Union City Rent Control

Union City’s Residential Rent Review Ordinance, And Residential Landlord And Tenant Relations Ordinance

Union City is one of the growing number of jurisdictions to adopt local ordinances to protect its renters.  The Residential Rent Review Ordinance entitles tenants to a mandatory review of rent increases above a certain amount.  And, the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance protects tenants from eviction unless there is a just-causes reason to do so under the law.  This ordinance also protects tenants from landlord harassment and retaliation.    

Tenants should be aware that California has recently adopted the State of California Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which takes effect January 1, 2020 and may apply to your tenancy.  We advise that tenants speak to a tenant attorney to determine whether the state law or your local ordinance applies to your tenancy.

Union City Residential Rent Review Ordinance – Covering Rent Ceiling Limitations

The Union City Rent Review Ordinance regulates how much a landlord can increase the rent in any given year, and provides options for dispute resolution following certain rent increases.

What properties are covered under the Rent Review Ordinance?

The Union City Rent Review Ordinance applies to all residential rental units, including single-family homes and condominiums.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.55.020.  The ordinance also applies to mobile homes where the tenant rents the mobile housing unit itself.  Id

The only units exempt from the Rent Review Ordinance are those that are “subject to a recorded regulatory agreement that requires that the housing unit be rented to a tenant at specified income levels as defined by the regulatory agreement.”  Id.  This typically includes Section 8, HUD housing, affordable housing owned by nonprofits, and the like.  Tenants that are unsure of whether their unit falls under this exemption or not should speak with a tenant attorney.

As of October 2, 2017, landlords are required to register their residential rental properties with the City.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.55.050.  A violation of the ordinance, such as the landlord’s failure to register their rental property, will render a rent increase void and unenforceable.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.55.030.  

Are landlords required to notify their tenants about the Rent Review Ordinance?

Yes.  Landlords are required to provide a written Notice of Availability of Rent Review at the same time they serve the tenant with any rent increase notice.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.55.030.  This notice must be given in the three predominate languages spoken in Union City, which are determined by the City Manager.  Id.  The notice must inform the tenant of the availability of rent review, have contact information for the landlord, and contain specific language that is provided by the ordinance to be valid. Id.

The notice must be in writing and either personally handed to the tenant or mailed to the tenant.  Id.  Tenants should note that text and email notices are not allowed.

If the landlord does not serve the required notice with the proposed rent increase, the increase is void and unenforceable.  Id.  Further, failure to provide the required notice with the proposed rent increase will be a complete defense to an unlawful detainer based on failure to pay the increase.  Id.  The landlord may fix their failure, however, by complying with the law and re-serving the rent increase with the required notice.  Id.            

What is the notice period for a rent increase?

A landlord must provide tenants with a thirty-day advanced written notice for a rent increase of 10% or less.  Cal. Civ. Code § 827.  If the increase will be more than 10%, a sixty-day advanced written notice is required.  Id.  Effective January 1, 2020, however, for rent increases of more than 10%, the advanced written notice period will increase to a ninety-days’ notice.  Also, starting January 1, 2020, the new California Rent Control law will cap rent increases on covered units throughout the state at 5% plus local inflation.  Usually, this means rents will not be legal if they are above 10%.

When can a tenant file a Request for Rent Review?

A tenant may file a Request for Rent Review when a single rent increase is more than 7% of their base rent or when combined rent increases in a twelve-month period are more than 7%.   Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.55.040.

The City’s Director of the Economic and Community Development Department must receive a tenant’s written rent review request together with a copy of the landlord’s increase notice within fifteen calendar days (meaning Saturdays and Sundays are included in the count) of the tenant receiving the rent increase notice.  Id.  If the request for review is accepted, participation by both parties is mandatory.  Id.

Does the California Tenant Protection Act rent-ceiling or the Union City rent-ceiling apply to your tenancy?

Beginning January 1, 2020, if your tenancy is one that is subject to both the Union City rent cap and the rent cap under the State of California, the more restrictive of the two will apply.  Union City’s Rent Review ordinance allows up to a 7% annual rent increase, while California’s statute caps rent increases at 5% plus the annual percent change in the Consumer Price Index.  The rent cap that will apply to you will be the lowest of the two at the time that your rent is set to increase.

Further, the new California law 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, the rent will be rolled back to before the increase, although the landlord will not be liable for any rent overpayments.

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

Double check with our guide to determine if your tenancy is covered under the State of California rent control statute.  Tenants should also speak to a tenant attorney to help determine applicability of the law to their tenancy.

What happens after a tenant files their request for a rent review with the Director?

