Question 1: Is the Jerry Brown rent gouging law still in effect? It is for the entire state of California or just Napa and Solano Counties? I purchased a building in Concord, Contra Costa County and the management company is telling me I cannot increase rents beyond 10% or I will get into legal trouble with the state and county legislature! Please advise!
Answer 1: Yes, the Governor did extend the state of emergency from its expiration date of April 17 to the new date of December 4, 2018. Below is a reprint of the press release from the Sonoma DA’s office making the announcement and according to the State Attorney General’s website, the state of emergency applies outside the affected counties. That is an aspect I doubt many people would anticipate; thus, a 12% rent increase in Contra Costa County would be as illegal as one in Sonoma County.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced that Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. issued an Executive Order extending the protections against price gouging under Penal Code Section 396 through and including December 4, 2018. A prior Executive Order issued by the Governor had extended the protections through April 18, 2018. To date, the District Attorney’s Office has investigated over 220 complaints of price gouging.

District Attorney Ravitch reminds all Sonoma County residents and businesses that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396, and her office will continue to investigate and prosecute those that attempt to wrongfully profit from the destructive fires.  With respect to rental housing which has been the largest area of concern in Sonoma County, landlords cannot increase the rental price of housing more than 10 percent above the rent charged prior to the Declaration of Emergency. 

California law 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. Limited exceptions to this prohibition exist if, for example, the price of labor, goods, or materials has increased for the business.

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 $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief and mandatory restitution. The District Attorney and the Attorney General can enforce the statute. 

The statute does not restrict its protection to a city or county where the emergency or disaster is located. It is intended to prevent price gouging anywhere 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.

Question 2: If a tenant wants to install a security camera, should I let him? What are the laws and rules that I should be aware of and what are my responsibilities?
Answer 2: As to your first question, it depends. Will the tenant take responsibility for the cost of restoring the unit to its prior state when he leaves? Will the tenant indemnify you in case someone sues you for invasion of privacy? Why does he want to install a security camera? Maybe you can take the lead on that and do it for the benefit of all tenants.

What I typically suggest when I get such questions is that the owner call a security company and ask those questions, as the security company should be the most up-to-date source of laws on security and surveillance cameras.

You may also want to contact your insurance agent or broker to find out if there are any discounts to your property insurance premium for the installation of security cameras, as the savings can offset, sometimes completely, the cost of the installation.

 Question 3: How often can I show a unit to perspective tenants during the last month of a tenant’s lease, who has given notice to vacate?  If we arrive to show the unit after giving proper notice and he refuses to let us in, what then? If he limits our ability to show the unit, is he responsible for any lost rents? Are there any restrictions on us posting ‘for rent’ signs on the building and his unit?
Answer 3: As to the showing question, it’s often a matter of what is a reasonable intrusion on the tenant’s privacy and quiet enjoyment balanced against the owner’s need to show the unit. There is no “hard and fast” rule on the number of such viewings in the tenant’s last month. The most applicable case law on  this common concern (a concern for both the tenant and the owner) is the case Dromy v. Lukovsky (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 278, in which the court explained that a real estate agent does not always work Monday through Friday 9:00 to 5:00, and so showing the unit during the weekend was, for the agent, within ‘normal business hours’ (which is the stated restriction on when the owner can enter the unit to show it to prospective buyers – among others).

The appeals court, in that case, affirmed the trial court’s ruling, which indicated it needed to fashion a judgment regarding Dromy’s ability to enter the property that was fair and reasonable to both sides. The court concluded that as a matter of law, section 1954 “permits landlords to hold open houses on weekends with reasonable notice.” The judgment provided that Dromy’s designated, licensed real estate agent shall be entitled to hold two open houses per month. It further stated that open houses may be held on weekend days between 1:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and that Dromy’s designated licensed real estate agent shall be entitled to hold two open houses per month. It further stated Dromy’s designated agent “shall be present and defendant may be present during any and all such open houses.” Finally, the judgment stated that Dromy’s designated agent shall give 10 days advance email notice to defendant of proposed weekend open house dates, and defendant shall respond within 48 hours of receipt of same acknowledging the proposed dates or providing alternative weekend dates.

In other words, the court took care to fashion a remedy for the parties, and that remedy should be seen as the template for similar disputes between owner and tenant on showings and access related to efforts to sell the property.

If the tenant is truly resistant to entries to show the unit to prospective tenants, and in an effort to avoid the cost and hassle of litigation (which the landlord can initiate against an uncooperative tenant), perhaps the tenant will allow interior photos, which you can show to prospective tenants, and when you get a truly serious applicant that you would approve, then schedule the showing as the final step in that process.

There are no restrictions on posting ‘for rent’ signs on your building, as long as they do not involve the tenant’s exclusive occupancy area (i.e. not inside the tenant’s unit on his window.).

