The City Of Santa Cruz Tenant Protections | Tobener Ravenscroft LLP

The City Of Santa Cruz Tenant Protections

In 2017, the City of Santa Cruz adopted a temporary freeze of certain rent increases in hopes of alleviating exorbitant increases, and it adopted a temporary just cause for eviction ordinance to prevent unjust evictions—both laws have since expired.  After the expiration of these laws, a Rent Control and Tenant Protection Act was placed on Santa Cruz’s November ballot in 2018, but voters rejected the measure.  The most recent attempt to protect tenants was the City’s temporary emergency ordinance to stop no-fault evictions in anticipation of the new California state rent control law that just went into effect.  This temporary ordinance expired on December 31, 2019.   

Although the Santa Cruz City Council voted to approve a just cause for eviction ordinance over a year ago on January 8, 2019, a second vote scheduled for January 22, 2019 to enact the ordinance was tabled for a future date.  As of February 2020, the date has yet to be determined.

Currently, the City of Santa Cruz does not have a rent control law that caps the amount of rent that landlords may charge their tenants, and it does not have a just cause for eviction law that protects tenants from unjust terminations.  Instead, the City has a Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance to disincentivize rent increases and tenant displacement.  The new California statewide rent control statute may protect many Santa Cruz tenants from eviction and larger rent increases.  To find out if this new state law applies to your tenancy, click here.  

The Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance

The City of Santa Cruz relocation assistance law holds landlords, who do not maintain their rental properties or who increase a tenant’s rent, responsible for the hardship their actions cause by requiring them to pay benefits to displaced tenants in order to help them afford to move.

Does the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance apply to the property I live in?

The ordinance applies to all structures rented for residential purposes.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.030(a).

When is a tenant eligible to receive relocation assistance under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

Tenants that must vacate their unit because of a large rent increase or because the conditions in the unit render it unsafe or hazardous, or because the unit is illegal, are eligible to receive relocation assistance. Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020.

What is a “large rent increase” under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

A large rent increase is one that is more than five percent in one year, or cumulatively more than seven percent in any two consecutive years.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020.

The seven percent increase over two consecutive years must be calculated to include the compounding effect of the amount added in year one.  Id.

How do I know if my unit has been rendered unsafe or hazardous, or is illegal in the City of Santa Cruz?

The ordinance does not define what conditions render a unit unsafe or hazardous, and it does not state who makes that determination.  Typically, the City will issue a notice of violation to the owner if such conditions exist.  But, since the law does not directly address this point, the landlord may also be allowed to make that determination and require tenants to vacate.

A unit that is illegal means that the unit does not have a Certificate of Occupancy issued by the City of Santa Cruz that deems the unit safe for human occupation.  If a unit is unpermitted it also likely contains unsafe or hazardous conditions.

Under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance, how long after I receive a notice of a large rent increase must I notify my landlord that I want relocation assistance?

Tenants must notify their landlords that they plan to vacate and accept relocation assistance within sixty calendar days of the effective date of the large rent increase.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.040.  If a tenant does not notify their landlord by that time, they are no longer eligible for a relocation payment and are deemed to have accepted the rent increase.  Id.

How much is the relocation payment under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

If a tenant must vacate due to a large rent increase, they are entitled to a payment of two months of their rent amount, not including the increase.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020(3).

Tenants that are required to leave their unit because of uninhabitable living conditions or because it is an unpermitted unit, are entitled to a payment of three months’ fair market value rent for a unit of comparable size or three months of the tenant’s actual rent at the time of relocation, whichever is greater.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020(1).  The fair market value is determined by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rent schedule.  Id.  If a tenant is required to vacate with less than a thirty days’ notice, their relocation payment shall also include the immediate payment of one additional month’s fair market value rent for a unit of comparable size, or the tenant may accept alternate housing offered by the landlord for thirty days after the tenant vacates.  Id.

How much time does my landlord have to pay me my relocation assistance under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

Each tenant that must leave their unit due to unsafe or hazardous conditions, or because the unit is unpermitted, must be paid their relocation assistance within one week of any notice to vacate, notice of eviction, or order requiring tenant to vacate, or before the tenant actually vacates, whichever comes first.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.030.

