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New California Rent Control Law Explained

Overseas property investors with property in California need to be aware of the new rent control law passed in the US state.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 Assembly Bill 1482 into law last month.

The new rent control law both imposes a state-wide rent increase cap of 5 per cent plus inflation per year for the next ten years and also provides residential tenants with ‘just cause’ eviction protection.

Rent Cap

Under the new rent control law, owners of residential real property will be prohibited from, over the course of any 12-month period, increasing existing gross rental rate by more than (i) 5 per cent plus the percentage change in the cost of living or (ii) 10 per cent, whichever is less. In determining the existing gross rental rate, any rent discounts, incentives, concessions or credits will be excluded.

The rent control law provision will become operative on January 1, 2020 and applies retroactively to rent increases occurring on or after March 15, 2019 if a landlord has raised the rent beyond the permissible amount between March 15, 2019 and January 1, 2020.

Owners are permitted to establish new rent at any amount upon a tenant vacancy.

Exemptions from the Rent Cap

Among other exemptions, the rent control law rent cap will not apply to the following:

Affordable Housing. Deed-restricted affordable housing for persons and families of very low, low or moderate income, as defined in the Act;

Student Dormitories. Student dormitories maintained in connection with any higher education institution within the state for use and occupancy by students attending the institution;

New Construction. Housing that has been issued a certificate of occupancy within the previous 15 years;

Single-Family Homes and Condominiums. Single-family residences, provided that the owner is not (1) a real estate investment trust, (2) a corporation or (3) a limited liability company in which at least one member is a corporation;

Owner-Occupied Duplex. A duplex in which the owner occupies one of the units as the owner’s principal place of residence at the beginning of the tenancy, so long as the owner continues in occupancy.

Just-Cause Eviction

The new rent control law also imposes just-cause eviction protections that would make it more difficult for landlords to simply terminate a lease in order to increase rent. Once a tenant has occupied the residential property for 12 months, the owner may terminate the lease only for ‘just cause.’

‘Just cause’ is divided into two categories: at-fault and no-fault.

At-Fault Just Cause. This would include a tenant’s default, breach of material term of the lease, committing waste or – if under a lease that terminated on or after January 1, 2020 – refusing to extend or renew the lease for an additional term of similar duration with similar provisions.

No-Fault Just Cause. This includes the owner doing any of the following:

Intending to occupy the property (or have it occupied by the owner’s spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren, parents or grandparents). For leases entered into after July 1, 2020, this no-fault just cause applies only if (1) the tenant agrees, in writing, to the termination or (2) a provision of the lease allows the owner to unilaterally terminate the lease for this cause (i.e., if owner intends to occupy the property);

Withdrawing the property from the rental market;

Complying with a government order or local ordinance that requires vacating the property; and

Intending to demolish or substantially remodel the property.

For a termination based on a no-fault just cause, a landlord is obligated to provide relocation assistance in the form of either, at the landlord’s election, (i) a direct payment of one month’s rent or (ii) waiving the rent for the final month.

Exemptions from the Just-Cause Eviction Requirement

The properties described above as being exempt from the rent cap are also exempt from the just-cause provisions. In addition, the following categories of residential housing are exempt from just-cause requirements in the new rent control law:

Dormitories owned and operated by K-12 schools;

Transient and tourist hotel occupancy as defined under applicable state law;

Housing accommodations in a non-profit hospital, religious facility, extended care facility, licensed residential care facility for the elderly or an adult residential facility (24-hour-a-day nonmedical care and supervision of adults) as defined under applicable state law;

Housing accommodations in which the tenant shares bathroom or kitchen facilities with the owner who maintains their principal residence at the property; and

Single-family owner-occupied residences, including a residence in which the owner-occupant leases no more than two units or bedrooms, including an accessory dwelling unit or a junior accessory dwelling unit.

Disclosure Requirement

Owners subject to the new rent control law are required to provide notice to tenants describing the new rent cap and the just-cause eviction requirements.

Overseas property investors renting out property in California need to make sure they comply with the new rent control law.

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