COVID-19 Consumer Information and Resources
Links to Topics Below
On March 4, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. In order to protect California consumers during this time, Attorney General Xavier Becerra has made the following tips and resources available.
Attorney General Becerra reminds all Californians that price gouging is illegal in all California communities during the declared state of emergency.
Executive Orders N-44-20 and N-78-20 makes it unlawful to increase the price of food items, consumer goods, or medical and emergency supplies by more than 10 percent of what a seller charged for that item on February 4, 2020. Exceptions to this prohibition exist if the seller has experienced increased costs in labor, goods, or materials, or if the seller sold the item at a discount on February 4, 2020, in which case they may sell the item for no more than 10 percent greater than the price at which they ordinarily sold the item. If the seller did not offer the item for sale on February 4, 2020, the seller may not sell the item at a price that is 50 percent greater than what they paid for it, or, if the seller produced the item, they may not sell it for a price that is 50 percent greater than the cost to produce and sell the item. These protections are currently in place until March 4, 2021.
In addition to the above Executive Orders, Penal Code section 396 generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, and gasoline. The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations, and rental housing. Exceptions to this prohibition exist if, for example, the price of labor, goods, or materials has increased for the business. California's price gouging law also applies to transactions between manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers as it does between retailers and consumers.
The statute’s effective period lasts 30 days after a declaration of emergency, and it can be extended by state or local officials. The state, and most local agencies, have extended this period in connection with the COVID-19 public health emergency. Local governments can also pass their own laws that prohibit price gouging, and a number of California cities and counties have done so.
Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.
If you have been the victim of price gouging, or have information regarding potential price gouging, you can file a complaint at oag.ca.gov/report.
Price Gouging Fact Sheets:
- Consumer Alert: Price Gouging and False Advertising Related to COVID-19, pdf
- Alertas al Consumidor – Aumento de Precios y Publicidad Falsa Relacionada con el COVID-19, pdf
Recent Price Gouging Updates:
- 09/24/20: Attorney General Becerra Supports Kentucky’s Fight Against Price Gouging
- 09/10/20: Attorney General Becerra Issues Consumer Alert on Price Gouging Following State of Emergency Declaration in Siskiyou County
- 09/09/20: Attorney General Becerra Issues Consumer Alert on Price Gouging Following State of Emergency Declaration in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties
- 08/20/20: Attorney General Becerra Petitions Court to Require California Egg Distributor and its Parent Company to Comply with Investigation into Alleged Price Gouging Violations
- 06/18/20: Attorney General Becerra: Charges Filed Against Los Angeles County Pharmacist for Price Gouging on Masks
- 05/07/20: Attorney General Becerra and Alameda County District Attorney O’Malley Announce Price Gouging Charges Against Alameda County Grocery Store Owner
- 03/04/20: Attorney General Becerra Issues Consumer Alert on Price Gouging Following Statewide Declaration of Emergency for Novel Coronavirus Cases in California Communities
- 03/27/20: Attorney General Becerra Reminds Wholesalers and Manufacturers They are Subject to California's Price Gouging Law
Price Gouging FAQs
In addition to Penal Code Section 396, which is California’s general price gouging law, the Governor has signed Executive Orders N-44-20 and N78-20, which generally prohibit increasing the price of food items, consumer goods, or medical and emergency supplies, by more than 10 percent of what a seller charged for that item on February 4, 2020. If the seller did not offer the item for sale on February 4, 2020, he or she may not sell the item at a price that is 50 percent greater than what he or she paid for it, or, if the seller produced the item him or herself and therefore did not purchase it, the seller may not sell the item for a price that is 50 percent greater than his or her cost to produce and sell the item. The Order also includes certain exceptions. The requirements of the Executive Orders are in addition to the requirements of Penal Code 396. These protections are in place until March 4, 2021.
The Governor's Orders also extended the protections of Penal Code section 396(b) until March 4, 2021.
Price gouging refers to sellers trying to take unfair advantage of consumers during an emergency or disaster by greatly increasing prices for essential consumer goods and services.
Yes, in certain circumstances. California’s anti-price gouging statute, Penal Code Section 396, prohibits raising the price of many consumer goods and services by more than 10% after an emergency has been declared.
Local laws may also contain their own prohibitions on price gouging.
The statute applies immediately after the President of the United States, the Governor of California, or city or county executive officer declares a state of emergency.
Emergency declarations issued by the Governor are generally available on the Governor’s website at gov.ca.gov. For information about local declarations of emergency, please contact your local city or county emergency authority or sheriff’s office.
