Legal FAQs for Renters in California

This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information.

This page was last updated on May 24th, 2024. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.

Flag of California

Problem with your Landlord?


What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me from my rental home in California?

Contact a legal help organization to help defend yourself.

It is illegal in California for your landlord to evict you without first going to court and getting an eviction order. To remove you from your home, a landlord must take you to court by filing an eviction lawsuit, win the case, and getting an eviction order from the court.

Legal aid groups might be able to provide you with full representation, or other legal organizations can give you information or brief advice.

You may be able to defend yourself using California's eviction protections. Find legal help to protect your rights.

Can I break my rental home lease in California?

You may be able to break your lease if you can come to an agreement with your landlord.

You can talk to your landlord to see if they will agree to let you leave early. If they agree, be sure to get the agreement in writing.

Also, you can review your lease. It may have a part that lets you end the lease early in times of financial difficulty. If your lease includes this, you might be able to break the lease (in some cases penalty-free).

Find legal help to get advice for your situation.

What if I need repairs to my rental home in California?

Tell your landlord about any repairs needed, particularly if they affect your health and safety.

You should call your landlord to make the repairs as soon as possible.

Emergency repairs could be for problems with:

  • Running water or hot water

  • Heat or air conditioning

  • Stove, refrigerator, or oven

  • Electricity

  • Bathroom use

  • Missing doors, locks, or windows

  • Pests

If your landlord doesn't make the repairs promptly, send them a written letter or email about the need for emergency repairs (and keep a copy of this communication). If you request repairs, you must be willing to have the landlord make them.

Reach out for legal help for additional guidance.

Behind on Rent?


Who can help me with rent that I owe?

If you are behind on rent, you can get help from your local Rental Assistance program. This is a government service to help people who owe rent or utility bills.

Especially if you are behind on rent because of COVID-19 hardships, your local Rental Assistance (or Rent Relief) program can help you.

Find your local Rental Assistance program at your Get Help page here.

Am I eligible for rent relief?

Local governments set the rules about who is eligible for rent relief. Most programs focus on people who have suffered COVID-19 hardships. You can talk to your local Rental Assistance program to learn their eligibility rules. You may have to show your household income, or if you are on other benefits programs like SNAP. You may also have to show that you are at risk of homelessness or eviction if you don't get rental assistance. Check with your local Rental Assistance program to see if you are eligible.

Can a landlord apply for their renter, to get rental assistance?

Most Rental Assistance programs let landlords apply. Either a renter or a landlord can start the application.

The landlord will have to fill in as much information they have about the amount of money needed, and the eligibility for the program. The tenant may have to fill in the rest of the information. Check with your local Rental Assistance program about the steps to follow to apply for rent relief.

Does immigration status matter for rent relief?

Many local Rental Assistance programs are open to everyone, regardless of immigration status. Many programs do not even ask about immigration status.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to make sure about eligibility rules and immigration.

Received a Warning Notice about Eviction?


What if the landlord has just told me, face-to-face or over the phone, that I need to leave my home in California?

A verbal conversation doesn't count as an "eviction notice". To be legal, the notice must be written down and given to you in the correct way.

Reach out for legal help if your landlord is trying to make you leave without going through the court process. This is illegal and a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself. Find local legal help in California here.

How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice in California to pay back the rent to stop the eviction?

In California, you have a minimum of 3 days between your landlord giving you a notice and them filing a lawsuit against you in court to evict you. The notice should tell you how many days the landlord is giving you. If they are giving you less than 3 days, then you may be able to challenge it as illegal. Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't giving you the required time to make your payment. Find local legal help in California here.

Do I have to leave my home in California by the time of the eviction notice's expiration date?

No, you do not have to leave (or 'quit') your home by the date listed on the eviction notice. You do not have to leave your home until you have been brought to court, and a judge has ordered that your landlord can make you leave.

After the date on the eviction notice passes, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court against you. You will be able to go to court and present defenses to protect yourself. Find local legal help in California here.

My eviction notice says that I will be evicted unless I pay back-rent I owe in California. What if I can't afford to pay it?

You still have time to reach out for rental assistance and stop the eviction from moving forward.

Be sure to let the local financial help group know that you have received an eviction notice and what its deadline is. They may be able to help you pay the rent you owe, work with your landlord to reduce the amount, or put you on a payment plan.

Find local financial help in California here.

My landlord gave me a notice to "pay or quit" my rental home in California. What should I do?

You do not have to leave your home yet. Landlords can not legally physically remove you, touch your personal property, change the locks, or cut off your utilities.

In California, your landlord must give you an official notice that they may bring you to court to evict you for not paying your rent (or other reasons). The notice should give you time to either pay your rent or prepare defenses against eviction.

This official notice must follow some rules to be valid. If it doesn't follow these rules, then you can challenge it and stop an eviction.

These are the California requirements for an eviction notice:

  1. The notice must be written down.
  2. It has to have your full name and address.
  3. It must explain why you may be evicted -- whether it is for non-payment of rent, a lease violation, or other reason.
  4. It has to say exactly how much rent you owe and the dates it was due. Multiple months must be listed separately. (it can only include 1 year of back rent, so even if you owe money for a longer time, the landlord can only request up to 1 year of payment).
  5. It has to say that this rent must be fully paid within 3 days of receiving this notice or you must move out (the 3 days do not include weekends or federal holidays).
  6. It must say the dates and times you can pay the rent you owe, as well as the address you can pay it at or mail it to.
  7. If the notice is based on a violation of the lease, it must explain how you can correct the problem, and when you need to do so.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't correct, or if you need assistance in defending yourself against the eviction. Find local legal help in California here.

Facing an Eviction Lawsuit?


Can I settle my eviction case without going to court in California?

