Whether you rent for a month or for a decade in California, state law regulates the rental agreement. While leases for 12 months or more must be in writing, month-to-month tenancies can be oral without affecting the landlord or tenant's rights. If a landlord asks a tenant to leave and the tenant refuses, the landlord can file an action in municipal court to evict the tenant. In jurisdictions with rent control ordinances, tenants have more protection from eviction.
When you rent a housing unit in California, you enter into either a lease contract or a periodic rental agreement with the landlord. If you contract to stay in the premises for a set period of time, like one year, your rental agreement is a lease. If you agree to rent the premises for the indefinite future and pay rent at regular intervals, it is a periodic rental agreement. The most common type of periodic rental agreement in California is a month-to-month tenancy, where the tenant pays rent once a month.
Characteristics of Month-to-Month Tenancy
A month-to-month tenancy can be viewed as a tenancy that lasts for one month but is renewed for another month by a rent payment. This type of rental agreement does not state how long the tenancy will continue. Generally, the tenant has the right to live in the unit as long as she pays rent every month unless the landlord tells her to leave. Under state law, a landlord can change the terms of the rental agreement, including raising the rent, by giving 30 days notice to the tenant. A month-to-month rental agreement can be oral or in writing. If the agreement is oral, the landlord must provide the tenant with written contact information for the landlord as well as for the person who is to accept the rent.
Terminating the Tenancy
Eviction is the process a landlord uses to get a tenant out of a rental unit. A California landlord can ask a month-to-month tenant to leave the dwelling at any point and for any reason other than illegal motivations, such as discrimination. He is not obligated to give his tenant any explanation, but he must give written notice at least 30 days before the move-out deadline. This period of time doubles if the tenant has lived in the unit for more than a year. The landlord can oust the tenant with even less notice if she fails to pay rent or violates the rental contract. In that case, he must advise the tenant in the notice of the contract breach and, if curable, allow her to cure it.
If the tenant does not move out after receiving notice, the landlord files an unlawful detainer action in municipal court for permission to evict the tenant. The tenant can dispute the action by presenting any defenses to the eviction. If the tenant fails to appear in the action or the court decides in favor of the landlord, the court issues an order for the sheriff to evict the tenant from the rental unit. A landlord does not have the right to lock out a tenant or remove her possessions from the rental unit without going through a court action.
Some cities in California have enacted rent control laws that supplement state laws on tenancy and eviction. Both San Francisco and Berkeley have strictly-enforced rent control laws, for example, giving tenants substantially more rights than those provided under state laws. Rent control laws only apply to rental units within the city enacting the ordinance. The laws may forbid evictions except for cause and impose limits on rent increases. Both landlords and tenants can check with their city government or a court self-help center to determine whether a rental unit is covered by rent control laws.