Unincorporated Marin County’s Just Cause For Eviction Ordinance And Rental Housing Dispute Resolution Ordinance

Recently, the County of Marin enacted the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance and the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution Ordinance.  The ordinances only apply to properties located in the unincorporated areas of the county.  Tenants that reside in incorporated areas are not covered by the ordinances and must continue to rely on state law protections.

What areas in the county are the ordinances in effect?

The ordinances are not based on the city or town the tenant lives in but rather on whether the address is located in an unincorporated community of Marin County.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.010.  Some of the unincorporated areas covered by the ordinance are the following:  Almonte, Bel Marin Keys, Belvedere Island, Bivalve, Blakes Landing, Burdell, California Park, Cerro, Chapman, Cypress Grove, Dewitt, Dogtown, El Campo, Fallon, Five Brooks, Forest Knolls, Galinas, Greenbrae, Hamlet, Harbor Point, Ignacio, Iverness Park, Jewell, Kent Woodlands, Langunitas, Lairds Landing, Las Gallinas, Los Ranchitos, Manzanita, Marconi, Marinwood, Marshall, McDonald, McNears Beach, Meadowsweet, Millerton, Murray Park, Nick’s Cove, Ocean Roar, Old Town, Olema, Paradise Cay, Reed, Reynolds, Sacramento Landing, Saint Vincent, San Antonio, San Quentin, Seahaven, Shafter, Strawberry Manor, Tamalpais Valley, Tamalpais Valley Junction, Tocaloma, Vincent Landing, and Waldo.

To find out if a particular property is in a jurisdiction that is regulated by the ordinances, tenants can search their address on the County of Marin Jurisdiction Lookup.

What properties does the eviction ordinance apply to?

All properties located in unincorporated Marin County that have three or more units are protected under the ordinance.  Unoccupied, vacant, owner-occupied units, and units that are used as short-term rentals all count toward a property’s total number of dwelling units.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.020(a).

The following property types are exempt from the ordinance:

  1. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that have been permitted.
  2. Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs) that have been permitted.
  3. Units that are owned or operated by a government agency and most units with government-subsidized rents.
  4. All units in developments where at least 49% of the units are restricted as affordable.
  5. Units occupied by on-site property managers.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.020(b).

What are the just-cause reasons for eviction under the ordinance?

A tenant that resides in a rental unit that has three or more units can only be evicted for one of the following just-cause reasons listed in the ordinance.

For Cause Terminations are the following:

  1. The tenant fails to pay rent;
  2. The tenant breaches a material term in the rental agreement;
  3. The tenant uses the property for illegal activities;
  4. The tenant makes threats of a violent crime; and
  5. The tenant causes a nuisance.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.040(b).

No Fault Terminations are the following:

  1. The landlord seeks in good faith to permanently remove the unit from the rental market (Ellis Act eviction);
  2. The landlord or their immediate family member seeks to move into the unit (owner move-in eviction); and
  3. The landlord has obtained permits to make substantial rehabilitative repairs and the unit must be temporarily removed from the rental market.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.040(c).

What requirements must a landlord meet in order to terminate a tenant’s tenancy?

In order to evict a tenant under the ordinance, the landlord must first demonstrate the following:

  1. The landlord has a valid business license;
  2. The landlord has previously provided the tenant with a Notice of Tenants Rights;
  3. The landlord has served the Notice of Termination in compliance with the content, language, and delivery requirements under the ordinance;
  4. The landlord has not and will not accept rent after the termination date;
  5. The landlord has a just-cause reason under the ordinance to evict the tenant;
  6. The landlord must register their unit(s) with Marin County by June 1, 2019; and
  7. The landlord must be in compliance with all other local ordinances.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.040(a).

A copy of the Notice of Termination shall also be provided to the Community Development Agency (CDA) within ten days from the date of delivery to the tenant.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.050(d).

How much notice is a tenant entitled to for a no-fault termination?

