Repairs and Retaliation

Most landlords are quick to make necessary repairs to tenants’ homes because they know that if repairs go unfixed, then the tenant is likely to either not renew their lease or take legal action. As such, if you are a tenant and your residence needs a repair, then the first thing that you want to do is to promptly notify the landlord of the needed repair. Ideally, you will have time to put your repair request in writing (or submit it electronically), so that there is a record of your repair request. Keep copies of your repair requests, for they will be important to you if your dispute ends up in court. But, if there is no time to make a written request (e.g., there is a water leak), then follow up your initial telephonic or oral request with an email or written note. The email or note only needs to say something such as, “As I mentioned, the roof in the bedroom is leaking. Thank you, for agreeing to send someone to fix it right away.” The point of the written record is to prove that you told the landlord about the problem.

Sometimes when the repair is not urgent, then you may run into a landlord who is slow to fix the problem. Other times, a landlord simply will refuse to make necessary repairs because the landlord doesn’t want to spend the money.

If your landlord refuses to make necessary repairs to your apartment or house, then you may need to contact your local housing and code enforcement department for help (it’s free). Code enforcement is responsible for enforcing laws of the State of California and some county ordinances. The local housing and code enforcement department can inspect the rental property and document any code violations. (See the list below of most major counties’ code enforcement telephone numbers.)

Briefly, the Uniform Housing Code and the California State Health and Safety Code set minimum standards for dwellings. A code violation makes a building “substandard” within the meaning of the law when the violation is to such an extent that it endangers life, limb, health, property, safety, or the welfare of the public. Code enforcement thus will check to see if your home meets those standards. These standards include such items as requiring adequate heating, plumbing, and electrical systems, and more.

After code enforcement inspects the rental property, if it finds code violations, then the code enforcement inspector will mail the property owner a courtesy letter explaining the alleged complaint and ask that the owner contact the code enforcement department for information on how to fix the alleged violations. The property owner is then given a reasonable amount of time to take care of the violation. If the owner fails to timely fix the problem, then it may be subjected to fines (and other legal measures). Be that as it may, code enforcement works with many responsible property owners who maintain or bring properties into compliance. This type of voluntary compliance is the goal, rather than issuing fines and enforced compliance.

But sometimes landlords don’t take too kindly to tenants calling code enforcement for help. And it time landlords begin to take retaliatory actions against the tenants. The retaliation may take the form of a refusal to renew a lease. Or it may take the form of towing a tenant’s car even though it had the proper parking sticker on it. Some landlords may even go into a tenant’s unit and snoop around or do damage to the unit while the tenant is away from home. If you sense that the landlord has begun to retaliate against you, then seek legal help ASAP. You have a right to live in a non-threatening environment. There are specific laws that protect tenants from landlord retaliation. Feel free to call us if you need help.

Code Enforcement Telephone Numbers:

Alemeda County: (925) 960-9486 or (510) 670-5400 or (510) 238-3381
Contra Costa County: (925) 674-7210
Fresno County: (559) 600-4550
Kern County: (661) 862-8602
Los Angeles County: 3-1-1 or (213) 473-3231
Monterey County: 2-1-1 or (831) 372-8026
Orange County (Environmental Health): (714) 433-6000
Riverside County: (951) 955-2004
Sacramento County: 3-1-1 or (916) 875-4311
San Bernardino County: (909) 884-4056 or (760) 995-8140
San Diego County (Environmental Health): (858) 505-6903
San Joaquin County: (209) 460-5000
San Francisco County: (415) 558-6454
Santa Clara County: (408) 299-5770
Solano County: (707) 784-6100
Sonoma County: (707) 565-1992
Stanislaus County: (209) 525-6700
Tulare County: (559) 624-7060
Ventura County: 2-1-1 or (800) 339-9597
Yolo County: (530)757-5646

HOW TO SPOT DISCRIMINATORY HOUSING ADS

If you are looking for a new place to live, then you likely are going to be looking at advertisements for new places to live. While landlords are not allowed to discriminate when announcing rental vacancies, it can happen. So let’s take a look at what those discriminatory ads might look like and then talk about what you can do about it.

Families with Children (“Familial Status”)

In the old days, it was not uncommon for an apartment complex to state in an advertisement, “Sorry, no children!” But in 1988 familial status was added to the list of protected categories under the Fair Housing Act. Why? Because families with young children were having trouble finding places to live. Also, landlords were using the excuse of having children to discriminate against people because of race or national origin. For example, if the landlord didn’t like a certain race, then it was much easier for the landlord to discriminate against those people based on their race by simply claiming that the landlord normally would rent to them, but since they had young children, the landlord wasn’t going to rent to them. Obviously, this was a problem that needed to be fixed, so Congress added the category of “familial status” to try to stop both problems.

