San Rafael Rent Control

The City of San Rafael’s Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ordinance and Cause Required for Eviction ordinance went into effect July 17, 2019.  This San Rafael rent control ordinance covers (1) how high a landlord can raise your rent; and (2) what a landlord can eviction you for.  The new ordinances are a tool for combating the long trend of high rental rates and housing insecurity in San Rafael.  Tenants that live in units covered by the ordinances can now require their landlord to participate in mediation for any rent increase above 5%, and tenants may not have their tenancy terminated unless the landlord has a cause under the ordinance to do so.  Rent increases above 5% (plus adjusted for annual CPI) may be illegal under California law too. 

CITY OF SAN RAFAEL LAWS ON RAISING A TENANT’S RENT

What is the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ordinance?

Although the City of San Rafael has not implemented a rent ceiling ordinance that would limit rent increases to a certain small percentage per year, the City has implemented a mandatory mediation program for certain rent increases.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.100.010 et seq.  A tenant or a landlord can request mediation under the San Rafael rent control ordinance for rent increases greater than 5% during a 12-month period.   Regardless of which party requests the mediation, both the landlord and tenant are required to participate. 

Are landlords required to notify tenants of their rights under the San Rafael rent control ordinance?

Yes.  Landlords must provide their tenants with a Notice of Tenant Rights under the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ordinance when entering into a lease or rental agreement, when renewing a lease or rental agreement, and when providing notice of a rent increase.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.100.080. 

Failure to provide tenants with the Notice of Tenant Rights shall render any increase notice invalid and unenforceable.   Further, failure to provide tenants with this notice will also be a violation of the Cause for Eviction ordinance and the landlord may not be able to terminate the tenancy.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.040.

What units are covered under the San Rafael Rent Control Ordinance?

Unless it falls under one of the exemptions below, the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ordinance applies to all rental units in San Rafael, including single family homes, duplexes, and multi-family apartment buildings.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.100.010.

However, the following units are exempt from the ordinance and not covered:

  • Units that are owned or operated by any government agency;
  • Units where the rent is directly subsidized by a government agency (e.g. Section 8  vouchers);
  • Units in developments that are restricted for affordable housing;
  • Units occupied by a tenant that is employed by the landlord to manage the property; and
  • Units occupied in whole or in part by the property owner or the property owner’s family members are exempt from the ordinance. 

Even if your rental unit is not covered by San Rafael’s Rental Housing Dispute Resolution, you are likely covered by the statewide California Rent Control Initiative, effective January 1, 2020. 

How long after the receipt of a notice of rent increase does a tenant have to request mediation under the San Rafael Rent Control Ordinance?

A tenant must submit their request for mediation within ten calendar days of receiving the rent increase notice.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.100.040.  A landlord can request mediation at any time in anticipation of an applicable rent increase. 

Tenants should take note that the ordinance specifies “calendar” days, which means that weekend days are part of the ten-day count.

What is the mediation process under the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ordinance?

A mediator will be assigned within ten days of the request for mediation.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.100.050.  The mediator will send a notice to the tenant and landlord within two days of being assigned to provide their contact information and any pertinent information.   The mediation will then be set for a date to take place within thirty days of the request. 

Mediation is a process that assists the tenant and landlord in coming to a resolution of a dispute over the rent increase.  The mediator is a neutral (i.e. not on anyone’s side) third-party that will facilitate a discussion between the parties to reach an enforceable written agreement.

Both parties must participate in the process in good faith.  If the landlord fails to act in good faith, the rent increase will not be effective.   If the tenant fails to participate in good faith, the tenant shall be deemed as having withdrawn their mediation request and the rent increase will be implemented. 

Tenants are required to continue to pay all rent legally due to the landlord and to comply with the terms of their rental agreement throughout the dispute resolution process

What remedies are available to the tenant if the landlord violates the Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ordinance?

If the landlord does not comply with the San Rafael rent control ordinance, a tenant may bring a civil action for damages and/or seek injunctive relief.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.100.070.  Any lawsuit arising out of a violation of the ordinance must be filed within one year of the events giving rise to the action.   If it is determined that a tenant’s rights have been violated under this ordinance, the court shall triple the tenant’s damages award and may also award attorney’s fees and costs.

CITY OF SAN RAFAEL LAWS ON EVICTING A TENANT

Landlords cannot just ask a tenant to leave a covered rental unit in San Rafael anymore. They must have a “cause” permitted by the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance.  A landlord can evict a tenant for a “for-cause” reason (i.e. the tenant did something wrong) or a “no-fault” reason (i.e. the tenant did not do anything wrong, but the landlord has a legitimate reason for recovering possession of the rental unit).

What are the for-cause and no-fault reasons for eviction under the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

There are both for-cause reasons and no-fault reasons to terminate a tenancy under the ordinance.

For-Cause reasons for termination are the following:

  1. Tenant has failed to pay rent. 
  2. Tenant has breached the lease by violating a material term of the rental agreement.
  3. Tenant uses the unit for an illegal purpose.  The tenant household, after receiving a written notice, may cure the violation by removing the offending tenant, but this right to cure may not be used more than one time in a twelve-month period.
  4. Tenant threatens others with a violent crime. 
  5. Tenant’s behavior is a nuisance.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.040(B). 