Tenants that vacate due to a large rent increase must be paid their relocation assistance within twenty-one calendar days after the tenant gives the owner notice of their intent to vacate.  Id.  Not all tenants are entitled to the payment, only the tenants who have been paying the rent to the landlord are eligible to receive the assistance.  Id.

Can tenants waive their right to relocation assistance under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

Tenants and landlords may enter into other agreements besides the relocation assistance as long as it is of equal benefit.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020.  The agreement must be in writing and include the names of the occupants, the address of the unit, the amount of relocation the tenant would be entitled to, a statement that the tenant has waived the relocation payment in lieu of an alternative arrangement of equal benefit, and the address that the tenant plans to move to.  Id.

Does my landlord need to provide proof that they paid me relocation assistance under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

Proof of payment of relocation to tenants is only required to be provided where the tenant vacated due to the unsafe or hazardous conditions at the unit, or due to the unit being unpermitted.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.030.  In those cases, the landlord must provide the Department of Planning and Community Development with a copy of the check given to the tenant and receipt signed by the tenant, or the copy of their written agreement, within five days of the date the unit is vacated by the tenant.  Id.  

When is a landlord not required to pay relocation assistance under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

Tenants that are required to vacate because of unsafe or hazardous conditions or because the unit is unpermitted but either are in default of their rent, refuse to vacate after the timely payment of relocation, or have caused or substantially contributed to the conditions at the unit, are not entitled to relocation assistance.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.040. 

Landlords are also not required to pay relocation if the conditions at the unit are due to events beyond their control.  Id.  The ordinance does not define what events would fall under this exception.  An example of an event that likely would not require a landlord to pay relocation assistance would be if the unit was rendered unsafe do to a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

What is a “right of first refusal” under the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

A tenant that is displaced from a unit due to the uninhabitable conditions or because the unit is unpermitted has the right to reoccupy the unit once the it is repaired and is fit for occupation.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020. 

The landlord is required to provide the vacating tenants with a notice of their right to reoccupy.  Id.  Tenants must provide the landlord with their contact information to be used for future notification and must let the landlord know when their contact information changes.  Id.  Once a unit is ready to reoccupy, the landlord shall notify the tenant in writing sent to the tenant by certified mail, return receipt requested.  Id.  If the landlord cannot locate the tenant after two attempts over two weeks, the tenant’s right to reoccupy is forfeited.  Id.

The law is silent as to whether the displaced tenant may reoccupy the unit at the same rental amount the rent was when they vacated.

Am I entitled to compensation in the City of Santa Cruz if my unit is undergoing repairs but I am not relocated?

Tenants that can continue to stay in their unit during repairs are not entitled to relocation assistance, but they cannot have their rent increased.  If the city has issued a notice of violation to the owner to do repairs, and the repairs do not require a tenant to leave the unit while they are being undertaken, the landlord shall not raise the tenant’s rent until the City issues a notice verifying that all work has been completed and the problems abated.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.050.

If a notice of violation is issued by the City within ninety days of a rent increase, the landlord is required to roll back the tenant’s rent to the pre-increase amount.  Id.  All the excess rent collected by the landlord between the date of the rent increase and the date of the notice or  order shall be refunded to the tenant.  Id.  The tenant’s rent cannot be raised again until the City issues a notice that all violations have been corrected and the problems abated.  Id. 

Just Cause For Eviction Protection In The City of Santa Cruz

Does the City of Santa Cruz have a just cause for eviction law?

No.  The City of Santa Cruz does not currently have a just cause for eviction law that would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants unless there is a just-cause to do so.  The Santa Cruz City Council voted to approve a just cause for eviction ordinance over a year ago on January 8, 2019, but a second vote scheduled for January 22, 2019 to enact the ordinance was tabled for a future date.  As of February 2020, the date has yet to be determined.  Please check this page for any future developments.

State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019

Do the State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 rent-ceiling protections and just cause for eviction protections apply to your tenancy in the City of Santa Cruz?

Tenants in Santa Cruz are covered by California State Rent and Eviction Control protections if the building they live in was built more than fifteen years ago and as long as the unit meets all other requirements under the new state law.  Tenants can determine if their tenancy is covered under California State Rent and Eviction Control by reading our guide.  Tenants should also consult with an attorney to verify applicability of the new law to their tenancy.