Individuals, businesses, and other entities must comply with the statute. The statute applies to all sellers, including manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers. It also covers all sales, including sales to individuals and families, businesses and other organizations, and government agencies.
The statute applies to the following major necessities: lodging (including permanent or temporary rental housing, hotel, motels, and mobile homes); food and drink (including food and drink for animals); emergency supplies such as water, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, blankets, soaps, diapers, temporary shelters, tape, toiletries, plywood, nails, and hammers; and medical supplies such as prescription and nonprescription medications, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol, and antibacterial products.
It also applies to other goods and services including: home heating oil; building materials, including lumber, construction tools, and windows; transportation; freight; storage services; gasoline and other motor fuels; and repair and reconstruction services.
The goods and services listed above are just example; the statute’s protections are not strictly limited to these items.
The statute generally applies for 30 days after the declaration of emergency, although for reconstruction services and emergency cleanup services, it applies for 180 days after a declaration of emergency. State and local officials may extend the effective period of the statute beyond these timeframes.
The statute does not restrict its protection to a city or county where the emergency or disaster is located. In addition to applying in the city or county covered by the declaration, it is intended to prevent price gouging elsewhere in the state where there is increased consumer demand as a result of the declared emergency. For example, if a fire in San Diego County causes residents to evacuate to neighboring Imperial County, hotels in Imperial County may not raise rates by more than 10% to take advantage of the increase in demand for lodging.
If the seller can prove that the increased price is directly attributable to increases in the cost of labor or materials needed to provide the good or service, the seller may not be liable under the statute. It’s important to note that manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors must also comply with the statute when selling covered good or services to a retailer.
As with all other covered goods and services, following a declaration of emergency, the statute generally prohibits landlords from increasing the price of rental housing by more than 10% of the previously charged or advertised price. For rental housing that was not rented or advertised for rent prior to a declaration of emergency, the price cannot exceed 160% of the fair market value of the rental housing as established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
For rental housing advertised or rented on a daily basis, such as an AirBnB or VRBO listing, the daily price may not be increased by more than 10% following a declaration of emergency. For rental housing advertised or rented on a daily basis prior to a declaration of emergency but offered on a full-time or monthly basis following a declaration of emergency, the price may not exceed 160% of the fair market value of the rental housing as established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A landlord may not justify an otherwise unlawful price increase by providing additional services such as gardening, cleaning, or utilities, or because they are now offering a shorter lease term. Similarly, a landlord may not charge more than the allowable price because an insurance company offered to pay a higher price.
Finally, the statute also makes it a separate misdemeanor for a landlord to evict and then re-rent the property at a rate that the landlord would have been prohibited from charging the evicted tenant under the price gouging statute.
Violations of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violations are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief and mandatory restitution.
The Attorney General, local district attorneys, and private individuals can bring actions for violations of the statute.
Our office cannot give you legal advice or represent you. If you believe that you might have a claim for price gouging, you might consider contacting an attorney to explore your options. For referral to a lawyer, you may contact the State Bar at (866) 442-2529 (toll-free in California) or (415) 538-2250 (from outside California), or through its website at: http://www.calbar.ca.gov. If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may consider contacting your local legal aid office. For a referral, visit http://www.lsc.gov and click on the Find Legal Assistance tab, or go to http://lawhelp.ca.org.
Even though our office cannot represent individuals, the Attorney General may, on behalf of the public, investigate or prosecute someone who has engaged in price gouging. Anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, is encouraged to immediately file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office by going to the Attorney General’s website or by calling (800) 952-5225.
Nuestras preguntas frecuentes están disponibles en español aquí.
Emergency situations like the current COVID-19 pandemic create opportunities for fraudsters to take advantage of vulnerable populations. Attorney General Becerra urges consumers to be aware of scams, including these common ones:
Coronavirus "Cures" and Other Snake Oil Sales: Consumers should beware of any products or services that claim to treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19. There is currently no medicine that cures COVID-19, and a COVID-19 vaccine is not expected to be widely available until sometime in 2021. Be sure to follow reliable sources regarding updates. Anyone who has been the victim of a snake oil scam or who otherwise has information about products that are falsely touted as coronavirus treatments, tests, or cures should immediately file a complaint at http://oag.ca.gov/report.
Illegal Telemarketers Using Coronavirus as Part of Their Scams: Hang up on telemarketers or robocallers referencing coronavirus to perpetrate scams to steal money or personal information. Do not engage with telemarketers offering treatment, cures, opportunities to work at home, demanding payment to get on waiting lists for testing, or other similar scams. Many long-standing scams are now also being adapted to take advantage of fears over coronavirus, such as robocalls related to air duct cleaning or health insurance.
