Q&A

Richard Beckman
Richard Beckman

Below are questions asked by rental property owners regarding California rent control laws followed by answers provided by Attorney Richard Beckman.

Question 1:  My Unlawful Detainer was rejected by Alameda County although I was evicting for violations by a tenant at will (tenant was former owner prior to me purchasing SFH at auction).  They referenced various rules as grounds for the rejection (wouldn’t issue a summons): Alameda rule 6.120.030; Oakland ordinance 13589; Emergency local rule 1.8A(f)(3)(a).  What is the status of Alameda County/Oakland’s eviction moratorium?

Answer 1:  While it is extremely frustrating for owners, the eviction moratoria in both Oakland and Alameda County remain in place, and will remain in place until after the states of emergency are cancelled or withdrawn, neither of which have any date in sight that I’m aware of. Thus, the only evictions of tenants allowed in those two jurisdictions is either for the Ellis Act state law removal of all units, or for a tenant who is threatening the public health and safety of other tenants or persons. However, because former owners are not considered ‘tenants’ under certain local ordinances, you may want to revise your complaint and try again.

Question 2: In regards to a single-family home (SFR) rental in Antioch, CA which is not subject to AB-1482, what is the maximum rent increase I can give? Is there a limit on how many times in a 12-month period and the percentage amount of increase? For a tenant who has been there more than one year, how long of a notice do I need to give for the rent increase?
Answer 2: Generally speaking, a single-family home exempt from AB 1482 (statewide rent control) has, by definition, no rent increase restrictions, meaning you can increase the rent to whatever the market rate is. Anything in excess of the market rate runs the risk of allegations of retaliation by the tenant for something the tenant may have done previously. However, there are various states of emergency in effect in California that may limit the rent increase to 10% under the state’s ‘anti-gouging’ law. More research would be needed on that issue as to your particular situation.

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However, as to the length of time of the notice, if the rent increase is over 10%, it requires a 90-day notice, and anything under 10% is a 30-day notice, regardless of how long the tenant has been in possession. The safest course is to simply raise the rent 10%, and if you believe that is insufficient, you can see qualified legal counsel for further assistance.

Question 3: What is the amount I can charge an applicant for the screening fee cost I pay to run a credit check?

Answer 3:  No matter how much you pay for tenant screening, your fee to applicants may not exceed $55.58, which represents this year’s maximum applicant-screening charge. The applicable law limits the amount you can charge the applicant, and your screening fee can only cover the expenses you incur in the process (in other words, no ‘flat fee’ to the applicant of the maximum amount). But reimbursable expenses include the actual money spent gathering information, as well as time spent on the applicant review process. And each December, the state of California adjusts its cap on applicant-screening fees based on changes to the Consumer Price Index. This year’s adjustment amounted to an increase of $2.25.

Question 4: Is the state doing anything to make electric vehicle charging stations easier or cheaper to install in rental buildings?
Answer 4:  It appears so. According to a recent article in a statewide rental organization, “California electric vehicles sales broke records in 2021, as new registrations climbed 68% year-over-year. Plug-in vehicles surpassed 11% of new car sales, a figure expected to grow rapidly as the state moves towards its target of 100% zero-emissions vehicle sales by 2035.”

It is anticipated that “Multifamily properties will play a key role in accelerating charging access to meet the fueling needs of more EV drivers. Over the next three years, state agencies are prioritizing funds to rapidly install more EV charging stations in apartments and condominiums to meet this demand.”

These efforts include $1.4 billion from the California Energy Commission to help property owners provide the charging ports to fuel these vehicles. This is in addition to a 2022 budget proposal would provide an additional $6.1 billion for EV rebates and programs.

Local utilities and energy providers offer added incentives and programs to help multifamily properties install charging infrastructure. According to one report, over $500 million from combined utility-sponsored EV charging incentives will soon be available across the state. In one county (Santa Clara), multifamily property managers can utilize the local program known as FutureFit Assist for free technical support, site assessments, and assistance with applying to incentive programs.

Planning is essential to obtain incentive funding — including estimating demand, defining an ownership and billing model, and a high-level design. San Diego county has prepared a guide for multifamily property managers on the basics of EV charging and the installation process. That guide can be found at https://www.sandag.org/uploads/projectid/projectid_511_25855.pdf.

Property owners can also find incentives to upgrade your property with DriveClean.ca.gov. Search for EV charger funding opportunities for businesses in your area.

Question 5: Did San Francisco change its law regarding how much notice a tenant must be given before the owner can start an eviction case?

