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Importance Of A Rental Lease In California

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

What is a rental lease? A rental lease is a legal and binding agreement to rent property signed between the tenant (lessee) and owner or the owner's representative (lessor). Representative(s) could include a property management company or the owner's relative who lives near the property if the owner lives in another town.

Lease Basics

Each rental lease agreement is different, but all leases contain the dates the tenant may live in the property, the rent charged, the date rent payment is due, who/where to pay rent, security deposit amount, specific rules of renting the property and other terms. It is important that the tenant understands the lease agreement before signing it. The tenant should ask questions if any part of the lease agreement is unclear and can request that unclear wording be changed.

Verbal Versus Written Lease

A tenant may have a verbal agreement to rent a property with the lessor. Many tenants think this is more desirable than a formal written lease. California law requires that even with an oral rental agreement, the lessor must give the tenant, within 15 days, a written statement containing specific information regarding management and payments.

Unfortunately, too many tenants think that a formal lease agreement only protects the lessor. This is completely untrue. Although the tenant must comply with the rules of the lease agreement, the lessor is also bound by this agreement. Both parties are protected. Just make certain the protection is fair and legal according to California landlord-tenant laws.

Lease Equals Protection

Why is a lease agreement so important? The lease agreement protects the tenant just as much as it protects the lessor. For instance, with a verbal-only agreement to rent a property, the lessor can legally raise the rent or request the tenant move out for any reason -- not just for nonpayment of rent. It's the lease that protects the tenant from any rent increases during the dates of the lease. Of course, the rent is already protected in California cities, such as Las Angeles and Palm Springs, with rent control ordinances. It's also the lease that prohibits the lessor from requesting the tenant move out if tenant pays rent on time and meets all other lease terms during the dates the lease is in effect.

Lease Types

There are many types of leases. The most common are for fixed time periods or month-to-month. A month-to-month lease does not have any specific dates that the tenant must live at the property. This lease type is more flexible, as it allows the tenant to move out at any time, usually with a thirty-day notice to the lessor. The reverse is also true, as the lessor can request the tenant move out or raise the rent with proper notice except for those rentals in California cities that have rent control ordinances. However, the month-to-month lease does afford more protection for both parties than a verbal agreement. A fixed lease is for a set period of time, such as a year. This lease provides the most protection, as rental amount and dates of residency are fixed for the duration of the lease.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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