Unsolicited Emails Referencing Coronavirus: As with telemarketing, you should be extremely wary of any unsolicited email providing information about coronavirus, even ones that claim to be from reputable organizations. These are likely to be scams or "phishing" attempts to get you to provide personal information or to infect your device with software viruses. If you accidentally open an email, delete the email and do not click on any links or otherwise engage with the sender.
Scams Related to Government Payments: In December 2020, the federal government passed legislation that provides a second “stimulus” payment. Nothing needs to be done to receive your payment, and most people will receive it by January 15. Most individuals will receive $600 per adult and $600 for each child, although some people with larger salaries will receive less money. For most, the stimulus payments will automatically go into their bank account by direct deposit. Others may receive payment by paper check or debit card. You can see images of both the debit card and mailer on the US Department of Treasury website. You can also check on the status of your stimulus payment (also known as an “economic impact” payment) at https://https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.
Don’t be fooled by scammers who try to get your money or personal information. Remember that no one from the government will ask for your personal information by phone, email, or text. Do not give out any of the following: your Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number, or other personal information. Anyone who asks for such information is a scammer. Additionally, don’t be fooled by scammers who claim that you were overpaid and that you must send them money back by cash, gift card, or any other form of payment.
Most individuals received the first stimulus payment earlier in 2020. If you do not receive one of these stimulus payments, the IRS says you can claim missing payments when you file your taxes for 2020. There may be more stimulus payments in the future. You can check the IRS website for updates about stimulus payments.
Recent Consumer Alerts and Updates:
- 08/07/20: Attorney General Becerra Warns Investors and Consumers to Beware of Digital Asset Scams
- 07/23/20: Attorney General Becerra Announces Arrests and Charges in International Investment Fraud Scheme, Secures Freeze of Financial Assets and Real Property
- 07/22/20: Attorney General Becerra Files Suit Against Los Angeles Animal Rescue Charity and its Owner for Misleading Donors Through Deceptive Online Solicitations
- 07/06/20: Attorney General Becerra Secures $1.4 Million Judgment Against Southern California Telemarketers Scamming Vulnerable Investors
- 06/08/20: Attorney General Becerra Issues Consumer Alert on COVID-19 Contact Tracing Scams
- 05/06/20: Attorney General Xavier Becerra Warns Consumers to Beware of Scams Related to Economic Impact Stimulus Payments
- 05/05/20: Attorney General Becerra Offers Donation Tips to Avoid Scams During Giving Tuesday Now
- 04/07/20: Attorney General Becerra and Commissioner of Business Oversight Alvarez Issue Investor Alert About Investment Scams Related to COVID-19
- 03/23/20: Attorney General Becerra Issues Consumer Alert Regarding False Advertising Related to Coronavirus
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in bogus charities looking to capitalize on people’s desire to help. Attorney General Becerra reminds Californians to do their research before making charitable donations to any nonprofit organizations.
Check the Organization’s Registration Status: Charities operating in California and telemarketers soliciting donations in California are required to register with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. They are also required to file annual financial reports. Confirm that the charity is registered and up-to-date with their financial reporting by searching the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts at www.oag.ca.gov/charities. You can also verify the tax exempt status of a charity by researching the IRS website and can check to see whether the charity’s tax exemption has been revoked by the California Franchise Tax Board.
Give to Organizations You Trust: Do your research before giving. Review the charity’s purpose and its financial records, available on the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, and find out how it spends donations. How much is spent directly on the charitable cause? How much goes to overhead and employee compensation? Research charities in your community and support those charities that make a positive impact.
Don’t be Pressured by Telemarketers and Ask Questions Before Donating: If you receive a call from a telemarketer, ask for the name of the fundraising organization, whether it is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, the name of the charity benefitting from the solicitation, how much of your donation will go to charity and how much to the telemarketer, and the direct telephone number of the charity. If the telemarketer tells you the donation is for your local animal shelter, hospital, school, police department, firefighter or other public safety agency, check directly with the benefitting organization to confirm that they authorized the solicitation and will actually benefit from your donation. Don’t fall for pressure tactics or threats. Remember you have the right to reject the donation appeal and if you feel pressured or threatened, just hang up.
Be Cautious of "Look-Alike" Websites: These fraudulent websites may look like the websites of organizations you trust, but will have a slightly different web address (URL). Similar looking URLs are sometimes purchased to lure in would-be donors. These sites may ask for personal information or install harmful material onto your device.
