On August 31, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsome signed AB 3088 enacting the Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020. The Act was signed into law to address what is expected to be an overwhelming number of residential evictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated business closures. 

Moratorium on Unlawful Detainer Actions to October 5, 2020

The Act precludes California courts from initiating legal proceedings (i.e. issuing a summons or entering a default judgment) on a landlord’s complaint to retake possession of a residence, legal proceedings known as an unlawful detainer, before Oct. 5, 2020. After Oct. 5, any landlord filing an unlawful detainer action is required to file a cover sheet to indicate whether the property in question is residential or commercial and, if the property is residential, whether the action is based on nonpayment of rent or other charges.

Unpaid Rent from March 1 Through August 31, 2020

Once eviction courts re-open to nonpayment cases after October 5, 2020, tenants who could not afford rent because of the pandemic will be afforded temporary rent relief and eviction protection through January 21, 2021. The Act prohibits residential tenants from being evicted for failure to pay rent due to a COVID-19-related hardship occurring between March 1 and Aug. 31, 2020, so long as the tenant provides the landlord with a written declaration of hardship.  If a tenant has unpaid rent between March 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020, the landlord must provide the tenant with notice regarding tenant rights under the Act by Sept. 30, 2020.

Unpaid Rent from September 1, 2020 Through January 31, 2021

Residential tenants experiencing a new COVID-19-related hardship between Sept. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021 are also protected from eviction provided they pay at least 25 percent of the rent due during this period. Tenants with a household income of at least $100,000 per year, or 130 percent of the median household income, may be asked to submit additional documentation to support their hardship declaration.  Almost all tenants in California are protected by the new law.  The extra protections apply to all residential units, mobilehome parks, boarding houses, boarders, and in most cases short-term rentals, such as Airbnb.

Unpaid Rent Can Be Collected Beginning March 1, 2021

Although landlords may not use nonpayment of rent due to the Covid-19 pandemic as grounds for eviction, residential tenants still owe all unpaid rent to the landlord. Landlords are permitted to start recovering past unpaid rent beginning March 1, 2021. The Act expands the jurisdiction of the small claims court to allow landlords to file claims for unpaid rent related to COVID-19, regardless of the amount owed, until Feb. 1, 2025.

Landlord Obligations

The Act requires landlords to provide hardship declaration forms in the same language in which the lease is written. Landlords must inform their residential tenants of their rights under the Act by September 30, 2020. Landlords are also prohibited from taking action against tenants or modifying existing leases in retaliation for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19. The Act has strict penalties for landlords who exercise “self-help” to evict tenants, such as locking tenants out, removing property or shutting off utilities.

Tenant Obligations

Residential tenants facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 should return hardship declaration forms, which landlords are required to provide, within 15 days of receiving the form. As long as a residential tenant follows the procedures of the Act, including making the 25 percent minimum rent payments, they will be protected from eviction, including “just cause” eviction if the landlord attempts to evict the tenant for COVID-19-related non-payment of rent.

Tenants now have additional time to pay rent, because the Act extends the notice period for nonpayment of rent from 3 days to 15 days.

Beginning Oct. 5, 2020, California courts will be permitted to enforce unlawful detainers for reasons other than non-payment of COVID-19-related rent, such as creating a nuisance, damaging the property or violating other terms unrelated to payments. In addition to complying with the terms of the Act, tenants must continue to comply with all other lease terms to avoid eviction.

Local Ordinances Must Be Consistent With The Act

The California Legislature also took steps to create rent-relief uniformity throughout the State. Existing local ordinances may remain in place, but any future local ordinance must be consistent with the Act. All existing and future local ordinances must also comply with the repayment schedule provisions of the Act. If the local ordinance was in effect and required a repayment period to begin after March 1, 2021, or conditioned commencement of the repayment period on the end of the state of emergency or local emergency, the Act now deems that repayment period to begin on March 1, 2021 and requires such period to be complete by March 31, 2022.

Commercial Evictions

The Act specifically excludes tenants of commercial property from the definition of “tenant.” Consequently, commercial properties are not covered by the new Act, and commercial tenants do not receive the same statewide eviction protections provided to residential tenants. Commercial landlords may file unlawful detainer actions against their commercial tenants — unless the properties are located in a city or county that has an eviction moratorium of its own that extends to commercial tenants.

David W. Wolfe  is an associate attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He can be reached at wolfe@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.

The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this blog and expressly disclaims liability for any errors and omissions.