Conciliation:

After a tenant files their request for a rent review, the Director will contact the landlord within three business days and will provide them with a copy of the tenant’s request for review.  Id.  The landlord has ten business days to respond either in writing or orally.  Id.  If the landlord fails to respond, and does not have a good-cause for not responding (such as illness, emergency, or other acceptable cause), the proposed rent increase is void.  Id

If the landlord responds, the parties are required to participate in a conciliation process, which may include peer-to-peer counseling.  Id.  This means that the parties will be given assistance in coming to an amicable resolution together before moving to the next step of mediation.  If the parties cannot resolve their dispute at this stage, the tenant must request mediation within five business days following the conclusion of the conciliation.  Id.

If the landlord does not participate in the conciliation process, the rent increase is void.  Id.  If the tenant does not participate in conciliation they will be barred from pursuing mediation under the ordinance and barred from seeking any other remedy under the ordinance pertaining to the increase.  Id. 

Mediation:

If the tenant timely requests mediation it will be held before the Rent Review Officer within sixty calendar days from the receipt of the tenant’s rent review request.  Id.  A tenant’s failure to request mediation will bar them from seeking any other remedy under the ordinance pertaining to the increase.  Id. 

Mediation is meant to be a non-adversarial 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 agreement.  During mediation, the mediator may consider many factors such as tenant hardship, prior rent increases, landlord’s mortgage, landlord’s reasonable rate of return, and any other factor deemed relevant to the review.  Id.

It should be understood by both sides that mediation is not court and the mediator cannot force a decision on either side.  Resolution depends on both sides working together and agreeing on a resolution.

If the parties come to a resolution it will be formalized into a writing.  However, tenants should be aware that the City will not be responsible for enforcing any agreement.  Id.

If the landlord, without good cause, fails to appear at the mediation, the rent increase is void and unenforceable.  Id. If the tenant fails to appear, or both the tenant and the landlord fail to appear, without good cause, the matter will be dismissed and the tenant will be barred from subsequently challenging the increase.  Id. 

Must tenants pay the increase while they are waiting for their rent review request to be processed?

Yes.  Tenants must pay the proposed rent increase on the date it is due while they are waiting for their increase to be reviewed.  Id.

What happens if a landlord attempts to evict a tenant that has requested a rent increase review under the Rent Review Ordinance?

Any attempt by a landlord to evict a tenant for exercising their legal rights under this ordinance will be presumed to be retaliatory and in violation of California Civil Code Section 1942.5.  Id.  However, an eviction for non-payment of the increased rent while awaiting a mediation could be grounds for a lawful eviction.

Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance – Covering Just Cause for Eviction and Prohibiting Harassment

The Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance limits eviction of tenants to specific just-cause reasons under the ordinance. The ordinance also prohibits harassment and retaliation against tenants by their landlord.

What properties are covered by the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance?

Unless it falls under one of the exemptions below, all residential rental units are covered under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.50.020.  

The following units are not covered under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance:

  1. Hotels, motels, inns, tourist homes, and rooming and boarding houses which are rented primarily to guests for less than 30 consecutive days;
  2. Residences where an owner occupies the unit and rents two or fewer bedrooms out to tenants;
  3. Units in nonprofit cooperative owned, occupied, and controlled by the majority of tenants;
  4. Units where the rent is controlled, regulated, or restricted by a local, state, or federal government agency or authority that preempts local regulation of evictions;
  5. Nonprofit hospitals, convents, monasteries, extended care facilities, asylums, and residential care or adult health care facilities for the elderly;
  6. Nonprofit facilities that provide short-term treatment for alcohol, drug, or other substance abuse, where the client has been informed in writing of the temporary or transitional nature of the housing at the inception of treatment; and
  7. Housing units owned by any government agency or authority.  Id.

If you do not have just-cause eviction protection under the Union City ordinance, you may have protection under the State of California rent control statute

Are landlords required to notify their tenants about the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance?

Yes. The written Notice of Tenant Rights under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance must be given to the tenant in the three predominate languages spoken in Union City, and it must contain specific language that is set out in the ordinance to be valid.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.50.070.  

Landlords must provide the Notice of Tenant Rights in any of the following circumstances:

  1. Within sixty days of the effective date (October 2, 2017) of the ordinance;
  2. When entering into a lease or rental agreement after October 2017;
  3. When renewing a lease or rental agreement after October 2017;
  4. With any notice of termination; and
  5. At any time the City of Union City requires the Notice, including any time the ordinance is amended.  Id.

A landlord who fails to serve each tenant with a Notice of Tenants Rights cannot terminate a tenancy that is covered under this ordinance.  Id.

