Help for Landlords in California | From California Department of Consumer Affairs: Who is a Landlord & Who is a Tenant

A landlord is a person or a company that owns a rental unit. The landlord rents or leases the rental unit to another person, called a tenant, for the tenant to live in. The tenant obtains the right to the exclusive use and possession of the rental unit during the lease or rental period.

Sometimes, the landlord is called the “owner,” and the tenant is called a “resident.”

A rental unit is an apartment, house, duplex, condominium, or room that a landlord rents to a tenant to live in. In this booklet, the term rental unit means any one of these. Because the tenant uses the rental unit to live in, it is called a “residential rental unit.”

Often, a landlord will have a rental agent or a property manager who manages the rental property. The agent or manager is employed by the landlord and represents the landlord. In most instances, the tenant can deal with the rental agent or property manager as if this person were the landlord. For example, a tenant can work directly with the agent or manager to resolve problems. When a tenant needs to give the landlord one of the tenant notices described in this booklet, the tenant can give the notice to the landlord’s rental agent or property manager.

The name, address and telephone number of the manager and an owner of the building (or other person who is authorized to receive legal notices for the owner) must be written in the rental agreement or lease, or posted conspicuously in the rental unit or building. 1


The tenant rights and responsibilities discussed in this booklet apply only to people whom the law defines as tenants. Generally, under California law, lodgers and residents of hotels and motels have the same rights as tenants.2 Situations in which lodgers and residents of hotels and motels do and do not have the rights of tenants, and other special situations, are discussed in the “Special Situations” sidebar below.3

Special Situations

Hotels and motels

If you are a resident in a hotel or motel, you do not have the rights of a tenant in any of the following situations:

  1. You live in a hotel, motel, residence club, or other lodging facility for 30 days or less, and your occupancy is subject to the state’s hotel occupancy tax.
  2. You live in a hotel, motel, residence club, or other lodging facility for more than 30 days, but have not paid for all room and related charges owing by the thirtieth day.
  3. You live in a hotel or motel to which the manager has a right of access and control, and all of the following is true:
  • The hotel or motel allows occupancy for periods of fewer than seven days.
  • All of the following services are provided for all residents:
    – a fireproof safe for residents’ use;
    – a central telephone service;
    – maid, mail, and room service; and
    – food service provided by a food establishment that is on or next to the hotel or motel grounds and that is operated in conjunction with the hotel or motel.

If you live in a unit described by either 1, 2 or 3 above, you are not a tenant; you are a guest. Therefore, you don’t have the same rights as a tenant.4 For example, the proprietor of a hotel can “lock out” a guest who doesn’t pay his or her room charges on time, while a landlord would have to begin formal eviction proceedings to evict a nonpaying tenant.

Residential hotels

You have the legal rights of a tenant if you are a guest in a residential hotel which is in fact your primary residence.5“Residential hotel” means any building which contains six or more guest rooms or efficiency units which are designed, used, rented or occupied for sleeping purposes by guests, and which is the primary residence of these guests.6

It is unlawful for the proprietor of a residential hotel to require a guest to move or to check out and re-register before the guest has lived there for 30 days, if the proprietor’s purpose is to have the guest maintain transient occupancy status (and therefore not gain the legal rights of a tenant).7 A person who violates this law may be punished by a $500 civil penalty and may be required to pay the guest’s attorney fees.

Single lodger in a private residence

A lodger is a person who lives in a room in a house where the owner lives. The owner can enter all areas occupied by the lodger and has overall control of the house.8 Most lodgers have the same rights as tenants.9

However, in the case of a single lodger in a house where there are no other lodgers, the owner can evict the lodger without using formal eviction proceedings. The owner can give the lodger written notice that the lodger cannot continue to use the room. The amount of notice must be the same as the number of days between rent payments (for example, 30 days). (See “Tenant’s notice to end a periodic tenancy”.) When the owner has given the lodger proper notice and the time has expired, the lodger has no further right to remain in the owner’s house and may be removed as a trespasser.10

Transitional housing

Some tenants are residents of “transitional housing”. Transitional housing provides housing to formerly homeless persons for periods of 30 days to 24 months. Special rules cover the behavior of residents in, and eviction of residents from, transitional housing.11

Mobilehome parks and recreational vehicle parks

Special rules in the Mobilehome Residency Law12 or the Recreational Vehicle Park Occupancy Law,13 and not the rules discussed in this booklet, cover most landlord-tenant relationships in mobilehome parks and recreational vehicle parks.

However, normal eviction procedures must be used to evict certain mobilehome residents. Specifically, a person who leases a mobilehome from its owner (who has leased the site for the mobilehome directly from the management of the mobilehome park) is subject to the eviction procedures described in this booklet, and not the eviction provisions in the Mobilehome Residency Law. The same is true for a person who leases both a mobilehome and the site for the mobilehome from the mobilehome park management.14


1 Civil Code Sections 1961, 1962, 1962.5. See Moskovitz et al., California Landlord-Tenant Practice, Section 1.21A (Cal. Cont. Ed. Bar, 2006).
2 Civil Code Section 1940(a).
3 See additional discussion in Moskovitz et al., California Landlord-Tenant Practice, Section 1.3 (Cal. Cont. Ed. Bar, 2002, 2005).
4 Civil Code Section 1940.
5 Health and Safety Code Section 50519(b)(1); see California Practice Guide, Landlord-Tenant, Paragraphs 2:39, 2:40.1, 7:6.2 (Rutter Group 2005).
6 Health and Safety Code Sections 50519(b)(1), 17958.1.
7 Civil Code Section 1940.1. Evidence that an occupant was required to check out and re-register creates a rebuttable presumption that the proprietor’s purpose was to have the occupant maintain transient occupancy status. (Civil Code Section 1940.1(a).) This presumption affects the burden of producing evidence.
8 Civil Code Section 1946.5.
9 Civil Code Section 1940(a).
10 Civil Code Section 1946.5, Penal Code Section 602.3.
11 Health and Safety Code Sections 50580-50591.
12 Civil Code Sections 798-799.10. See Moskovitz et al., California Landlord-Tenant Practice, Sections 6.62-6.89 (Cal. Cont. Ed. Bar, 2005).
13 Civil Code Sections 799.20-799.79.
14 California Practice Guide, Landlord-Tenant, Paragraphs 11:27-11:28 (Rutter Group 2005).

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