Under the new state law, landlords can only raise a tenant’s rent annually up to 5% plus the California Consumer Price Index (CPI), the total increase cannot exceed 10%.   If your landlord chooses to take a smaller increase, they may increase the rent twice in one year but the total amount cannot exceed the rent-cap.  If your landlord does not raise your rent in a given year, they cannot “bank” unused increases and add it to a following year’s increase. 

The California rent-ceiling protection is retroactive to March 15, 2019.  This means that if the statute applies to your tenancy and the landlord has raised your rent above the allowable amount from March 15, 2019 to January 1, 2020, your rent amount will be rolled back to before the increase, although the landlord will be able to keep all of the rent overpayments.

Tenants that are covered under the state’s eviction protections cannot be evicted unless there is a just-cause reason to do so under the law.   There are fifteen just-cause reasons for eviction under the state law; they include no-fault and for-fault reasons.  Some common for-fault reasons are that the tenant has not paid rent, has breached a lease term, is causing a nuisance, or is conducting criminal activity on the property.  Owner move-in evictions (a landlord or their relative seeks to move into the unit) and evictions due to the landlord permanently removing the unit from the rental market are common no-fault reasons for eviction.   A no-fault eviction entitles a tenant to one of two forms of relocation assistance to be chosen by the landlord. The landlord may elect to waive the tenant’s final month’s rent or may provide one month’s rent payment to the tenant within fifteen days of serving the eviction notice.

If your landlord attempts to raise your rent beyond the state’s allowable percentage, refuses to roll back the rent, or serves you an eviction notice, you should speak with a tenant attorney to understand your rights and to discuss your options.

Do the State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 relocation benefits apply to my Santa Cruz unit?

For the most part, the circumstances that trigger relocation benefits under the California Tenant Protection Act differ from the circumstances that trigger relocation benefits under the Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance.

The California Tenant Protection Act’s (CTPA) relocation benefits apply to tenants that are protected under the CPTA that have been evicted due to a no-fault eviction.  No-fault evictions under state law include when the city or county requires tenants to vacate due to uninhabitable conditions, when the owner plans to move into the unit (owner move-in eviction), the property will undergo a substantial remodel, or the property is being withdrawn from the rental market. If a tenant is evicted for a no-fault reason and lives in a unit protected by the CPTA, the landlord must provide the tenant with relocation assistance by either giving the tenant a payment of one month’s rent within fifteen days of serving the eviction notice or by waiving the tenant’s final month of rent.

The Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance applies to a tenant when they must vacate because of large rent increase, or because the unit is rendered unsafe or hazardous (i.e. uninhabitable), or because the unit is an unpermitted unit.  If a tenant must vacate due to a large rent increase, they are entitled to a payment of two months of their rent amount, not including the increase.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020(3).  Tenants that are required to leave their unit because of uninhabitable living conditions or because of an unpermitted unit, are entitled to a payment of three months’ fair market value rent for a unit of comparable size or three months of the tenant’s actual rent at the time of relocation, whichever is greater.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.020(1). 

If both the local ordinance and the state law apply to a tenancy for relocation payment purposes, which may be the case when a tenant must vacate due to uninhabitable conditions, Santa Cruz’s Relocation Assistance ordinance would apply as it provides tenants with more assistance.

Because the analysis concerning what relocation benefit may apply to your situation, it is best to speak with a tenant lawyer to determine your rights.  

Penalties for a Landlord Who Violates the Law

Can I sue my landlord for violating the City of Santa Cruz Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance?

Tenants may sue their landlord for injunctive relief or for monetary damages, or both.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.070.  Landlords that have violated any section of the ordinance shall be liable to the tenant for money damages, as well as costs and reasonable attorney fees.  A tenant’s damages may be tripled (trebled) if their landlord is found to have willfully failed to comply with the law.  Id. 

A violation of this ordinance is an infraction for the first offense, and any subsequent violation occurring within six months from the first offense is a misdemeanor.  Santa Cruz, Cal. Mun. Code § 21.03.060.  Landlords may also be fined a civil penalty of up to $2,500 per day for each day that they fail to provide the required relocation assistance if the City has issued a notice of violation to the landlord.

If you are a tenant that lives in the City of Santa Cruz and have questions about your rights under the Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance, or have questions about the State of California Tenant Protection Act 0f 2019, please call Tobener Ravenscroft LLP to speak to one of our tenant lawyers.

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