The Town of Fairfax is one of the most recent places to put into place additional protections for its renters. In 2019, the town adopted a just cause for eviction ordinance and a mandatory mediation ordinance for certain rent increases.
Town of Fairfax Just Cause For Eviction Ordinance
Effective March 6, 2019, landlords may not evict tenants in the Town of Fairfax unless there is a just-cause reason to do so under the law.
Is my unit covered under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance?
With the few limited exceptions listed below, the just cause for eviction ordinance applies to all rental units in the Town of Fairfax. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.020.
The following are the few properties that are exempt and not covered under the ordinance:
- A room or rooms rented in an owner-occupied single-family home;
- Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs) under Fairfax Town Code § 17.048.230;
- Units occupied by a tenant that is employed as the property manager;
- Units in developments where at least 49% of the units are restricted as affordable housing; and
- Units with government-subsidized rents, such as Section 8 vouchers. Id.
What are the requirements landlords must meet before serving a termination notice under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance?
Landlords may not terminate a tenancy unless they have a valid business license, can demonstrate compliance with notice requirements of the ordinance, have properly served a termination notice, have not and will not accept rent after the notice was served, have a just-cause reason under the ordinance to terminate, and have complied with all sections of the ordinance. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.040(a).
A copy of the Notice of Termination must be provided to the Town of Fairfax within ten days of service on the tenant. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.055.
A landlord’s failure to comply with any of these requirements shall be an affirmative defense to an unlawful detainer action. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.070.
What are the reasons I can be evicted for under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance?
There are both for-fault and no-fault reasons to terminate a tenancy. Landlords may not evict their tenant unless they have one of the below just-cause reasons to do so.
- Tenant has failed to pay rent.
- Tenant has breached the lease by violating a material term of the rental agreement.
- Tenant has been convicted of using the unit for illegal purposes.
- Tenant threatens others with a violent crime against the landlord.
- Tenant’s behavior is a nuisance; and
- Tenant has damaged or trespassed on the property of another tenant or landlord. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.040(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. The victimized tenant may raise these incidences as an affirmative defense to an action to terminate their tenancy. Id.
- Landlord will demolish or permanently remove the unit from the rental market (Ellis Act eviction pursuant to Cal. Gov. Code §§ 7060 through 7060.7).
- Landlord, or a close family member, will move in to the unit as their primary residence (Owner Move-in eviction).
- Landlord has obtained the proper permits to perform a substantial rehabilitation to meet health & safety standards, which cannot be done while the tenant is in the unit. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.040(c).
Am I entitled to relocation benefits if I am evicted for a no-fault reason under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause 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 such as an eviction for owner move-in, Ellis Act, or to conduct substantial repairs. But, you may be entitled to moving allowance under state law.
What are the requirements for an owner move-in eviction under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance?
Unlike similar eviction control ordinances in other cities, the Town of Fairfax’s ordinance does not address what percentage an owner must possess in the property and does not indicate that the landlord must be a natural person. Aside from the notice requirements, the only other criteria in the ordinance is that the owner (or relative) must move into the unit within three months of the tenant vacating and must live in the unit as a primary residence for at least a year. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.040(c)(2).
The ordinance also does not state whether the landlord must offer the unit back to the displaced tenant at the same rental rate if the landlord fails to live in the unit as required by the ordinance.
What are the notice requirements for a no-fault eviction under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance?
In general, the length of the notice for no-fault evictions such as an owner move-in or an eviction for substantial repairs is thirty days for a tenancy of less than a year, and sixty days for a tenancy of more than a year. Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.1.
For Ellis Act evictions, tenants who are sixty-two years old or older, or are disabled, are entitled to a one-year notice. Cal. Gov. Code § 7060.4(b). For all other tenants, the notice period is 120 days. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.060.
Are there any requirements under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance for a tenant and landlord to enter into a buyout agreement to terminate a tenancy?
No. There are no regulations regarding buyout agreements in the Town of Fairfax. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.040(d).
Do the State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 eviction protections or the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance protections apply to your tenancy?
The just-cause eviction protections under the State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (“California State Rent Control”) only apply in Fairfax to units that are not covered by the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance (“Fairfax Eviction Control Ordinance”) and that otherwise meet the requirements of state rent control. Generally, the Fairfax Eviction Control Ordinance eviction protections apply to almost all residential buildings. Because almost all units are covered under Fairfax’s ordinance, state law eviction protections will likely not apply to tenancies in the Town of Fairfax. However, click here if you reside in a unit that is exempt from the Fairfax Eviction Control Ordinance to determine if your unit is covered by California State Rent Control eviction protections.
Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation For Rental Increases Ordinance
On May 1, 2019, the Town of Fairfax adopted a mandatory mediation ordinance. The ordinance is not a rentcontrol ordinance that restricts the amount that rent can be increased. Rather, it is way for tenants to respond to certain rent increases through a mediation process in an effort to negotiate with their landlord.
Is my unit covered under the Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation Ordinance?
With a few limited exceptions, all residential units are covered under this ordinance. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.020. The units that are exempt from the ordinance are units owned by any government agency, units designated as affordable housing, and units where rent is subsidized by the government, such as Section 8 vouchers. Id.
Is my rent increase eligible for mediation under the Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation Ordinance?
