How to find housing

Before a tenant decides to rent, they should carefully inspect the rental unit for any issues. A tenant should do this with the landlord or the landlord’s agent. If the place is currently occupied, the tenant should ask if they can sign the lease to rent once it is vacant. During the walkthrough, the tenant should document any damages with time and date stamped pictures and detailed notes. This can help prevent or minimize disputes with the landlord in the future about the condition of the property, as well as provide the tenant with a safer, more pleasant place to live.

Right to a safe living environment

Under the California Civil Code, landlords of a property must ensure that conditions are met which make a living space habitable and safe for potential tenants. When a potential tenant inspects the rental unit, they should look for the following problems:

  • Cracks or holes in the floor, walls, or ceiling
  • Signs of leaking water or water damages in the floor, walls, or ceiling
  • The presence of mold that might affect the tenant or the tenants family’s health and safety
  • Signs of rust in water from the taps
  • Leaks in bathroom or kitchen fixtures
  • Lack of hot water
  • Inadequate lighting or insufficient electrical outlets
  • Inadequate heating or air conditioning
  • Inadequate ventilation or offensive odors
  • Defects in electrical wiring and fixtures.
  • Damaged flooring
  • Damaged furnishings (if it is a furnished unit)
  • Signs of insects, vermin or rodents
  • Accumulated dirt and debris
  • Inadequate trash and garbage cans
  • Chipping paint in older buildings (Paint chips sometimes contain lead which can cause lead poisoning if children eat them)
  • Signs of asbestos-containing materials in older buildings, such as flaking ceilings tiles or crumbling pipe wrap or insulation (Asbestos particles can cause serious health problems if they are inhaled)
  • Any sign of hazardous substances, toxic chemicals, or other hazardous waste products in the rental unit or on the property
  • A potential tenant should also inspect the exterior of the building and any common areas such as courtyards and hallways

Tenant Screening Reports

Landlords and property managers can legally screen potential tenants, which often involves a credit check. However, before this is done, a potential tenant must give their permission in writing. A potential tenant's signature on the rental application may count as written permission, or a potential tenant may be asked to sign a separate credit screening document. A landlord may use this information to make a final decision on whether to rent to a potential tenant. A landlord usually doesn’t have to give you a reason for refusing to rent to a potential tenant. However, if the decision is based partly or entirely on negative information from a credit reporting agency or tenant screening service, the law requires the landlord to give the potential tenant a written notice stating all of the following:

  • The decision was based partly or entirely on information in the credit report
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency
  • A statement that the tenant has the right to obtain a free copy of the credit report from the credit reporting agency that prepared it and to dispute the accuracy or completeness of information in the report

Reports frequently include the following

  • Standard credit reports:Loans (current and past)
  • Bankruptcies, foreclosures, and short sales
  • Minimum payment amounts for debt accounts
  • Late payment histories
  • Credit histories
  • Criminal and sex offender background checks
  • Residence and eviction histories
  • Employment verification and histories

Credit scores or credit ratings

What credit score is needed to rent can differ from landlord to landlord, but a tenant can expect the minimum to be somewhere between 600 and 620.

What if I have no credit?

If a potential tenant does not have credit, they should find a family member or friend with good credit who is willing to co-sign a lease for them. By co-signing, they are promising to pay the rent if the tenant does not. After a certain number of on-time payments, the landlord or property manager may agree to take the co-signer off the lease.

Lease Termination

According to landlord-tenant laws, both parties involved in a rental property agreement may terminate the lease after it reaches its due date. Here is a list of the amount of notice that tenants and landlords must give:
Weekly Leases: Seven-day notice.
Monthly Leases: 30 days notice.

A tenant may terminate a lease before the due date in the following cases:

  • The tenant is going on active military duty.
  • The rental unit is uninhabitable.
  • The landlord is retaliating or harassing the tenant.
  • There was an early termination clause in the agreement.
  • While tenant rights allow them to terminate a unit lease early, they still may need to pay the entire amount of the term.

Rent Increase Amount of Notice

Landlords in California can increase the rent's price once every 12 months. Generally, landlords are required to give at least 30 days' notice to the tenant, but if the increase is greater than 10% of the lowest amount paid during the last 12 months, landlords must give at least a 60-day notice. When it comes to rent, the tenant must verify that they're appropriate and legal. A landlord cannot raise the rent's price to retaliate or as a discriminatory measure; this allows the tenant to seek legal advice and sue them.