Domestic Violence/ Sexual Assault/Stalking:Tenants should note that domestic violence or sexual assault against the tenant, or stalking of the tenant cannot be the substantial basis of a for-cause termination of the victim of these acts.  The victimized tenant may raise these incidences as an affirmative defense to an action to terminate their tenancy. 

No-Fault reasons for termination are the following:

  1. The unit will be permanently removed from the rental market.
  2. The landlord or one of landlord’s family members intends to move into the unit.  The unit must be occupied as the landlord’s (or the family member’s) primary residence within three months of the tenant vacating, and the landlord (or their family member) must continuously live there for at least one year. 
  3. The unit must be vacated to undertake substantial rehabilitation for health and safety repairs to bring the unit into compliance with applicable law.  The landlord must have applied for or obtained permits for the repairs.
  4. The tenant has refused to execute a new lease.  This means that the tenant has refused to renew a lease on terms substantially similar to the tenant’s existing lease at the end of the original term, or the tenant has refused to accept a lease at the outset of the tenancy.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.040(C). 

What units are covered under the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

The ordinance applies to all properties that have three or more units, including multi-family and multi-purpose properties, single room occupancy residential buildings, and units that are being used for residential purposes regardless of whether the use is permitted by the City.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.020(A).

What units are exempt from the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

The following types of properties are exempt from the ordinance and do not have eviction protection under municipal law (but may under the statewide California Rent Control Initiative):

  • Units owned or operated by any government agency;
  • Units where rent is directly subsidized by a government agency such that the tenant’s portion of the rent does not exceed 30% of household income;
  • Units located in a development where no fewer than forty-nine percent (49%) of the units are subject to legally binding restrictions enforceable against and/or governing such units that limit the rent to no more than an affordable rent;   
  • Units occupied by a tenant employed by the landlord to manage the property; and
  • Units occupied in whole or in part by the property owner or the property owner’s family members, including parents, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and/or nephews.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.020(B).

Are landlords required to notify tenants of their rights before they can proceed with terminating a tenancy under the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

Before a landlord can serve a notice to terminate a tenancy they must first meet certain requirements.  Landlords must provide their tenants with a Notice of Tenant Rights when entering into a lease or rental agreement, when renewing a lease or rental agreement, and when providing notice of a rent increase.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.100.080. 

Landlords are also required to have a valid business license to operate the rental, must not have accepted rent for the continued use of the unit, and must have a for-cause or no-fault reason under the ordinance to justify termination.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.040(A).  If the landlord has not met all of these requirements, including providing tenants with the Notice of Tenant Rights, they may not terminate the tenancy or attempt to evict a tenant. 

What information must the Notice of Termination contain under the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

All Notices of Termination must state one of the above for-cause or no-fault reasons for terminating a tenancy.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.050.  The notice must also contain the name and address of the landlord, the address of the tenant’s unit, the beginning date of the tenancy, the amount of monthly rent and the date of when the final rent payment is due, the length of the notice period, and the final date of occupancy.   

Is there an extended notice period for no-fault evictions under the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

If the unit is being permanently removed from the rental market (i.e. an Ellis Act eviction), tenants are entitled to a 120-days’ written notice.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.060.  For other no-fault terminations, if the tenant has resided in the unit for one or more years they are entitled to a 60-days’ written notice, and if the tenant has resided in the unit for less than a year they are entitled to a 30-days’ written notice.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.1.

Are relocation benefits available for tenants that are displaced through a no-fault eviction under the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

No.  At this time, the ordinance does not require landlords to pay relocation benefits to tenants that are displaced due to a no-fault eviction.  But, see our article on the California Rent Control Initiative for more information on whether you are entitled to relocation benefits under the state law.

Can a landlord simply decline to renew the tenancy at the end of the tenant’s original lease term under the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

Landlords cannot ask tenants to leave, or otherwise terminate their tenancy, when the tenant’s lease term ends unless there is a for-cause or no-fault reason to do so.  The lease will default to a month-to-month lease unless the landlord offers to renew the lease term or propose a new lease.  Tenants should note that failing to execute a new lease that is substantially similar to the existing one is a no-fault cause for termination under the ordinance.  San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.040(C)(4).

What damages may a tenant recover if their landlord violates the Cause Required for Eviction ordinance?

If a landlord violates the ordinance, a tenant may file a lawsuit for monetary damages and/or seek injunctive relief.   San Rafael, Cal. Mun. Code §10.105.070.  A landlord that is in violation of the ordinance shall be subject to appropriate injunctive relief and shall be liable for damages, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees, and all other relief the court deems appropriate.   Damages may also be tripled if it is found that the landlord acted in “knowing violation, reckless disregard, or otherwise willfully failed to comply” with the ordinance.   

What protections are there for tenants that do not reside in the City of San Rafael but live in the County of Marin?

If you are a tenant that lives in Marin County but not in San Rafael, you may still be covered by a rent and eviction protection ordinance.  Recently, Marin County enacted the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance and Rental Housing Dispute Resolution Ordinance. The ordinances apply only to the unincorporated areas of the county.  This means that the incorporated towns and cities in the county have been left without any additional tenant protections unless they enact their own ordinance, like the City of San Rafael’s ordinances above.  Also, you may have additional protections under the California Rent Control Initiative, as mentioned above.

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