As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on California businesses and residents, two waves of rules have guided tenants, landlords, and their counsel through the resulting eviction crisis.The first wave involved moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. On April 6, 2020, two emergency California Rules of Court were adopted. Emergency Rule 1 effectively halted all unlawful detainer lawsuits, except those necessary to protect public health and safety. (Cal. Rules of Court, emergency rule 1.) And Emergency Rule 2 effectively halted all pending judicial foreclosure actions, other than those involving issues of public health and safety. (Cal. Rules of Court, emergency rule 2.) These emergency rules expired on Sept. 1, 2020, and courts were once again authorized to proceed with these types of actions.

Just as those moratoriums expired, a new set of rules took effect. The Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020 went into effect on Aug. 31, 2020. (AB 3088 (Stats. 2020, Ch. 37).) The legislation includes the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1179.01-1179.07), which remains in effect until Feb. 1, 2025 and includes various protections for tenants and small landlords as they address the complicated issue of unpaid rent during the pandemic.

Several key changes in that legislation relate to notice requirements for demanding payment of rent and for tenant evictions. Those changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Evictions for just cause (as required by the California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (AB 1482)) were allowed again as of Sept. 2, 2020. However, evictions pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 1161(2) and 1161(3) are subject to the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1179.01-1179.07) if the failure to pay rent or the breach of a covenant of the lease is related to a COVID-19 financial hardship.
  • If the failure to pay rent was between March 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2020 (referred to as the “protected time period”): The landlord needed to provide 15-day notice to pay rent or quit that complied with Code of Civil Procedure sections 1179.04 and 1179.03, statutes which require landlords to advise tenants of their rights and obligations and to provide tenants with a blank declaration supporting a claim of financial hardship. During this time period, tenants were advised that if they qualified as “high income tenants,” their landlord could request proof of that financial hardship. If a tenant provided a completed declaration within the 15-day notice period, that tenant could not be evicted.
  • If the failure to pay rent is between Sept. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2020 (referred to as the “transition time period”): The landlord needs to provide 15-day notice to pay rent or quit in compliance with Code of Civil Procedure section 1179.03. If the tenant provides a completed declaration and pays at least 25% of their rent within the 15-day notice period, that tenant cannot be evicted.
  • On Feb. 1, 2021, the above rules no longer apply and use of the 15-day notice reverts to the usual three-day notice.
  • The unpaid rent is not forgiven and can be collected through small claims court as of March 1, 2021. (Code Civ. Proc., § 116.223.)

Although the AB 3088 “transition time” is coming to an end, the pandemic is not. Counsel should remain alert and watch for further changes to the law to address the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.

For more detailed discussion of landlord-tenant issues in California, and the impact of COVID-19 legislation on those issues, see CEB’s California Landlord-Tenant Practice.

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