A landlord may evict their tenant for many reasons; here are the most common ones:

  • Rental property agreement breach
  • Criminal activity
  • Failure to pay

In these cases, the landlord can give a three-day notice to the tenant to either pay or quit. If the agreement wasn't written, a tenant might receive a federal standard up to three months' notice. However, at-will tenants are entitled to at least 30 days' notice or 60 days' notice if they've been renting for more than a year.

Fix Problems Before Moving In

If problems are found, discuss them with the landlord. Major issues that are identified should be fixed before a tenant moves into the rental unit. Agreements on repairing issues should be made in writing and possibly included as part of the lease or rental agreement. The written agreement should specify exactly what the landlord needs to do, the time in which they need to do it, and what will happen if they fail to do it. If agreements are made on minor, non-essential repairs, the agreements should be documented as well. The documents will serve as protection for the tenant.

Making Repairs

The tenant has the right to request that their landlord make repairs if any unexpected issue affecting habitability comes up. If tenants request repairs, it would be best for the tenant to notify the landlord of damage or defects by both email or telephone and a letter. The tenant should specifically describe the problem, how it affects them, what they want done and when. Tenants should date the letter and keep a copy to show that notice was given and what it said. The landlord will have a “reasonable” amount of time to make repairs, 30 days in non-emergency situations. 

Dealing with Problems

A rental unit must be habitable, meaning that the rental unit is fit for occupation by human beings and that it substantially complies with state and local building health codes that materially affect tenants’ health and safety. There must be serious risks to health and safety of the tenants to consider the unit uninhabitable. California law makes landlords and tenants each responsible for certain kinds of repairs although landlords are ultimately legally responsible for ensuring that their rental units are habitable.

The “repair and deduct” remedy

If a Tenant has tried and failed to get their landlord to fix a serious issue that makes the rental unit unfit, they have the right to hire someone or repair damages themselves and then deduct the amount of the repair from their monthly rent.

Conditions that apply:

  • The issues must be serious and directly related to the Tenant’s health and safety
  • The repairs cannot cost more than one month’s rent
  • The Tenant cannot use the repair and deduct remedy more than twice in any 12 month period
  • The tenant or the tenant’s family, guests, or pest must not have caused the problems that require repair

The “rent withholding” remedy

By law, a tenant is allowed to withhold (stop paying) some or all of the rent if the landlord does not fix serious problems that make the rental unit uninhabitable.

Basic requirements for using this remedy:

  • The problems or the repairs that are needed must threaten the tenant’s health or safety
  • The tenant or the tenants family, guests or pets must not have caused the problems that require repair
  • If the landlord doesn’t make the repairs within a reasonable time, the tenant can withhold some or all rent and can continue to do so until the landlord makes the repairs.

The “abandonment” remedy

The tenant has the option to abandon the unit (move out of) if the problems are making the unit unlivable or the repairs would cost more than one month’s rent.

Basic requirements for lawfully abandoning a rental unit:

  • The problems must be serious and directly related to the tenant’s health and safety
  • The tenant or the tenants family, guests or pets must not have caused the problems that require repair
  • If the landlord doesn’t make the repairs within a reasonable time, the tenant should notify the landlord in writing of the tenant’s reasons for moving and then actually move out.

“Pay or Quit” Protection

  • Beginning October 1, 2021, your landlord must apply for rental assistance before they can try to evict you through the courts for failing to pay your rent.
  • Although your landlord may give you a notice to “pay or quit” (which is a notice from your landlord that gives you a certain amount of time to pay the outstanding rent you owe or vacate your home) at any time, they will not be able to legally evict you without first applying to the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program.
  • If you receive a notice to “pay or quit,” it is strongly recommended that you immediately get legal assistance to determine and protect your rights. If your notice to “pay or quit” includes a “Declaration of COVID-19 related financial distress”—and you have been financially impacted by the pandemic—you should sign and return the declaration to your landlord within 15 business days to bolster your protections.
  • It is also recommended that you notify your landlord once you have applied for rental assistance, as this step can help you in both eviction and rental debt collection lawsuits.

CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program

  • The Rent Relief Program pays eligible tenants and landlords 100% of a tenant’s past-due rent and utilities going as far back as April 1, 2020.
  • Having your overdue rent paid by the Rent Relief Program can protect you from eviction and debt collection lawsuits.
  • The program is free and does not currently have a deadline, but because funding may be limited, renters are encouraged to apply as soon as possible if they know they may struggle to cover past or prospective rent and utilities.

Other Useful Information

Beginning November 1, 2021, your landlord may sue you for any unpaid rent you owe.

Existing local government eviction ordinances may remain in place until they expire, but they may not defer rent obligations beyond May 31, 2023