Rent increases greater than 5% over a one-year period are eligible for mandatory mediation. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.040(a). The request for mediation must be brought by the tenant within ten days of being served the rent increase. Id.
Landlords may also request mediation prior to pursuing a rent increase of greater than 5% in a twelve month period. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.040(b).
Do the State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 rent-ceiling protections or the Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation Ordinance protections apply to your tenancy?
The rent-ceiling protections of the State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (“California State Rent Control”) apply to all units in Fairfax that are not covered by local rent control. Because the Fairfax Mandatory Mediation Ordinanceis not a rent-control ordinance, units in Fairfax are covered by California State Rent Control rent caps if the building was built more than fifteen years ago, as long as the unit meets all other requirements under state rent control. To determine if your unit is covered under California State Rent Control rent caps, click here.
Under the California State Rent Control, a tenant’s rent may not be raised more than 5% plus the CPI, the total amount not to exceed 10%. This means that tenants in Fairfax who receive a rent increase above 5% but less than the state rent-cap amount should proceed with the town’s mandatory mediation process to resolve a rent increase dispute. However, for units covered under State Rent Control that receive rent increases that exceed the allowable maximum, tenants will need to resolve the matter in court.
Is my landlord required to provide me with information about the Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation Ordinance?
Landlords are required to provide tenants with a Notice of Tenant Rights to this program when entering into a new rental agreement, renewing a rental agreement, and when providing notice of rent increase. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.080(A) and (B).
Failure to comply with the notice provisions described in this chapter shall render any rent increase notice invalid and unenforceable. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.080(D). A landlord’s failure to comply with the notice provision can only be fixed once the proper written notice of tenant’s rights, along with a new rental increase notice, has been properly served on the tenant. Id.
What is the mediation process under the Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation Ordinance?
A mediator will be assigned within ten days of the request. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.040. The mediation will then be set for a date to take place within thirty days of the request. Id.
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 who will facilitate a discussion between the parties to reach an enforceable written agreement.
Both parties must participate in the process in good faith. Id. If the landlord fails to act in good faith, the rent increase will be invalid. Id. If the tenant fails to participate in good faith, the tenant shall be deemed to have withdrawn the mediation request and the rent increase will be implemented.
The mediation process will conclude with either the execution of a legally enforceable written agreement, or when all of the parties to the mediation indicate in writing that the mediation has concluded to their satisfaction. Id. If no legally enforceable mediation agreement is reached, the mediator shall prepare a nonbinding mediation statement. Id.
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. Id
Does the Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation Ordinance prohibit harassment of tenants by landlords?
In an effort to further protect tenants from unjust and unlawful treatment, Fairfax’s ordinance prohibits landlords from harassing and retaliating against tenants. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.060(a). A landlord is in violation of the law when they do any of the following in bad-faith:
- Interrupt, fail to provide, or threaten to interrupt or provide any housing services required by the rental agreement;
- Fail to perform repairs and maintenance;
- Fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance once undertaken;
- Abuse their right of entry into the unit;
- Remove a tenant’s personal property from the unit;
- Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion, including threats based on immigration status;
- Offer payments to a tenant to vacate more than once in six months;
- Threaten tenant with physical harm;
- Interfere with tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment;
- Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment;
- Interfere with a tenant’s right of privacy;
- Request information that interferes with tenant’s right to privacy;
- Any other repeated acts that interfere with a tenant’s peace, comfort, and quiet enjoyment, which will cause or is intended to cause the tenant to vacate; and
- Retaliate in any manner against a tenant because of their having exercised a right under the law. Id.
Penalties For Landlords Who Violate The Law
Can I sue my landlord for violating the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance?
Tenants may sue their landlord for money damages or injunctive relief, or both. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.54.070. A landlord that has violated the ordinance shall be liable for damages, costs and reasonable attorney fees, and whatever other relief the court awards. Id. Also, damages may be trebled (tripled) if it is found that the landlord acted “in knowing violation, reckless disregard, or otherwise willfully failed to comply” with the ordinance. Id.
Attorney fees and costs may be awarded to the landlord in cases where the tenant’s claim is deemed “unreasonable, frivolous, meritless or vexatious.” Id.
Further, a landlord’s failure to comply with the ordinance shall be an affirmative defense to an unlawful detainer action. Id.
Can I sue my landlord for violating the Town of Fairfax Mandatory Mediation For Rental Increases Ordinance?
Tenants may bring a lawsuit against any person who violates or aides in the violation of any provision of the ordinance, including the anti-harassment provision. Fairfax, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.55.070. A person found to have violated the ordinance will be liable for three times the amount of a tenant’s special and general damages. Id. Plus, the court may award an additional $200 to $400 penalty, along with attorney fees and costs, and punitive damages. Id. Tenants have one year to file a lawsuit against their landlord for damages for violation of the ordinance. Id.
An injunction may be also be sought to enforce the ordinance by the aggrieved tenant, county counsel, the district attorney, or by any person/entity representing the interest of a protected class. Id.
If you are a tenant that lives in the Town of Fairfax and have questions about your rights under the Town of Fairfax Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance, Mandatory Mediation For Rental Increases Ordinance, or the State of California Tenant Protection Act 0f 2019, please call Tobener Ravenscroft LLP to speak to an attorney.