You can come to an agreement, but you should still go to court to make sure your case is closed. You can work with your landlord to work out an agreement before the date of the court hearing. This might be a payment plan or other agreement on what needs to happen for you to stay in your home.

Be sure to get this agreement in writing, so that you can prove it exists and that your landlord follows through on it.

Also, you should still go to court for your hearing date, to make sure the court knows about the agreement and closes the lawsuit. If you do not go to court, the lawsuit might still continue and the judge might rule that the landlord can remove you. Go to court yourself to make sure this doesn't happen.

You can reach out for legal help to get assistance in negotiating an agreement with your landlord and making sure this agreement is being followed. Find local legal help in California here.

Do I have to do anything after I get an eviction Summons and Complaint in California?

In California, you are required to respond to the eviction lawsuit, if you want to avoid the eviction. You will need to submit a proper legal response, not just call the courts or send them a letter. There is a form response available.

If you were served in person, you will have 5 days (not including weekends or holidays) after you receive the Summons and Complaint to get a written response back to the court.

If the Summons and Complaint were handed to a member in your household and/or you received in the mail, you have 15 days, starting from the postmark date on the envelope (the first 10 days include weekends and holidays, and the last 5 days do not) to submit your written response. If you do not submit this response by this time frame, you may lose your case and the judge may give the landlord permission to remove you from your home.

Reach out to legal help to learn what your rights and defenses are in your eviction case. These organizations can help you deal with this lawsuit. Find local legal help in California here.

My landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against me in court in California. What should I do?

You should make sure that the landlord properly 'served' you with the lawsuit. If they didn't give it to you in the correct way, you can challenge the eviction lawsuit. In California, a landlord must follow certain rules to let you know about the lawsuit:

  1. Only certain people can give you the lawsuit's Summons and Complaint. The landlord can not give you these papers - it has to be a person not involved in the case.
  2. The server must let you know you are being served and must give you the papers in person.
  3. If the server can not reach you, they have to try again for least 2-3 times, on different days and different times. Only then can the server hand the court papers to a member of your household or to someone in charge where you work. They also have to mail a copy of the papers to your home.
  4. If both of these methods don’t work, the landlord has to get permission from the court to post and mail the papers to you. The serve must post the papers on the property where you can see it and mail a copy to your last known address.

You should also reach out to local lawyers who can help you prepare for your court hearing so you can protect yourself against the eviction. Find local legal help in California here.

Emergency Protections during COVID


Do I still have to pay rent during COVID-19 in California?

Yes, California renters still need to pay rent during the Covid emergency. You may have had protections against eviction for rent owed through September 30, 2021.

Many local California cities and counties give additional protections (link) about how long a renter will have to pay back the rent owed, but not all do. Check here to see if your local government has set a special timeline for paying back rent, or if they have rules to protect you from late fees. If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:

  1. Apply for rent help: If you need financial assistance for housing costs like rent or utility bills, you may be able to get help.
  2. Communicate with your landlord: Send a written letter or email to your landlord within 7 days of the rent's due date. (You must do this for each missed rent payment). Explain why you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19 impact. You can also try to negotiate with your landlord to make a payment plan or get a temporary rent reduction.
  3. Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
  4. Keep proof of COVID-19 impact on you: Keep any proof of your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. You may need to use these as evidence to protect yourself against eviction.(https://legalfaq.org/covid/ca/getHelp/ca)

Find legal help in California here.

What do the protections mean for renters in California?

The protections mean that after California protections expired in the Spring of 2022:

  1. Your landlord can still give you a notice to quit. You cannot be made to leave your rental home without going through the court process. The notice is a warning that your landlord will begin that process as soon as they are legally able to do so.
  2. Your landlord can file an eviction claim in court against you.
  3. Hearings on eviction may go forward. If you have applied for rent relief and are waiting to hear back, you can defend yourself in court by showing your application.
  4. You may be removed from your home with an eviction order. Check with a lawyer to see if you have any protections from earlier laws.

Please check if your local California city or county gives you additional protections from eviction. Over 150 local California governments have issued eviction freezes or other protections.

Are eviction cases still proceeding through California courts?

Eviction cases are being heard in California courts since most Covid protections have expired.

Check with the California courts for more updates.

Can my utilities be shut off during COVID-19 in California?

California renters' utilities may be shut off due to a lack of payment since the emergency period expired. (https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/covid19protections/)

Read more about past protections from utility shutoff here. These protections have expired.

If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.

Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.

Are there any special protections for California renters during the COVID-19 emergency?

California has some protections for tenants who were unable to pay their rent between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2022, because of COVID-related financial distress. Tenants may be protected from eviction if they have applied for California government rental assistance and they are waiting for a decision. If a landlord does try to sue the tenant while they are waiting for the decision, the tenant can tell the court about their application. This is a valid defense to the eviction lawsuit.

In addition, tenants who couldn't pay rent due to COVID-19 hardships through September 30, 2021 may also be protected from eviction. The missed rent must have occurred between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. The renters must have paid at least 25% of their rent to avoid eviction. They also should have filled in this Declaration form to explain their financial distress and given it to their landlord. Read more about California's protections here.

Many local California cities and counties have implemented such eviction freezes and additional protections for renters. Check here to see if any apply to you.

Can my landlord evict me during COVID-19 in California?

Some California renters still have protections from eviction. If you have applied for government rental assistance and are waiting for a decision, then your landlord should not bring an eviction lawsuit against you. If they do sue for eviction, you can tell the court that you are waiting on a rental assistance decision.

You may also be protected from eviction for rent or other housing costs that were owed between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. You may be able to defend yourself against an eviction for rent owed from that period. Some local city or county California governments may give you additional protections.

If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.

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