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

For tenants in units covered by the ordinance, the landlord must have a just-cause reason to evict the tenant. Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.50.040.  In addition to having a just-cause reason, the landlord must have registered their residential rental property with the City, provided the tenant with the required Notice of Tenant Rights, properly serve a Notice of Termination, and the landlord must not have accepted and will not accept any further rent for the unit.  Id.

The following are the just-cause reasons for eviction:

  1. Failure to pay rent.
  2. Breach of a material term in the rental agreement or lease.
  3. Illegal activities, including the unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, or unlawful use, possession, or manufacture of weapons and ammunition.
  4. Violation of any applicable health or safety codes where the tenant creates dangerous and unsanitary conditions and the tenant fails to abate or repair.
  5. Failure to execute a written extension of an existing lease.
  6. Temporary eviction to make substantial repairs or capital improvements on the unit where the landlord has already obtained all the necessary permits. Once the unit is complete, it must be offered back to the tenant at the same rental rate.
  7. Landlord is a service member in the United States armed forces and comes back from deployment and immediately returns to their usual residence that they occupy during off-duty time.
  8. Unit will be converted to a condominium under Chapter 17.84 of the Union City Municipal Code.
  9. Entire building will be demolished or otherwise removed from the rental housing market for a period of at least five years.  Removal includes a landlord’s election to sell the unit to a bona fide purchaser.  The landlord must provide tenants with a 60-days’ written notice to vacate.  If the landlord re-rents any unit in the building before the five year period expires, the landlord must offer that unit back to the tenant at the same rental rate they were paying when they vacated.
  10. Landlord (or landlord’s parents or children) plans to move into the unit (owner move-in eviction) as their primary residence. The landlord must provide tenants with a 60-days’ notice to vacate and must move in upon the expiration of the notice to reside in the unit for at least ten months out of the calendar year and for at least two years.  If the landlord re-rents the unit before the two year period expires, the unit must be offered back to the tenant at the same rental rate they were paying when they vacated.  Id.

Are relocation benefits available for tenants that are displaced through a no-fault eviction under the 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, demolition/removal, or temporary eviction to conduct substantial repairs or capital improvements.

What does the anti-harassment provision of the Union City Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance mean?

The ordinance prohibits landlords from engaging in certain activities in bad faith, with ulterior motive, or without honest intent.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.50.050.  The prohibited activities include the following:

  • Interrupting or failing to provide any housing service under the lease, such as disrupting a tenant’s utility services;
  • Failing to perform repairs or maintenance required by contract or local, state, or federal law;
  • Failing to exercise due diligence to complete repairs and maintenance once undertaken, including the failure to follow industry-appropriate safety standards and protocols;
  • Abusing or misusing the right to enter the tenant’s unit;
  • Removing a tenant’s personal property from the unit;
  • Influencing a tenant to vacate by means of fraud, intimidation, or coercion;
  • Offering tenant a buyout agreement more than once every during a six month period;
  • Threatening a tenant by words, gestures, or physical harm;
  • Interfering with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment;
  • Refusing to accept lawful rent;
  • Refusing to cash rent for over thirty days;
  • Interfering with or violating a tenant’s right to privacy; and
  • Any other repeated acts or omissions that are intended to cause the tenant to vacate.  Id.   

Also, landlords are prohibited from retaliating in any manner against a tenant because of their having exercised a right under the law.  Id.

What are my options if my landlord violated the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance?

Tenants may bring a private right of action to enforce all terms, rights, and obligations under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance.  Union City, Cal., Mun. Code § 5.50.080.  If a landlord engages in any of the activities prohibited by the ordinance, the tenant may file a lawsuit for money damages or injunctive relief, or both.  Id. 

A tenant that receives a notice of termination may bring a lawsuit against the landlord to contest its validity and to request injunctive relief to halt the termination of tenancy.  Id.

A landlord’s failure to comply with any individual component of termination or failure to comply with any pre-condition to serve a notice of termination will “invalidate, nullify, and void the effect of the notice of termination.”  Id.   If the tenant wins the lawsuit, they will be entitled to recover costs and reasonable attorney fees from the landlord.  Id.  If the landlord prevails by a preponderance of the evidence and the notice is deemed valid, the landlord will be entitled to recover costs and reasonable attorney fees from the tenant.  Id. 

Tenants may also bring a civil action to determine the applicability of this ordinance to their tenancy.  Id. 

Tenants that have been served a rent increase or notice to terminate should call Tobener Ravenscroft LLP to speak to a tenant attorney to discuss their rights under the Union City Residential Rent Review Ordinance and the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance.

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