Watch Out for Similar-Sounding Names and Other Deceptive Tactics: Some organizations use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations to mislead donors. Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you never made. Check your records. Remember: current registration status with the Attorney General’s Office does not mean the Attorney General endorses or has approved the activities of the organization.
Be Wary of Social Network and Crowdfunding Websites: If you are planning to donate through a social network solicitation or through a crowdsourcing website, such as GoFundMe, find out what percentage is going to the charity, whether you will be charged a fee, or if a percentage of your donation will be paid to the platform website.
You can find more information on our donation tips webpage.
Charities Fact Sheets:
- Consumer Alert: Fraudulent Charities Amid COVID-19, pdf
- Alertas al Consumidor – Organizaciones Caritativas Fraudulentas en Medio de la Emergencia de Salud Pública COVID-19, pdf
Recent Charities and Donations Updates:
- 07/22/20: Attorney General Becerra Files Suit Los Angeles Animal Rescue Charity and its Owner for Misleading Donors Through Deceptive Online Solicitations
- 05/05/20: Attorney General Becerra Offers Donation Tips to Avoid Scams During Giving Tuesday Now
- 03/26/20: Attorney General Xavier Becerra Issues Consumer Alert on Fraudulent Charities Amid the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Privacy and Security Tips for Families
As most of the nation adjusts to mandatory stay-at-home orders, individuals are spending more time than ever on their devices and conducting even more of their lives online. The increased time we spend online can also open us up to cybercriminals, including some that try to take advantage of fears raised by the COVID-19 public health emergency. There are steps we can take to reduce our risk of falling prey to scammers, hackers, and identity thieves.
Avoid Email Scams: The most common coronavirus scam is a phishing email. Phishing emails are emails that appear to be legitimate and ask for personal information, such as your bank account, Social Security number, or your work log-in credentials. Recent phishing emails appear to be coming from fraudsters claiming to be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, sometimes suggesting that a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 is available. Also, watch out for phishing emails that claim to be from charities seeking contributions. Remember that these emails may carry malware that can infect your device and steal your information. Do not click on a link or open an attachment in an email that you were not expecting or that looks suspicious. Furthermore, do not reveal personal or financial information in an email. If you think the email may be legitimate, contact the company to verify it, using contact information from another source, not from the email itself.
Protect Your Virtual Meetings: You can enable the privacy and security settings of your virtual meeting and conference software to avoid interruptions. For example:
- Always keep your meeting ID private and send it directly to participants. Do not post it publicly. Tell other participants not to post screenshots on social media, especially while a videoconference is in progress.
- If you’re the host, you can protect the meeting with a password.
- Turn off settings that may default to save chats or track whether you are paying attention.
- On some platforms, other settings provide additional protection, such as by: allowing the host to be the only one to share their screen; using a waiting room to screen participants; and locking the meeting when all participants have joined.
Protect Your Accounts: Now is a good time to secure your most sensitive accounts from hackers. The basic username-and-password combination is not enough for accounts that contain information we want to protect, such as your bank accounts, social media accounts, and personal email. One way to secure them is to use "multi-factor authentication" or "two-step verification." For example, add a second layer of protection, such as requiring the account to send a code to your cell phone any time you want to login. Check with your bank, email provider and social media company for information on how to set up stronger authentication.
Protect Your Home Network: You and your family will be safer online if you secure your home network from outside hackers. Keep all internet-connected devices up to date and make sure they have the latest operating system, browsers, and security software. You should also secure your wireless router to protect your network against hackers. You can do this by changing the name of the router and the preset passphrase. If you have questions, contact your internet service provider for assistance.
Protect Your Children Online: While parents establish and adjust to new family routines and working situations, children at home are likely to be more connected than ever. Resources are available to help parents set boundaries and guide their children towards becoming good digital citizens. Information on how to protect children while they are online is available on the Attorney General’s website here. Additionally, consumers can view the Federal Trade Commission’s online guide to talking with kids about being online here.
Recent Data Privacy Updates:
- 06/16/20: Attorney General Becerra Joins Multistate Letter to Google and Apple Expressing Concerns Regarding Proliferation of Unofficial Contact Tracing Apps
- 04/10/20: Attorney General Becerra Reminds Consumers of their Data Privacy Rights During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Protection of COVID-19 Stimulus Payments from Garnishment and Seizure
On April 23, 2020, Governor Newsom issued an executive order protecting COVID-19 stimulus payments from garnishment, attachment, levy, execution, setoff, or lien. This includes the federal Economic Impact Payments made under the March 2020 CARES Act and the second-round of stimulus legislation passed in December 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.
