California Laws Concerning Boarding Houses

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A boarding house, also sometimes called a rooming house, is a house from which a landlord or homeowner rents rooms to lodgers, usually a single family house. Anyone living and paying rent in a boarding house has the same rights under California state law as tenants who rent their own dwelling units.

Boarding Houses and Lodges in California

A boarding house is usually a residential structure, such as a family home, in which a landlord rents individual rooms to tenants. Their stay can be for a few nights or several weeks, months or even years. The landlord generally maintains the common areas, like the kitchen and bathrooms, and can supply services to the tenants, like cleaning or laundry.

According to California law, a person who rents a room from the landlord is a lodger. A lodger has all the same rights as any other tenant. However, if the landlord lives on the property, they may enter the lodger's rental space since they are both a resident and the owner.

Federal and State Anti-Discrimination Laws

Before a landlord rents a room, they must comply with federal and state fair housing laws when selecting a tenant. These laws apply in every aspect of the rental process, from advertising the room to lodger applications, interviews and the lease itself. For example, a landlord has the legal right not to rent to applicants based on certain factors, such as poor credit history, negative references and past behaviors that pertain to their being a risky tenant.

However, this does not include refusing to rent to a lodger based on discriminatory practices. Failure to follow these laws can result in a lawsuit against the landlord.

The federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Act of 1968 states that landlords cannot bar renters due to being part of a protected class of familial status, national origin, physical or mental disability, race, religion or sex. However, owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer apartments and single-family residences are exempt, as long as the owner possesses no more than three rental properties at once. California adds other protected categories to those of the federal Fair Housing Act. It bars discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, public assistance, and personality or character traits.

State Rental and Security Deposit Laws

Landlords require lodgers to pay their rent promptly and with no issues. The landlord must follow California law when planning to raise the rent or evict someone who hasn't paid it. For example, when a tenant bounces a check, a landlord can charge them a $25 penalty for the first check and $35 for each subsequent check, but that's all. Many cities in California, including Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Francisco, also have their own rent control laws, as do other municipalities.

The state of California allows a landlord to charge a lodger for a security deposit when renting a unit or room, but there are limits to what amounts they can charge. A lodger can pay the equivalent of two months' rent for an unfurnished room or three months' if the room has furniture. In the case of active-duty service members, landlords can only charge one month's rent for an unfurnished room and two months' rent for a furnished room. They must return the security deposit to the renter within 21 days of their vacating the room, and if there are deductions made, the landlord must itemize them.

Habitable Housing for Lodgers

All California tenants, including lodgers, have the legal right to a habitable property that the landlord must maintain throughout their term. At a minimum, all rentals, including rooms in a boarding house, must have:

  • Proper weather protection and waterproofing of the structure, including roof, exterior walls, windows and doors.
  • Working plumbing (running hot and cold water and a functional toilet and sink), heating and electrical systems.
  • Clean rooms and grounds with adequate trash disposal. The property should also be free of vermin, debris and trash.
  • Properly maintained stairways, railings and floors.
  • Deadbolts on certain doors and windows.
  • No lead paint hazards.
  • No nuisances on the property, which covers everything dangerous or detrimental to health and human life or that which is morally offensive, such as criminal activity.

Landlords cannot retaliate against a renter who exercises their legal rights. Any tenant whose landlord fails to provide a habitable dwelling can legally:

  • Stop paying rent.
  • Pay for their own repairs and deduct them from the rent.
  • Call their local or state building health inspectors to report a problem with the unit or structure.
  • Sue the landlord or property owner.
  • Move out without giving the landlord notice.

Lease Agreements and California Law

A lease or rental agreement with a landlord defines the relationship between them and the lodger. It spells out the length of their stay, the security deposit and more, including but not limited to pets, parking and use of the common areas. These details, in combination with local, state and federal laws regarding tenancy, are what both parties must abide by.