Answer 5: Yes. The Board of Supervisors passed, and the Mayor signed, Ordinance 18-22, which requires certain violations of the lease or law by the tenant to avoid the state law three-day notice to cure or quit, which is permissible for all lease violations. Previously, under state law (CCP 1161), violations of the subletting prohibition, or nuisance conduct, allow an owner to serve a three-day notice to quit, with no opportunity to cure, while other lease violations require giving the tenant an opportunity fix (or ‘cure’) the violation and avoid eviction. Various efforts in other jurisdictions, including San Francisco, have been chipping away at that state law for years, most notably the Oakland requirement that any tenant accused of a lease violation be given a ‘pre-notice notice’, usually from 5-12 days, to cure the violation before a three-day notice to quit can be served. San Francisco basically just adopted that rule for San Francisco tenancies. The full language of the new ordinance is set out here:

SF Admin Code Section 37.9(o) Notice and Opportunity to Cure. The grounds for recovering possession set forth in Sections 3 7. 9(a)(l ), (2), (3 ), (4), (5), and (6) shall not apply unless the violation is not cured within ten days after the landlord has provided the tenant a written warning that describes the alleged violation and informs the tenant that a failure to correct such violation within ten days may result in the initiation of eviction proceedings. The Rent Board shall prepare a form that landlords may use for this purpose. However, this Section 37.9(0) shall not apply if a longer notice and cure period applies (for example, under the terms of the lease agreement between the parties),· or if the landlord is seeking to recover possession based on the tenant causing or creating an imminent risk of physical harm to persons or property; or if the landlord is seeking to recover possession based on the non-payment of rent or any other unpaid financial obligation of a tenant under the tenancy that came due between March l, 2020 and March 31, 2022.

Thus, the new law would require a ten-day notice even for nonpayment of rent violations (other than during the remainder of the state Covid law AB 832, which allows local laws to take effect after March 31, 2022). That provision may face legal challenges as being preempted by state law that governs such matters. The ordinance takes effect March 11, 2022.

Question 6:  How much can I raise the rent in Contra Costa County? I am planning for 04/01/2022.
Answer 6:  As discussed above, if the unit is subject to the statewide rent control known as AB 1482, which covers pretty much all properties in California that are older than 15 years and not otherwise subject to local rent control, then your rent increase would be restricted to the amount permitted under AB 1482, which is 5% plus the regional annual inflation rate, which you can find on the available chart from AOA. For your property, the chart shows 8.8% as the allowable increase. However, you should check with Contra Costa County to make sure there is no local Covid-related rent increase moratorium in place.

Question 7: I have an Oakland apartment that is rented out to partners originally on a one-year lease. They moved in a few years ago and the lease has gone month-to-month, since the original lease expired long ago. Now, one of the partners (tenant A) wants to move out, but the other partner wants to stay (tenant B). But tenant B does not have a job now. I want both of them to move out together, but tenant B didn’t want to move and also didn’t want to apply for a new lease either. Is there anything I can do to get tenant B out of the apartment? Thank you.
Answer 7:  Absent some ‘at fault’ ground to terminate the remaining tenant’s tenancy, I think you are obliged to continue to rent to Tenant B, despite your preference for a new set of tenants. Oakland eviction control allows a tenant a ‘one for one’ replacement right, regardless of any lease restriction, as long as the tenant complies with the application process. The existing tenant’s current credit report is not applicable, and she may not be required to ‘re-qualify’ just because a co-tenant is moving out.

Question 8: Did San Francisco recently pass a law to allow tenants to form sort of union? What is that all about?

Answer 8:  That is one interpretation of a recent legislation. Thanks to a move by lawmakers, tenants across San Francisco are poised to gain new collective bargaining powers to affect conditions in their buildings. The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved protections for tenants to form associations, akin to labor unions, that can negotiate with landlords over a wide range of concerns, including issues like construction schedules and even helping tenants pay off debts taken on to cover rents, often called “shadow debt.

The protections, authored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, must receive a second vote from the board before they become law, likely in April. With the full board’s backing, the legislation would survive a veto attempt by Mayor London Breed, who has not publicly stated a position on it.

“There’s no precedent for that in the United States in private housing,” said Greg Baltz, a legal fellow at the New York University School of Law’s Furman Center who focuses on tenant organizing, real estate finance and housing conditions. “There were attempts to start tenant collective bargaining with private landlords in the ’60s and early ’70s, that in large part never really went anywhere.”

The law applies to market-rate and rent-controlled buildings with at least five units. It prevents landlords from penalizing tenants for knocking on doors or gathering signatures to form an association, inviting organizers in, and holding organizing meetings within the building. Tenant associations would become official in buildings where the occupants of at least half of the units signed on. The landlord or their representative would be required to sit down with the association periodically and negotiate in good faith over the renters’ concerns.

About 198,000 housing units, or roughly half of San Francisco homes, are in buildings with at least five units, according to the city’s 2020 Housing Inventory. Some of those properties may fall outside the scope of this law. Peskin, who represents North Beach, called the proposal “the strongest tenant organizing legislation at the municipal level in the history of this state and country.” It is inspired by similar organizing protections in federally subsidized housing.

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 510-548-7474; email [email protected] or by visiting the website www.bfc-legal.com.