This means that no bank or any other debt collector that you may owe money to is allowed to take your federal Economic Impact Payments. If a bank or debt collector has already taken your Economic Impact Payments, under the Governor’s executive order, they must refund you the money with no further action on your part. If you believe you are a victim of a violation of this executive order, please file a complaint with our office online at https://oag.ca.gov/report.
Information on the latest Economic Impact Payments is available on the IRS’s website. Some people will receive their Economic Impact Payment by direct deposit. Others will receive it in the mail in the form of a paper check or a debit card. People should watch their mail closely during the month of January 2021.
Recent Protection of CARES Act Updates:
- 05/06/20: Attorney General Xavier Becerra Warns Consumers to Beware of Scams Related to Economic Impact Stimulus Payments
Many Californians are struggling to afford their student loan payments during the COVID-19 emergency. The federal government has taken various actions that may assist you. These protections were recently extended and are now set to expire on September 30, 2021. Note that these actions apply ONLY to your federally held student loans. This includes Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education. It does not include privately owned FFEL loans, Perkins loans held by institutions such as universities, or other private loans. Contact your student-loan servicer to get more information, or log on to your online account at www.studentaid.gov.
Interest Waiver: All borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0%, retroactive to March 13, 2020, and continuing through September 30, 2021.
Forbearance - A Temporary Pause on Your Payments: All borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their payments suspended through September 30, 2021. Any auto debit payments made between March 13, 2020 and September 30, 2021 can be refunded to you. You will need to contact your loan servicer to request that your payment be refunded. Unless these federal protections are extended, your payments will start again in October 2021.
Because of the interest waiver, your balance will not grow while your loans are in forbearance. While your payments are suspended, these months WILL count toward your monthly payments for purposes of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), income-driven repayment (IDR) plan forgiveness, and other types of loan forgiveness, so long as you continue to meet the other requirements for these programs. As the forbearance period comes to an end on September 30, 2021, you should carefully monitor your e-mail and regular mail for a notice from your loan servicer advising when you need to recertify your income-driven repayment plan. Remember you can recertify at any time – if your income has gone down, recertification may reduce your monthly payment.
If Your Federally Held Student Loans are Already in Default: The U.S. Department of Education has halted voluntary and involuntary collections on federally held student loans. This includes the seizure of tax refunds and wage garnishment during the crisis. This policy was first announced on March 25 but is retroactive to March 13. That means the U.S. Department of Education will return any amounts withheld between March 13 and March 25. The suspension of collections will last until September 30, 2021. Starting October 1, 2021, collection on your federal loans may resume.
Privately Owned FFEL Loans, Perkins Loans, or Other Private Loans: If you hold one of these types of loans, the above protections do not apply to your loans. However, many student loan servicers have voluntarily extended some protections and assistance to student loan borrowers during this time. For more information, go to the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation to see which servicers are participating and what protections apply. Contact your loan servicer to explore your options.
Beware of Student Loan Related Scams: Beware of scammers contacting you requesting a fee to suspend your student loan payments. The federal government will not ask for a fee to suspend your student loan payments, and the suspension of your federally held loans will be automatic. If a scammer contacts you, report them to our Office. Be aware of these warning signs to help you avoid student debt relief scams.
If you need additional information, the following websites may assist you: the U.S. Department of Education’s coronavirus website, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website regarding coronavirus and student loans.
Recent Student Loan Updates:
- 08/05/20: Attorney General Becerra Urges Congress to Pass Critical Provisions to Provide Equal Relief Options for all Federal Student Loan Borrowers
- 03/26/20: Attorney General Becerra Joins Multistate Letter Urging Secretary DeVos to Protect Student Loan Borrowers During COVID-19 Public Health Crisis
- 03/18/20: Attorney General Becerra: Education Secretary DeVos’ Move to Strip Protections from Students Loan Borrowers Is Illegal, Couldn’t Come at a Worse Time; California Will Challenge It
Other Financial Resources
Unemployment Insurance: If you lose your job or have your hours reduced due to COVID-19-related reasons, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Visit the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) website for additional information about unemployment benefits, and to file a claim. The federal CARES Act expanded benefits eligibility to people who are not eligible for other state unemployment benefits, including people who are self-employed, independent contractors, and business owners. On December 27, 2020, the President signed legislation to extend federal unemployment benefits that expired on December 26, 2020. The EDD has additional information available on its website.