As for the rest of your questions, they are beyond the scope of the Q&A forum, and until more than speculation, probably not worth the cost of a paid consultation.

Question 4: My tenant notified me that she will be breaking her lease. I will try to re-rent the place ASAP, but can I charge a fee even if I didn’t have any losses? What is typical?
Answer 4: If you don’t have a “liquidated damages” clause in your lease for early termination (an agreement between parties that a breach of the agreement will result in a specific amount of loss to the non-breaching party), and you are able to re-rent the unit without any lost income, then you have no damages to claim other than your time in re-renting the unit in which case, most courts would likely simply call it a wash and that would be the end of the matter. If you do suffer losses under $10,000.00, then a small claims case would be the likely venue to seek to recover your expenses and lost rent at the same time. 

Question 5: I have a tenant that is constantly double parking in the parking lot. I have verbally asked them to stop due to insurance reasons and that it is a violation of their lease which states they need to park in their assigned parking space. I sent them a warning letter and the car is still double parked. How long do I give them to comply after mailing the first warning letter? The car is not being driven and I am not sure but probably not registered. Also, how many warning letters before a 60 day notice to vacate can be sent? Thank you!
Answer 5: It would appear that you can send a three day notice to cure or quit (assuming your lease prohibits parking outside one’s assigned spot). If the lease is month to month, and there is no eviction control law (and I don’t believe there is for Livermore yet), then you could serve a  60 Day Notice to Terminate the Tenancy without need for any other warning or reason.

Question 6: We have a two-bedroom that has been occupied by two tenants for two years. The original lease converted from a 12-month term to a month-to-month after the first year. One tenant is moving and they want to substitute a friend. Please confirm that I can require them to enter a new lease with a 12-month term even though one of the original occupants will remain in the unit?
Answer 6: If the current rental agreement is month-to-month, is not subject to rent control and contains a clause against subletting without the owner’s approval, you probably can condition approval of the sublet/roommate request on having both tenants sign the one year lease. The general rule regarding subletting is that the landlord may not unreasonably withhold such consent, with grounds for denial generally limited to the subtenant’s credit or tenancy history. I don’t know of any case that deals with your facts specifically (as to whether it is reasonable or not to withhold consent absent the tenants’ signing a one-year lease). But since the existing tenant can be subjected to a change of terms of tenancy to simply impose a one year term, requiring that both tenants sign the one-year lease should not be objectionable.

Question 7: I have a tenant in an upstairs apartment who has been seen by many surrounding tenants standing outside his door in his boxer underwear. He has been seen peeing off his balcony by people in the other complex that faces ours. Last night, someone in the neighboring apartment complex called the police because he once again was hanging out in his boxers. What if anything legally should I do?
Answer 7: It would be interesting to know what the police response was, and you might contact them as the property owner and find out. Hanging out in one’s boxers is probably not a crime, but urinating off the balcony is likely sufficient grounds to terminate the tenancy. A strongly- worded written warning against both activities might solve the problem, but if not, tenancy termination should be considered.

Question 8: What is the current 30-day notice to vacate civil code section?
Answer 8: You are referring to Civil Code Sections 1946 and 1946.1. They may be reviewed at a number of online sites, including at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=1946.&lawCode=CIV

Question 9: I have a tenant on Section 8 who has been living there for over one year. I gave her a 60 day notice and she texted me that it has to be a 90 day notice, when I spoke with HUD they said a 60 day notice was fine. But HUD also said that if the tenant goes to Fair Housing, there could be problems. Should I just start over and give her a 90 day notice? Also does there have to just cause? The property is in Shasta County. Thank you
Answer 9: Section 8 tenancies do require a 90 day notice of termination, as opposed to the state law standard of 60 days for a tenancy over one year. As for cause, the Section 8 contract generally allows for termination after the expiration of the first year for ‘other grounds, including “business reasons.” So, while you will need to state a cause, it can be that you have decided to rent the unit outside the section 8 framework for business reasons (no longer wanting to work with the housing authority etc.). If the tenancy were in a rent controlled city like San Francisco where “just cause” does not include “‘for business reasons,” you would not be able to terminate the tenancy absent having one of the approved ‘just cause’ grounds. And as far as I know, Shasta County does not have such restrictions.

 

Richard Beckman, of Beckman Feller & Chang P.C., has been practicing landlord-tenant law for over 26 years, primarily in rent-controlled jurisdictions such as San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. He represents clients in a broad range of real estate-related disputes, including partition of co-ownership interests, purchase contract disputes, insurance coverage analysis and land use. Mr. Beckman also specializes in all aspects of landlord-tenant issues, representing landlords and tenants in residential and commercial matters. He can be reached at 415-871-0070; email rbeckman@bfc-legal.com or by visiting the website www.bfc-legal.com.