Attorney General Bonta Reminds Tenants and Homeowners of Their Rights and Protections Under California Law
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert reminding California’s tenants and homeowners of their rights and protections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Attorney General recognizes that families across the state may be facing difficulty affording rent and mortgage payments, including as the result of layoffs, reduced working hours, and other economic impacts of COVID-19. Attorney General Bonta provides the following information to help Californians understand the protections in place that can help prevent evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic.
“Housing is a human right. And while we have a long way to go to make available and affordable housing a reliable reality in California, we do have some important protections for those who have been impacted by the financial repercussions of COVID-19,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Know your rights, and take advantage of the resources that California has made available for you.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the State of California has in place its own tenant protections through a law called the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act. The protections provided under the Act are in addition to protections that have been provided by other federal, state, and local landlord-tenant laws, including the partial eviction moratorium that was issued on August 3, 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act applies to all California residential tenants and to mobile home residents. Under this law:
- If you cannot pay rent that was due between March 1, 2020, 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). 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 September 30, 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 2020 to September 2021 rent by September 30, 2021. 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 November 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 October 1, 2021, or later. However, between October 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, your landlord can only evict you for back rent you owe because of COVID-19 if your landlord (1) certifies that they have applied for government assistance to cover the back rent you owe, and (2) waits at least 20 days after either submitting their rental assistance application or serving a three-day notice to quit.
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-19 that stopped you from paying all or part of your rent.
However, you may apply for free financial assistance to help pay your rent and utilities through the California COVID-19 Rent Relief program. This program helps income-eligible households pay for both past due and upcoming rent and utilities. For more information and to apply for help, please visit Housing Is Key.
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
California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights provides protections to homeowners facing foreclosure and tenants in foreclosed homes, and puts certain responsibilities on mortgage servicers. Key provisions include:
- Notification of Foreclosure-Prevention Options: Your mortgage servicer must try to contact you at least 30 days before starting the foreclosure process to discuss your financial situation and explore your options to avoid foreclosure. Within five days of recording a notice of default, your servicer must generally give you information about options to avoid foreclosure that may be available.
- Acknowledgment of Application: If you apply for a loan modification, your servicer must notify you within five business days of any missing information, other errors, and deadlines for completing your application.
- Guaranteed Single Point of Contact: If you ask for a loan modification, your servicer must assign you a specific person or team who can walk you through application requirements and deadlines, knows the facts and status of your application, including missing documents needed to complete your application, and can get you a decision on your application.
- Restrictions on Dual Tracking: Your servicer must generally pause the foreclosure process while it is making a decision on your completed loan-modification application and until after it gives you time to appeal a denial. It also cannot foreclose on you while you are complying with the terms of an approved loan modification, forbearance, repayment plan, or other foreclosure-prevention option.
- Tenant Rights: Purchasers of foreclosed homes must give tenants at least 90 days before starting eviction proceedings. If the tenant has a fixed-term lease that was entered into before the foreclosure sale, the new owner must honor the lease unless certain exceptions apply.
For more information about the Homeowner Bill of Rights, please visit https://oag.ca.gov/hbor.
If you are having trouble making mortgage payments, contact your servicer to ask for help. You can submit a loss mitigation application to your servicer to see if you are eligible for any alternatives to foreclosure. Once you submit an application, your servicer will tell you if it needs additional information or documents to make that application "complete." Your servicer may offer you streamlined options based on an evaluation of an incomplete loss mitigation application. For more information about the foreclosure process, scams to watch out for, and resources that may help you, see Loan Modification Fraud and Foreclosure Rescue Scams.
If you are having trouble making payments because of COVID-19, ask your mortgage servicer for help. Homeowners with a federally backed mortgage have certain protections:
- Foreclosures for federally backed mortgages were suspended through July 31, 2021. For single-family homes with mortgages backed by the FHA, evictions are suspended through September 30, 2021.
- Homeowners with federally backed mortgages can get a forbearance. Forbearance plans allow you to temporarily lower or postpone your monthly mortgage payment for a certain 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. To get a forbearance, you must contact your servicer to ask for it.
- For single-family homes with mortgages backed by the FHA, VA, or USDA, the deadline for asking for a forbearance is September 30, 2021. You can get a 6-month forbearance and can ask for a further extension. If you were in forbearance as of June 30, 2020, you can extend your forbearance period by 12 months (total forbearance of 18 months). If you got a forbearance after June 30, 2020, you can extend your forbearance period by 6 months (total forbearance of 12 months).
- For single-family homes with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, no deadline for asking for a forbearance has been announced. You can get a 6-month forbearance and can ask for a further extension. If you were in forbearance as of February 28, 2021, you can extend your forbearance period by 12 months (total forbearance of 18 months).
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.
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 or other option, 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.
If you became more than 120 days behind on your mortgage on or after March 1, 2020, your servicer can start the foreclosure process before January 1, 2022, if any of the following conditions apply:
- The servicer evaluated your loss mitigation application (if you submitted a complete application);
- The property is abandoned; or
- The servicer has not received any communications from you for at least 90 days before it starts the foreclosure process, even though it tried to contact you and send you written notice.
These conditions do not apply if your servicer starts the foreclosure process on or after January 1, 2022. They also do not apply if you were more than 120 days behind on your mortgage before March 1, 2020.