Health Insurance: If you lose your health insurance as a result of COVID-19, you may be eligible to sign up for low-cost or no-cost health insurance coverage under Covered California. You can find more information on Covered California’s website.
Other Financial Support: Information about California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can be found at https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/calfresh.
Utility Shutoff Protections: Most California consumers are protected against utility shutoffs during the COVID-19 crisis. Utilities include gas, electricity, and water. On April 2, Governor Newsom issued an executive order that bans water shutoffs for homes and small businesses. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has also banned utility shutoffs by utility providers that are within its jurisdiction. You can find a list of those providers on CPUC’s website. Many cities have also announced bans on utility shutoffs and some have prohibited late fees on utility payments. You should research what protections apply where you live. You should also contact your utility provider if you are having trouble paying your bills – many providers are working with customers to set up payment plans.
Importantly, you will still owe money for your past-due utility bills once the bans are lifted. If you can afford to keep paying your utility bills, you should continue to do so.
Credit Reports: You may be worried about how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting your credit report. For more information go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on how to protect your credit during the pandemic.
Financial Tips: It can feel overwhelming to manage your finances in normal times, let alone during the COVID-19 crisis. A list of helpful tips are available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on how to manage your debt.
The Attorney General recognizes that families across the state may be facing difficulty affording rent as the result of layoffs, reduced working hours, and other impacts of COVID-19-related economic shock.
Recently, both the State of California and the federal government created temporary protections against the eviction of tenants who cannot pay rent. California provides new protection in a law called the Tenant Relief Act. The federal protection comes from an Order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC Order"). Both the Tenant Relief Act and the CDC Order are effective in California and protect California tenants. These protections add to the protections provided by other federal, state, and local landlord-tenant laws. You should seek legal advice to help you assert your rights as a tenant. To find a legal aid office near where you live, please visit https://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Need-Legal-Help/Free-Legal-Help
Tenants and landlords can find more details about these new protections below. You can also apply for both protections by sending your landlord the federal and California declarations described below.
It is important to know that these new protections only stop certain evictions; they do not forgive any rent. That means tenants still owe all unpaid rent and should continue paying their rent if they can afford to do so. Try to keep any documentation of layoffs, reduced work hours, or reduced income due to COVID that stopped you from paying all or part of your rent.
The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 applies to all California residential tenants and mobile home residents. Under this new law:
- If you cannot pay rent that was due between March 1 and August 31, 2020, your landlord will never be able to evict you for that unpaid rent if you submit this declaration to your landlord within 15 days of receiving a "pay or quit" notice from your landlord (not including weekends or court holidays). The declaration requires you to confirm that you can't pay your full rent because of COVID-19. Your landlord must give you this declaration form when giving you the "pay or quit" notice.
- If you cannot pay rent that was due between September 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021, your landlord will never be able to evict you for that unpaid rent if you submit this declaration to your landlord within 15 days of receiving a "pay or quit" notice from your landlord (not including weekends or court holidays) and you pay at least 25% of your September to January rent by January 31, 2021. The declaration requires you to confirm that you can't pay your full rent because of COVID-19. Your landlord must give you this declaration form when giving you the "pay or quit" notice. You must submit another declaration every time you receive a “pay or quit” notice.
- If your household income is at least $100,000 and is 130% of your county's median household income, you may have to provide documentation of your COVID-19 related hardship.
- You still owe your landlord all unpaid rent, and your landlord can take you to small claims court to force you to pay that rent starting on March 1, 2021.
- Your landlord may still be able to evict you for reasons other than not paying rent.
- Tenants with disabilities are entitled to additional protections. For more information, please visit https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/housing/.
These protections do not apply to rent due February 1, 2021 or later.
Federal Protection: The CDC Order
The CDC Order temporarily halts certain types of residential evictions through March 31, 2021. Like California’s Tenant Relief Act, the CDC Order provides protections to some tenants unable to afford the rent due to COVID-19, but has some different rules. Tenants who want to know whether the CDC Order applies to them, or how to get its protections, should contact a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact your local legal aid office, which may be able to refer tenants to free or low-cost legal services.
If you want to take advantage of the protections of the CDC order, you must submit this declaration to your landlord.
Landlords, and those who act on their behalf, such as property managers and attorneys, are responsible for complying with the law, including the following important points.
- The Tenant Relief Act and CDC Order both make big changes to the rules for notices to quit and eviction cases. For example, when serving a tenant with a notice for unpaid rent or other charges, landlords must also give tenants a blank hardship declaration form, which allows the tenant to notify the landlord if he or she cannot afford the rent because of COVID-19. Landlords may wish to get legal advice regarding this declaration and related new tenant notice rules.
