"I Don't Have to Give You a Reason."

If there is one comment that I repeatedly hear from tenants, then it comes in the response to my asking them why the landlord gave them a 30-day notice (or a 60-day notice) to terminate their tenancy. “When I asked the landlord why he was terminating our tenancy, the landlord said, ‘I don’t have to give you a reason.'” Up until January 1, 2020, that was pretty much true in California.

But as of January 1, 2020, if a tenant has been living continuously in a rental property for at least 12 months, then a California landlord cannot terminate that tenant’s residency without just cause.

While it always has been illegal to terminate a person’s tenancy for an illegal reason, California landlords (for the most part) never had to state in the notice of termination of tenancy why they were evicting a tenant. Instead, they could just serve the tenant with a notice of termination of tenancy, and the clock would start running.

If the tenant were able to prove that the notice of termination of tenancy had been served on them for an unlawful reason (e.g., because of the tenants’ race), then they would be able to stop the eviction. But that always has been a tall order.

The beauty of the new law is that California landlords no longer will be able to hide their reasons for terminating residential tenancies for longer term tenants. Instead, they will have to state the reason (or at least their purported reason) for their terminating the tenancy in the actual notice of termination of tenancy.

California’s new law states what “just cause” means, but it does so a little vaguely. While this will leave the courts with some wiggle room to decide whether something amounts to “just cause” or not, what the new law definitely does is assure tenants that they will know why they are getting the boot (or, again, at least they will know the purported reason they are getting the boot). So if the landlord is evicting the tenants because they have repeatedly failed to timely pay the rent, then the notice will clearly state that reason.

Undoubtedly, some landlords will try to load up the reasons for why they are evicting a tenant. For example, the landlord may state that it served the notice because of the tenants’ noise violations, late payments of rent, etc. Without question, the new law is going to create lots of litigation over whether the landlord was being honest when it stated the reasons for a evicting a tenant. “Pretext” will adorn legal briefs throughout California courthouses.

What is a tenant to do if they are served a notice of termination that states obvious falsehoods? For example, imagine if the landlord serves a notice that list several false reasons for the service of the notice. In that situation, the tenant needs to contact a lawyer verse in the law ASAP.

Getting a landlord to confess why it served a notice of termination of tenancy always has been a tough thing to do. Now that California law compels landlords to do so (in limited situations), one can only imagine the fights that will be fought over whether the landlord truly served the notice to retaliate against a tenant, etc.

Published by

Stuart E. Fagan

Fair housing litigator with over 25 years' experience accepting cases in California and Illinois (Coming Winter 2020)