against Tenants who File Complaints

    If a tenant makes a complaint about the rental property or the landlord’s behavior, the landlord cannot retaliate against them. Retaliation might involve things like threatening to raise the rent, evicting the tenant, or reducing services that are included in the rental agreement. California law presumes that a landlord’s actions are retaliatory if they occur within six months of a tenant’s complaint. To avoid any appearance of retaliation, landlords should document all complaints and make repairs or improvements in a timely and professional manner.

    Entering Rental Properties Without Proper Notice

    In California, landlords must give tenants reasonable notice before entering their rental unit. The notice must include the date, time, and purpose of the entry, and the landlord must give at least 24 hours’ notice (except in case of emergencies). It’s illegal for a landlord to enter a tenant’s unit without proper notice, and it’s also unlawful to abuse the right of entry (e.g. entering too frequently or at unreasonable times). Tenants have the right to privacy and a reasonable expectation of quiet enjoyment of their rental property.
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    Failing to Maintain Rental Properties to Safe and Habitable Standards

    Landlords in California have a legal responsibility to maintain their rental properties in a safe and habitable condition. This means complying with health and safety codes, ensuring that utilities are in working order, and making repairs in a timely manner. Examples of issues that might make a rental unit uninhabitable include: Example bullet points:
    • Lack of heat or hot water
    • Broken windows or doors that do not lock
    • Vermin infestations or mold
    If a landlord fails to maintain their rental property to safe and habitable standards, tenants may have the right to sue for damages or withhold rent until repairs are made.


    In California, landlords have a responsibility to treat tenants fairly and comply with state and federal laws. Knowing what landlords cannot do can help protect tenants from discrimination or unfair treatment, and it can help landlords avoid legal troubles. If you’re a landlord in California, it’s important to consult with a lawyer or a local housing authority to ensure you’re complying with all relevant laws and regulations.

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