Governor Gavin Newsom announced Monday that he signed the Tenant Relief Act of 2020, legislation to protect tenants from eviction and property owners from foreclosure due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. These protections apply to tenants who declare an inability to pay all or part of the rent due to a COVID-related reason.
“COVID-19 has impacted everyone in California — but some bear much more of the burden than others, especially tenants struggling to stitch together the monthly rent, and they deserve protection from eviction,” said Newsom. “This new law protects tenants from eviction for non-payment of rent and helps keep homeowners out of foreclosure as a result of economic hardship caused by this terrible pandemic.”
On Friday, the governor, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced an agreement on the legislation, AB 3088, co-authored by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) and Senators Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). Lawmakers rushed to pass the bill as the legislative session ended and the Judicial Council’s moratorium on unlawful-detainer cases is set to expire at midnight Tuesday.
Under the legislation, no tenant can be evicted before Feb. 1, 2021 as a result of rent owed due to a COVID-19 related hardship accrued between March 4 – Aug. 31, 2020, if the tenant provides a declaration of hardship according to the legislation’s timelines. For a COVID-19 related hardship that accrues between Sept. 1, 2020 – Jan. 31, 2021, tenants must also pay at least 25 percent of the rent due to avoid eviction. Otherwise, their landlord can proceed with an eviction case starting Feb. 1, 2021. Under the bill, however, renters can still be evicted for other lease violations beginning Wednesday.
“This measure is simply a six-month bridge for both tenants and landlords,” said Sen. Bradford.
Tenants are still responsible for paying unpaid amounts to landlords, but those unpaid amounts cannot be the basis for an eviction. Landlords can begin to recover this debt on March 1, 2021, and small claims court jurisdiction is temporarily expanded to allow landlords to recover these amounts. Landlords who do not follow the court evictions process will face increased penalties under the act.
The legislation also extends some anti-foreclosure protections in the Homeowner Bill of Rights to small landlords; provides new accountability and transparency provisions to protect small landlord borrowers who request CARES-compliant forbearance; and provides the borrower who is harmed by a material violation with a cause of action.
“To truly address this crisis, the federal government needs to step up,” said Debra Carlton, California Apartment Association’s executive vice president of state public affairs in a blog post. “COVID-impacted renters need financial assistance, from the feds, so they can pay their rent. Otherwise, renters will be hard-pressed to pay the rent that’s accumulated, and housing providers will go out of business.”
The need for federal intervention was echoed by the governor who said the bill is “just a bridge to a more permanent solution once the federal government finally recognizes its role in stabilizing the housing market. We need a real, federal commitment of significant new funding to assist struggling tenants and homeowners in California and across the nation.”
Additional legal and financial protections for tenants include:
- Extending the notice period for nonpayment of rent from three to 15 days to provide tenant additional time to respond to landlord’s notice to pay rent or quit.
- Requiring landlords to provide hardship declaration forms in a different language if rental agreement was negotiated in a different language.
- Providing tenants a backstop if they have a good reason for failing to return the hardship declaration within 15 days.
- Requiring landlords to provide tenants a notice detailing their rights under the act.
- Limiting public disclosure of eviction cases involving nonpayment of rent between March 4, 2020 – Jan. 31, 2021. Rental debt accrued due to COVID-19 will not show up on credit reports.
- Protecting tenants against being evicted for “just cause” if the landlord is shown to be really evicting the tenant for COVID-19-related nonpayment of rent.
Existing local ordinances can generally remain in place until they expire, and future local action cannot undermine this act’s framework. Nothing in the legislation affects a local jurisdiction’s ability to adopt an ordinance that requires just cause, provided it does not affect rental payments before Jan. 31, 2021.