- A landlord who gets a declaration from a tenant that he or she cannot pay rent, including due to COVID-19-related hardship, may be prohibited from taking action to evict that tenant. The exact rules vary according to the particular notice received, timing of the unpaid rent, and other factors, so landlords may wish to seek legal advice.
- Tenants who cannot pay the full rent due because of COVID have the right to avoid eviction by paying 25% of the rent due between September 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021. Landlords should not try to get around this tenant protection by applying payments to a prior time period.
- Landlords should not try to evict tenants for breaking their lease agreements to get around COVID-related tenant protections. The law requires that a lease violation be “substantial” or “material” in order to evict a tenant. Many technical lease violations are not substantial enough to evict a tenant, and landlords should not attempt to do so.
- Landlords may not retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights. For example, a landlord may not try to take away services or rights that the tenant previously enjoyed, like storage space or parking.
- It is illegal to try to “evict” a tenant by locking him or her out of his or her housing. The only lawful way to evict a tenant is to file a case in court. A “self-help” lockout is a serious offense and can result in major legal consequences, including law enforcement action or a private court case by the tenant.
- Any landlord planning an owner move-in or a relative move-in for their rental unit must act truthfully and in good faith and only proceed in circumstances that comply with all state and local requirements. These requirements often include restrictions on the window of time a landlord has to move in after an eviction and the length of time that the owner intends live in the rental in order to qualify as a valid owner move-in. Please also be aware that there may be special protections for protected groups such as senior tenants.
Landlords and those acting on their behalf must take care to comply with these requirements. Violators, including any landlord, manager, real estate professional, or attorney who has violated the Tenant Relief Act or the CDC Order, may face enforcement action, which can result in civil penalties, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution.
Many cities and counties have also taken action to help tenants during the COVID-19 crisis. Contact your local city or county through the 311 line or check your local government website for further information on protections in your area.
If you are a tenant who needs legal help, you should know that many legal aid offices remain open by phone or email. To find a legal aid office near where you live, please visit https://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Need-Legal-Help/Free-Legal-Help
Recent Tenant Updates:
- 08/04/20: Attorney General Becerra Reminds Mortgage Servicers of Their Obligations to California Homeowners During COVID-19 Pandemic
- 04/23/20: Attorney General Becerra Calls on Federal Government to Increase Protections for Homeowners During COVID-19
- 04/17/20: Attorney General Becerra Calls on Trump Administration to Protect Vulnerable Communities from Homelessness During COVID-19, Halt Proposal Threatening Mass Evictions
- 04/07/20: Following Judicial Council's Emergency Eviction Rule, Attorney General Becerra Issues Updated Consumer Alert for Tenants Affected by COVID-19
Mortgages and Foreclosures
Get in Touch with Your Loan Servicer: If you are having trouble making mortgage payments because of the COVID-19 public health emergency, you may be able to get help. Because certain protections are set to expire on December 31, 2020, contact your mortgage servicer as soon as possible to learn about your options.
What Type of Relief You May Get Depends on Your Loan Servicer and the Type of Loan You Have: Your rights depend on whether you have a federally backed mortgage. Federally backed mortgages include loans insured, issued, or guaranteed by federal agencies like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Department of Veterans Affairs, or Department of Agriculture, as well as loans purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. To find out if your loan is federally backed or which agency backs it, contact your servicer or see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Relief You May Qualify For web page.
For single-family mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, foreclosures are suspended through January 31, 2021. For single-family mortgages insured by the FHA, VA, or USDA, foreclosures are suspended through February 28, 2021. Unless the federal government extends this relief, your lender may move forward with foreclosing on your home after this time. If you are having trouble making payments, or to apply for a loan modification or other options to avoid foreclosure, contact your servicer as soon as possible.
Under the CARES Act, homeowners with a federally backed mortgage who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 can ask for a six-month forbearance, and can ask to extend that forbearance by up to another six months. Forbearance plans allow you to lower or postpone your monthly mortgage payment for a short period of time, but you must make up those payments later. To learn more, see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's What Is Forbearance web page. You must contact your servicer to ask for forbearance and for the extension, but your servicer must grant your request without requiring documentation of financial hardship and without charging additional fees, penalties, or interest (beyond scheduled amounts). Homeowners with mortgages insured by the FHA have a February 28, 2021 deadline for requesting a forbearance. Homeowners of multi-family homes backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac have a March 21, 2021 deadline for requesting a forbearance and, if they get a forbearance, must offer certain tenant protections.
