OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert reminding California’s tenants of their rights and protections under state law. Attorney General Bonta provides the following information to help Californians understand the protections in place as of April 1, 2022. More information and resources can be found at oag.ca.gov/consumers/covid-19. In addition to statewide protections, some cities and counties have additional rental protections, including limits on rent increases and requiring just cause for evictions. Californians should check what protections are in place where they live.
“Hardworking California families are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living, and for many, the pandemic has only made their financial situation more precarious,” said Attorney General Bonta. “While some eviction protections expired yesterday, tenants still have a number of rights under California law and those who have applied and are waiting for COVID-19 rent relief continue to be protected against eviction. I urge all Californians to know your rights, and seek legal aid if you are being threatened with eviction.”
Attorney General Bonta recognizes that many families across the state are still facing difficulty affording rent as the result of layoffs, reduced working hours, and other impacts of COVID-19-related economic shock. While many protections specific to the COVID-19 pandemic have expired, some have been extended and there are still other protections in place against high rent increases and some types of evictions.
Tenants should make every effort to pay their rent in full in order to avoid eviction. This is true even if you have applied for COVID-19 government rental assistance for rent you owe for earlier months. If you cannot afford your rent, or if you are being threatened with eviction, you should seek legal advice right away. To find a legal aid office near where you live, please visit www.LawHelpCA.org.
Tenant Protections Related to COVID-19: Tenants have limited protections related to COVID-19. Even if you think these protections apply to you, if you receive an eviction lawsuit, don’t ignore it! It is very important that you respond to the eviction case immediately.
- If you owe rent that was due after March 31, 2022, your landlord can file an eviction case against you. You should pay this rent immediately if you get a “three-day notice to pay rent or quit.”
- If you owe rent that was due between October 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, and if you applied for rental assistance before March 31, 2022, your landlord should not be able to file an eviction case against you until July 1, 2022. Notify your landlord in writing that you have applied for rental assistance.
- Your landlord can file an eviction case against you if you did not apply for rental assistance by March 31, 2022 or if your application was denied.
- If you owe rent that was due between March 1 and August 31, 2020, and if you submitted this declaration to your landlord, your landlord should not be able to evict you for that unpaid rent. The declaration requires you to confirm that you can't pay your full rent because of COVID-19. If you never sent this declaration to your landlord, send it now and save a copy.
- If you were unable to 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 submitted this declaration to your landlord and you paid at least 25% of your September 2020 to September 2021 rent by September 30, 2021. The declaration requires you to confirm that you can't pay your full rent because of COVID-19.
- If you are in an eviction case about rent that accrued because of COVID-19 and you are approved for governmental rental assistance, you can ask the court to pause your eviction case while you are waiting for the rental assistance to pay your rent. If the rental assistance does not cover all the rent you owe, you will need to pay the rest to your landlord. Once your landlord receives all the rent you owe, you can ask the court to dismiss the eviction case so you can stay in your home.
- Tenants with disabilities are entitled to additional protections. For more information, please visit https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/housing/.
Landlords should be aware of the following requirements relating to evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The Tenant Relief Act and COVID-19 Rental Housing Recovery Act make big changes to the rules for notices to quit and eviction cases. Landlords must follow all these rules. For example, when serving a tenant a notice for unpaid rent or other charges for certain periods of time, landlords must also provide a blank hardship declaration form to notify the landlord that the tenant cannot afford the rent because of COVID-19.
- A landlord who received 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.
- Landlords may be required to seek government rental assistance before bringing an eviction case to court based on nonpayment of rent or other charges.
- Tenants who cannot pay the full rent due because of COVID-19 have the right to avoid eviction by paying 25% of the rent due between September 1, 2020 and September 30, 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.
Statewide Rent Caps and Eviction Protections: In 2019, California enacted the Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482), which created significant new protections for most tenants, including the following:
- Limits on Rent Increases: The Tenant Protection Act caps rent increases for most tenants in California. Landlords cannot raise rent annually more than 5% plus inflation according to the regional Consumer Price Index, for a maximum increase of 10% each year. If a tenant moves out, the landlord is free to charge any rent for the next tenant who moves in.
- Just Cause: The Tenant Protection Act also creates new statewide eviction protections for tenants who have been living in their units for at least a year. The law sets out two kinds of evictions: “at fault” evictions and “no fault” evictions. At fault evictions include, for example, nonpayment of rent, criminal activity on the premises, and refusal to allow lawful entry. No fault evictions include, for example, owner move-in, substantial rehabilitation or remodel, intent to demolish the unit, and withdrawal of the unit from the rental market. Landlords can only evict a tenant for one of the reasons listed here. Some of these reasons have specific requirements. Lying about the reason for evicting a tenant is illegal.
Other Landlord Responsibilities: Landlords and those who act on their behalf, such as property managers and attorneys, are responsible for complying with all state and local laws, including:
- Landlords are responsible by law for keeping tenants’ units safe and habitable.
- Landlords may not retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights.
- It is illegal to try to “evict” a tenant by locking them out, shutting off the water or electricity, or removing their personal property. 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. Similarly, landlords must act truthfully when evicting a tenant to conduct a substantial remodel of a unit. Landlords should be aware that there may be special protections for protected groups such as senior tenants.
- Landlords should also be aware that price gouging protections in place due to ongoing states of emergency, including protections under city or county price gouging ordinances and as a result of local emergency proclamations, may apply to rental housing, effectively limiting rent increases. Likewise, in addition to statutory statewide rental protections, many cities and counties have enacted additional rental protections, including rent stabilization and just cause eviction ordinances.
Attorney General Bonta is committed to advancing housing access, affordability, and equity in California. In November, the Attorney General announced the creation of a Housing Strike Force within the California Department of Justice and launched a Housing Portal on DOJ’s website with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants. The Housing Strike Force is actively monitoring compliance with state housing laws, and recently sent letters notifying Woodside and Pasadena of violation of SB 9 and Encinitas of violations of state housing laws relating to its rejection of a proposed mixed use development project. The Housing Strike Force also secured a $3.5 million judgment against Wedgewood that resolved allegations that the company was unlawfully evicting tenants from properties purchased at foreclosure sales. Most recently, the Housing Strike Force sent warning letters to 91 law firms across the state that represent landlords in eviction cases after being notified that some firms and their clients may have violated the law.
The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to email@example.com. Information on legal aid in your area is available at lawhelpca.org.