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California Nuisance Laws

The loud music or incessantly barking dog in a rental unit could wind up becoming a tenant’s way out the door. In California, when a tenant becomes what is often loosely defined as a “nuisance,” the landlord has the right to oust them from the property upon serving up a 3-day notice for eviction. This action is legally called “Termination of Tenancy Based on Nuisance.”

Defining “Nuisance”

Within any lease agreement, the examples of being a nuisance are often along the lines of harboring illegal weapons or drugs, cockfighting or dogfighting, playing music loudly during the early morning hours, or even arguing with one’s spouse in the hallway. A nuisance acts in such a way that they decrease the inhabitability of the apartment space for other tenants in the same area and for the landlord.

In California, Civil Code Section § 3479 defines a nuisance as “anything which is injurious to health, including but not limited to the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property…”

This often is phrased as “quiet enjoyment.” In other words, tenants are supposed to respect one another’s space. However, some renters choose not to uphold this promise.

For the tenant, be aware that California has a Noise Control Act that has been active since 1973. Some cities have their own ordinances founded upon this act. San Francisco, for example, has Noise Ordinance Section § 2909 which states apartment tenants should not be able to hear more than five decibels of ambient noise when standing 3 feet away from a shared partition.

When Action is Taken

First, a landlord who is dealing with a rude or disruptive tenant must first give said tenant a warning that asks them to cease being a nuisance. Should the actions continue, and should there be enough evidence that the tenant has indeed breached the contract in this way, the landlord can use a right given unto them by California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) § 1161.4.

CCP § 1161.4 not only deals with unlawful detainment of illegal activities on the property, it clearly states: “Any tenant…maintain, committing, or permitting the maintenance or commission of a nuisance upon the demised premises or using the premises for an unlawful purpose, thereby terminates the lease, and the landlord…shall upon service of three days’ notice to quit upon the person or persons in possession…”

Ultimately, it is up to the landlord to decide which 3-day notice they wish to give the tenant. Some 3-day notices may ask the tenant to correct the violation or leave the rental unit if unable (also called “cure or quit”). Usually with a cure or quit notice, the tenant is given 3 days to comply by either fixing the issue or leaving. Another notice may simple stipulate eviction. This is called “3-day notice of incurable breach,” and it often comes when the tenant has failed multiple times to adjust their behaviors.

Should a landlord use the power given to them by CCP § 1161.4, they can immediately evict the tenant. That means it’s unlike late rent or unlawful detainer cases, where CCP § 1161.2 and § 1161.3 are used and a landlord must allow the tenant time to fix the issue. However, this can only be evoked during “incurable” actions, such as discovering the tenant doing some highly illegal and dangerous.

Responding to a Termination of Tenancy Based on Nuisance

Should a tenant be served a 3-day notice of cure or quit, they have a choice to fight back if they think they are unfairly being named a nuisance. Conversely, they can attempt to solve the issue, especially if it is something curable, like putting down rugs to decrease noise.

However, if a landlord immediately serves the tenant an unlawful detainer (eviction lawsuit) on the grounds of incurable nuisance, the tenant must respond to this within 5 days. Otherwise, there will be default judgement, and the landlord will need to be reimbursed for damages and the tenant loses their unit.

The case, should the tenant decide to fight back, will be treated no different than a regular unlawful detainer eviction. Legal assistance will be necessary, because the case is highly prioritized in court.

It is important to retain experienced and professional attorneys in order to maximize the effectiveness of your claim. Please call Aziz Legal by phone (408) 203-4627 or email us at

This article is merely informational and is not intended to be used as legal advice. Use of any information from this article is for general information only and does not represent personal legal or tax advice, either express or implied. Readers are encouraged to consult Aziz Legal, or another attorney, for any specific legal matters.

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