Even if you do not have a federally backed mortgage, many financial institutions have agreed to provide forbearances or other relief to homeowners impacted by COVID-19. Contact your servicer to discuss your options.
Before agreeing to a forbearance, make sure you understand the terms of any forbearance plan or other options offered. Under some forbearance plans, you must resume your regular monthly payments and immediately pay back the postponed payments unless you qualify for a different option. You may have different repayment options, including making up the payments at the end of your loan term. Make sure you know what the repayment terms are and what options you will have if you are still struggling to make payments after the forbearance period. Also check to see if your servicer will waive any late fees or penalties and refrain from negative credit reporting.
Under California law, if your servicer denies a forbearance request that you made between September 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021 because of a COVID-19 related financial hardship, and you were current in your payment as of February 1, 2020, your servicer must state the specific reasons for the denial in writing. If the denial is due to a fixable defect, it must give you 21 days to fix that defect and must respond to your revised forbearance request within 5 business days.
Keep Detailed Records and Review Your Mortgage Statements: It is important to keep documentation about how COVID-19 has hurt your ability to make mortgage payments, for example due to job loss, reduced hours, medical expenses, or caring for a sick family member. You may need to show your servicer this documentation to get relief. If you get a forbearance or other mortgage relief option, make sure to get all the terms in writing from your servicer. Also make sure to review your mortgage statements and check your credit reports to make sure there are no errors. You can get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
Know Your Rights: California's Homeowner Bill of Rights provides protections to homeowners facing foreclosure. To learn more about these rights, please see the Homeowner Bill of Rights. Until January 1, 2023, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 extends these protections to homeowners who rent out their property so long as they have no more than three residential properties, the property is no more than four units, and the property is occupied by a tenant who has lived there since before March 4, 2020 and who cannot pay rent because of a COVID-19 related financial hardship.
Beware of Scams: Fraudsters taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis may try to take your money or even your home by claiming they can help you get mortgage relief or stop foreclosure. Be wary of anyone who charges upfront fees, guarantees results, or asks you to make your mortgage payments to them. Before working with anyone who says they can help you with your mortgage, and to learn about free assistance, please see Loan Modification Fraud and Foreclosure Rescue Scams
Recent Mortgages and Foreclosures Updates
- 09/18/20: Attorney General Becerra Urges California Supreme Court to Hold Mortgage Servicers Responsible and Protect the Rights of Homeowners
- 08/04/20: Attorney General Becerra Reminds Mortgage Servicers of Their Obligations to California Homeowners During COVID-19 Pandemic
- 05/01/20: Attorney General Becerra Urges Secretary Ben Carson to Further Protect Senior Homeowners with Reverse Mortgages Affected by COVID-19
- 04/23/20: Attorney General Becerra Calls on Federal Government to Increase Protections for Homeowners During COVID-19
Workers and employers affected by, impacted by, or navigating questions by COVID-19, can find guidance and resources on the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s website.
Recent Updates on Workers' Rights:
- 12/18/20: Attorney General Becerra Files Lawsuit to Stop Trump Administration from Weakening Critical Safeguards for Agricultural Workers
- 12/14/20: Attorney General Becerra Petitions Court to Compel Amazon to Comply with Outstanding Investigative Subpoenas
- 12/10/20: Attorney General Becerra Stands Up Against Trump Administration Attack on Farmworker Wages
- 11/16/20: Attorney General Becerra Urges Adoption of Emergency Workplace Standard to Help Safeguard Employees from COVID-19 in California
- 10/29/20: Attorney General Becerra: Trump Administration Removes Critical Public Health Protections for Agricultural Workers in the Midst of Pandemic
- 07/21/20: Attorney General Becerra Files Brief Challenging the Trump Administration’s Removal of Critical Worker Protections in Pork Slaughterhouses
- 06/02/20: Attorney General Becerra Joins Coalition Calling on Walmart to Step Up Efforts to Protect Workers and the Public During COVID-19
- 05/12/20: Attorney General Becerra Criticizes Reckless Federal Executive Order Forcing Meat and Poultry Workers to Work Without Adequate Protections During COVID-19
- 03/25/20: Attorney General Becerra Joins Coalition Urging Whole Foods and Amazon to Step Up on Worker Protections and Paid Sick Leave
Helpful COVID-19 Resources
COVID19.ca.gov has the latest information on coronavirus preparedness and response in California. Critical health information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.