This article will discuss what disclosures a landlord is required to make to tenants and prospective tenants under California law for residential rentals. In this discussion, the term “landlord” may also mean property manager or property owner and “lease” may also mean a lease agreement or rental agreement.
The theme of the law is to provide to prospective tenants sufficient information so as to allow them to make informed decisions as to whether to rent the premises. It is important for the landlord to understand that in the case of much of the information that is required to be provided here, as in much of the law, “ignorance” is not a defense. Some disclosures, as itemized below, do require actual knowledge of the landlord.
It is also important to understand that renting unsafe premises can also create civil liability to the landlord if the landlord knew or should have known the premises were unsafe. A typical example is renting premises in an unsafe neighborhood in which the locking systems to the doors were defective and the landlord knew it but did nothing to correct the problem for an unreasonable period of time.
The required disclosures are broader than unsafe conditions and relate to various matters that may concern or upset a prospective tenant.
The Basic Disclosures:
In an effort to protect tenants and allow them to have access to certain relevant information as to the premises, in California, a landlord is required to make the following disclosures to prospective tenants:
- Lead-based paint
- Pest Control
- Carcinogenic material
- Methamphetamine contamination
- Demolition permit
- Military base or explosive
- Death in the unit
- Condominium conversion project
1. Lead-based paint. In properties built before 1978, the landlord must give prospective tenants a written Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead-Based Paint Hazards. The landlord must disclose the presence of known lead-based paint and related hazards in the unit before the tenant signs the lease.
The landlord must also provide a federal government pamphlet, "Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home." The landlord does not have to test or remove any lead-based paint, and the lease must contain a lead warning statement in legally-required language.
2. Periodic Pest Control Treatments. When a pest control company provides ongoing service, at the time of the initial treatment, they must give written notice to the landlord and tenants of the pesticides to be used. The landlord must give a copy of this notice to every new tenant who will occupy a unit serviced under the contract.
3. Asbestos. Asbestos may be found in properties built before 1981. Depending on the number of employees a landlord (or property management company) has, the landlord may or may not be required to make asbestos disclosures, and/or add a lease addendum. Regardless, the landlord is strongly urged to make asbestos disclosures whenever asbestos is discovered on the property or suspected of being present.
4. Carcinogenic Material. As with asbestos, depending on the number of employees a landlord has, the landlord must disclose the existence of known carcinogenic material.
5. Methamphetamine Contamination. Methamphetamine production may significantly contaminate the space that it is produced in. When a local health officer deems a property to be contaminated, an order prohibiting the use or occupancy of the property is issued and served on the property owner and all tenants. The property is vacated until further notice by the health officer. A prospective tenant must be given this information as well, and acknowledge in writing that they have received it, before a lease is signed. Failure to comply may allow the tenant to void the contract. See our article, Getting the Land for Free Was Not Free.
6. Demolition permit. When a demotion permit has been applied for, the landlord must inform prospective tenants of this fact before accepting any fee from the tenant or entering into a lease. The notice must contain the expected demolition dates and expected duration of the tenancy. For current tenants, including those who haven't moved in yet, the landlord must give notice of the intent to apply before actually applying for the permit.
7. Military base or explosives. A landlord who knows that a unit is within one mile of a closed military base in which ammunition or military explosives were used must give written notice of this to a prospective tenant, before the tenant signs the lease.
8. Death in the rental unit. The landlord must disclose to a prospective tenant if the prior occupant died in the unit within the past three years. Disclosure must be made at the time an offer is made. The landlord must disclose the manner of death, but not if the prior occupant was ill with, or died from, AIDS. If asked a direct question, however, the landlord cannot intentionally misrepresent the cause of death.
9. Condominium Conversion Project. Before a prospective tenant signs the lease, the owner must give written notice if: the unit has been approved for sale and may be sold to the public; that the lease may terminate upon sale; that the tenant will be given at least 90 days' notice of the unit being offered for sale; and that the tenant normally has first right of refusal (first option to buy the unit). The notice must be in a specific form, and applies only under certain circumstances.
See “California Tenants – A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities,” written by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Legal Affairs Division.
Note that the scope of this article is limited to the disclosures required in a Landlord-Tenant situation, but as can be seen below, these disclosures are similar to those required by California Civil Code in the transfer (sale) of residential property. Disclosures in lease-to-own (lease-option contracts) are generally the same as those in a standard purchase transaction.
- Termination Right
- Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement
- Local Option Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement
- Natural Hazards Disclosure
- Mello-Roos Bonds and Taxes
- Property Taxes
- Ordinance Location
- Window Security Bars
- Industrial Uses
- Methamphetamine Contamination
For further details, see “Disclosures in Real Property Transactions” prepared by the California Department of Real Estate.
If you are a landlord it is important for you to have a checklist of disclosures that are presented to the prospective tenant and signed off by the tenant before occupancy. It is equally important to keep up to date on any changes in the law concerning required disclosures. Remember, any tenant who would be concerned about these disclosures is a tenant who will be unhappy and ready to move when discovered and it is far better to know that before the tenancy is created.
If you are a tenant who has not been given the disclosures, you should ask your landlord to make the disclosures and if any information derives that would alter your mind about the tenancy, you can almost certainly terminate the tenancy and, depending on circumstances, may be entitled to additional relief.
But the underlying purpose of the law is simply to avoid later turmoil and possible health hazard when a tenant suffers problems with his or her health or discovers facts about the premises that would cause the tenant to rethink whether the tenancy is what he or she would have chosen. It behooves both landlord and tenant to have the disclosure accomplished.