Effective September 1, 2020, the State of California has new eviction protections arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protections for Tenants Who Cannot Pay Rent

California courts cannot issue a summons in a nonpayment eviction case or take a default in a nonpayment eviction case before October 5, 2020. 

Temporary Rent Relief for Tenants Until January 31, 2021

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 31, 2021.  Tenants cannot be evicted for failure to pay rent due to a COVID-19 hardship between March 4, 2020 and August 31, 2020.   Tenants who pay 25% of their rent from September 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021 cannot be evicted for nonpayment due to a COVID-19 hardship.  To take advantage of these protections, a tenant must timely provide the landlord with a declaration of hardship under penalty of perjury.

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.

Nonpayment Hardship Declarations

Landlords must now provide a fifteen-day notice to pay rent or quit before evicting a tenant for nonpayment.  The notice must provide disclosures about the new COVID-19 eviction protections, along with a sample declaration of hardship.

The declaration must be returned to the landlord within fifteen days by email, mail or hand delivery.  If the tenant fails to return the declaration within the fifteen days, the court still has discretion to dismiss a nonpayment eviction action if the tenant can show that the failure to timely return the declaration was the result of mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.

Most tenants will not be required to provide landlords with financial documents as part of the hardship request.  High-income tenants (defined as any tenant who makes more than 30% of the median income for the tenant’s county in 2020 as published by HUD but not less than $100,000) must provide landlords with financial records, but only upon request.   A landlord can only request proof of the financial hardship if the landlord previously had information that the tenant was high income.  Proof of income includes any of the following:  tax return, W2, or pay stubs.

Tenants Will Still Owe the Rent

The new State of California pandemic tenant protections only prevent nonpayment evictions.  Tenants will still owe the unpaid rent.  The new law increases the small claims court jurisdictional amount above $10,000 to allow landlords to get judgments against tenants for the back rent.  Landlords may begin to file small claims court actions on March 1, 2021.

Expanded Just Cause Eviction Protection for Single-Family Homes

Until January 31, 2021, California State Rent Control is expanded to all units, including single-family homes and condominiums owned by individuals.  The law is retroactive to March 2, 2020.  There are two exceptions.  An eviction from a single-family home or condominium is allowed where the unit has been sold to an owner who intends to occupy.  Demolition or substantial remodel evictions are also allowed if the repair issues implicate health and safety.    

Enhanced Penalties for Landlord Retaliation

Any landlord who attempts to lock out a tenant or shut off utilities because a tenant submitted a declaration of COVID-19 financial distress is liable to the tenant for $1000 to $2500, plus actual damages, emotional distress, and attorney fees.

Landlords cannot bring an eviction action to retaliate for a tenant’s inability to pay rent because of COVID-19.  A landlord who does retaliate is responsible for actual damages, emotional distress, a penalty of $100 to $2000, and attorney fees.