While there are three no-fault reasons under the ordinance to evict a tenant, only one provides for an extended notice period.  If a tenant is evicted because the property will be permanently removed from the rental market (Ellis Act eviction), they are entitled to a 120-day written Notice to Terminate.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.060.  There are no extensions of time for the other no-fault reasons.

Terminations for other no-fault evictions must follow state law requirements.  Tenants that have lived in the unit for less than one year must be provided at least a 30-day written Notice of Termination, and for tenancies of one year or more, the tenants must be provided a 60-day written notice.  Cal. Civil Code § 1946.1.

Is a tenant entitled to relocation payments if they are evicted for a no-fault reason?

Unlike other jurisdictions with eviction control ordinances, Marin County does not require that relocation or moving expense payments be provided to tenants for no-fault terminations.

Are there affirmative defenses a tenant can assert in an action to terminate their tenancy?

Any failure by the landlord to comply with the ordinance can be asserted by a tenant as an affirmative defense to an unlawful detainer action (i.e. an eviction lawsuit).  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.070(a). 

Additionally, where a tenant or a member of the tenant’s household is experiencing acts that constitute domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, such acts cannot be the basis for a for-cause termination under the ordinance, and a member of the household may raise these facts as an affirmative defense against an action to terminate the tenancy.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.040(b)(6).

What is the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution Ordinance?

The unincorporated areas of Marin County are subject to the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution Ordinance.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.95.020.  The ordinance is not a rent control ordinance that restricts the amount that rent can be increased.  Rather, it is way for tenants to respond to a rent increase by instituting a mediation process in an effort to negotiate with their landlord.  The program is entirely voluntary and is free to both tenants and landlords.

What properties does the ordinance apply to?

The ordinance applies to all residential dwelling units located within the unincorporated area of Marin County.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.95.020.  Eligible units under the ordinance are any unit that has a separate bathroom, kitchen, and living area. Id.  Single family homes and condominiums are also eligible.  Id.

Properties owned or operated by a government agency, and most units that are restricted for affordable housing are exempt from the ordinance.  Id.

When is a tenant eligible to request a dispute resolution?

A tenant who receives a rent increase of more than 5% within a 12-month period is eligible for dispute resolution.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.95.040.   A landlord may also request dispute resolution services if they choose to raise the rent more than 5% in a 12-month period.  Id.  Either party may submit a Mediation Service Request form to the Consumer Protection Unit to begin the process.  Id.  Once the eligible request is submitted, approved, and set for mediation, the parties are required to participate in good faith.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.95.050(d).  The goal is to ultimately come to an enforceable written agreement between the parties about a reasonable rent increase.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.95.050(c). 

What are the notice requirements for a rent increase in Marin County?

Tenants in Marin County (both unincorporated and incorporated) must rely on state law with regards to rent increase notices.  Under state law, the landlord can raise the rent to any amount they want once the original lease term has expired.  A sixty-day advanced written notice is required for rent increases of more than ten percent, and a thirty-day advanced written notice is required for increases of ten percent or less.  Cal. Civil Code § 827.  

Can a tenant sue their landlord for violating either of the ordinances?

Tenants may seek money damages and an injunction against their landlord for violating the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.100.070(b).  Tenants may also be entitled to attorney fees and costs.  Id.  Additionally, if the landlord is found to have knowingly violated the ordinance or acted with reckless disregard, damages may be trebled.  Id.

Also, tenants may seek an injunction and may be awarded money damages, trebling of those damages, and attorney fees and costs where the landlord has been found to have violated any provision of the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution Ordinance.  Marin County, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.95.070.

All tenants in California should keep in mind that even if they live in a city that does not have rent and eviction control ordinances, the state does have many laws that protect tenants.  To read more about some of the laws that protect tenants in California, please visit the following pages: Wrongful Eviction, Landlord Harassment and Retaliation, Landlord Entry, Discrimination, Landlord’s Duty to Prevent Crime, and Forcing Your Landlord to Make Repairs.

Marin County tenants that have questions about the newly enacted eviction control ordinance should call Tobener Ravenscroft LLP to speak with an attorney.