California law also requires landlords to disclose the following when renting to a tenant:

  • Information about the state's registered sex offender database: A lease or rental agreement must say, "Notice: Pursuant to Section 290.46 of the Penal Code, information about specified registered sex offenders is made available to the public via an Internet Web site maintained by the Department of Justice at www.meganslaw.ca.gov. Depending on an offender's criminal history, this information will include either the address at which the offender resides or the community of residence and ZIP code in which he or she resides."
  • Utility Information: Before a lodger signs a rental agreement, the landlord must detail how they will share the utilities and the associated costs.
  • Former or current state or federal ordnance locations within a mile of the property.
  • Toxic mold information if it exceeds permissible limits or is a danger to tenants. Landlords must also give the State Department of Health Services handbook to the renter describing possible risks.
  • Pest control service information: If the landlord had hired a pest control service to come to the property, they must provide tenants notice from that company identifying the pests, the pesticide and its active ingredient, and the frequency of its use. Language from California Business & Professions Code Section 8538 must also be in the rental agreement.

Eviction Laws in California

When evicting a tenant, California law states that it is illegal to take retaliatory actions against them. For example, the state considers as retaliatory attempting to evict someone with negative behavior by locking them out or shutting off their utilities within 180 days of the date a lodger exercises their legal rights. A landlord also cannot threaten a lodger or disclose their immigration or citizenship status to state or federal agencies for retaliatory purposes.

California requires a landlord to have one of these legitimate reasons for evicting a tenant:

  • Failure to pay rent.
  • Damage to the property.
  • Violation of the terms of the lease or rental contract.
  • Remaining on the premises after their lease expires.
  • Using the property for unlawful purposes.
  • Using, selling, manufacturing or possessing illegal drugs on the property.
  • Being a nuisance to other tenants or neighbors.

Registering a Boarding House in Los Angeles

Los Angeles requires property owners renting rooms or units to tenants to register with the city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). They must do this annually to ask for and collect rent and must include emergency contact information, the amount of rent, and tenancy information for every unit or room. The RSO covers:

  • Apartments.
  • Condominiums.
  • Townhouses.
  • Duplexes.
  • Mobile homes and mobile home pads.
  • New units to replace those built before 1978 that were under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.
  • Rooms in hotels, motels, rooming or boarding houses that a tenant occupies for 30 or more days.

A landlord who rents rooms in a pre-1978 residence may have to register the home with the Rent Stabilization Ordinance if it qualifies as a boarding house. If they rent more than one room with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, they must register, but if they rent a single room with no bathroom or kitchen, they do not have to register. Under Los Angeles rent control laws:

  • A landlord can only raise a tenant's rent up to a maximum of 8 percent each year.
  • A landlord can raise the tenant's rent just one time every 12 months.
  • When they raise the rent, the tenant's security deposit can be increased to match the rent increase.
  • The landlord can increase the rent by an additional 1 percent every year if they pay the renter's utilities.
  • A landlord must give the tenant 30 days' notice for rent increases.

Rent Control and San Francisco Boarding Houses

San Francisco residential buildings with two or more units constructed before 1979 are covered by rent control laws, as are in-law units built before that date. Boarding houses also have this protection if constructed before 1979. Specific circumstances allow rent control protections for tenants in single-family homes or condominiums, as do units rented before January 1, 1996.

Under rent control, the San Francisco Rent Board sets how much a tenant will pay in rent each year and how much it can go up. A landlord cannot go over this amount and must give the tenant 30 days' written notice of the increase. When the tenant vacates the room or unit, the landlord can increase the rent to current market value.

Boarding Houses and Rent Control in Berkeley

The city of Berkeley covers most tenancies under its Rent Stabilization Ordinance, including boarding houses. Berkeley defines a rooming house or boarding house as a property with at least five rooms rented to five people under separate rental agreements or leases. This makes each a rental unit in a single-family dwelling, and landlords must register each unit with the city. In multi-unit properties, if a unit has a minimum of four bedrooms rented separately, a landlord has to register each of those as well.

When registering, the property owner must list the rent for each unit or room and the services included in the cost. They must also pay an annual registration fee to the city by July 1 of each year. For tenancies that began on or after January 1, 1999, they must file a Vacancy Registration form with the current rent, the total occupants and the services provided. The law requires landlords to give a tenant a 30-day notice when increasing their rent less than 10 percent of the current cost and a 90-day notice when it is more than 10 percent.