What is “familial status” anyway? It’s a status. For example, what is your marital status? Are you single or married? What is your employment status? Are you working or not? When it comes to familial status, people who live together are either “familial” or not. Simply put, to fall within the category of “familial status,” the people who live together must consist of: a child (under 18 years old) living with either: 1) a parent or parents; 2) a lawful guardian; or 3) someone who has written permission to have that child live with them (think of someone like a grandparent). Let me give you a few examples: 1) a 14-year old daughter living with her mom would fall within “familial status.” 2) three college students living together would not fall within the classification of “familial status,” for none of them is a child. 3) parents living with their 18-year old son would not be classified under “familial status” because their son is over 18 years old. Normally, it is easy to determine if a group of people living together falls within the protected category, but some living arrangements can be messy.

Ads stating things such as, “ideal for working professionals,” arguably indicate a preference for adults only. So, too, do ads that declare an apartments is “perfect for single or couple.” The implication? The apartment is not perfect for a family with children. Finally, ads that proclaim: “nice, quiet, mature, neighborhood” seem okay at first blush. But when you start to think about the ad, “quiet” and “mature” arguably indicate that children are not welcome.

Race/Color

Ads stating a preference for one race or another are clearly unlawful. But these types of ads can be blatant (“no blacks”) or subtle (“nice, Asian community”). Either way, they are unlawful.

Religion

Advertisements that openly express a preference (“Christian couple preferred”), limitation (“Muslims only”), or discrimination (“no Jews”) are all illegal. Likewise, ads that describe current residents (“nice Jewish community”) or the neighborhood (“near the mosque”) may be illegal, for they seem to indicate a preference for a certain type of tenant.

Sex

When it comes to advertisements that state a preference for one sex over the other, then there is an exception. But first, let’s see what a discriminatory ad based on sex might look like. An ad that states “female preferred” is a classic example of a discriminatory ad.

But if the vacancy that is being announced is one for a roommate, then it is okay for the ad to limit applicants to one sex. It is not illegal for a person to look for a roommate of a certain sex. This makes sense. Imagine two young, college women who rent an apartment off campus. One of the women graduates and the other woman wants a new roommate. She is not required to rent to the first person who meets the qualifications (sorry, guys). She can lawfully choose to rent only to another woman.

National Origin

In this day and age, national origin has become a hot political issue. Thus ads that state things such as “no immigrants” or “no foreigners” or “Mexicans preferred” will likely be deemed illegal by courts. Advertisements that appear in a language other than English may be illegal because they are indirectly indicating a preference for someone who speaks that language. For example, if an ad only is in Korean, then it may be proved that the landlord illegally preferred Koreans over other tenants. Also, ads that describe current residents (“quiet Korean community”) or the neighborhood (“predominantly Chinese neighborhood”) may be illegal.

Handicap/Disability

When the Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to add familial status as a protected category, Congress also added the category of handicap as a protected category. Nowadays, it is more common to use the term “disabled” instead of “handicap,” but the technical category is handicap.

At any rate, advertisements that state such things as “no wheelchairs” or “able-body people only” or “must be able to live independently” are unlawful. Likewise, ads that describe the apartment complex as unable to accommodate people with disabilities (e.g., “units are not accessible”, “no pets, even seeing eye dogs”) are also unlawful.

Conclusion

If you have run into a discriminatory ad, then what can you do about it? First, you should report the unlawful ad to publisher of that ad (whether that be Craigslist, an internet provider, social media, newspaper), so that it can be removed.

Next, you might want to complain to a local fair housing agency, so that it can investigate the matter. The fair housing agency may have had other complaints about this landlord, so it may decide to pursue an action against the landlord.

Finally, Thomas Jefferson said, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” Put simply, unless potential tenants do something about landlords who make discriminatory ads, then they will continue to do so. If you want to do something, then you may choose to file a claim with HUD (202) 708-1112 or California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) (800) 884-1684. Or you can contact a fair housing attorney to assist you in filing a claim of housing discrimination against the landlord. The choice is yours.

“Those Are The Rules That You Signed”

When most people look for a new place to live, they are thinking about what the new place has to offer. Does it have a pool? Is there a gym on site? How far away is the local grocery store? Are there good schools nearby? Is there a play area for the kids? Is public transportation available? Is the rent fair?

Put simply, most people don’t think much about what an apartment complex’s rules are before they sign the lease. And this is particularly true for families with children. Besides, who has the time to read through a whole bunch of rules while the manager is waiting for you to sign the lease? I never did when I was a tenant.

But then one day the manager shows up at your apartment and says, “I found your child sitting outside without adult supervision. That’s against the rules.” “The rules?” you say, “he’s 15 years old. He’s not doing anything wrong.” “Sorry,” says the manager, “but if he’s going to be outside, then you have to supervise him.”

To be frank, most parents don’t have to time to be babysitting 15-year-olds who simply want to go outside and hang out with their friends after school.

So what is a parent supposed to do if they run into these type of rules? On the one hand, if parents tell their children to simply disobey the rules, then they run the risk of being served a warning notice, or they may even face an eviction.

On the other hand, often when a parent tries to reason with a manager about such rules, then the manager simply replies, “I’m sorry, but those are the rules that you signed.”

Put simply, families with children are often put between a rock and a hard place. If they disobey the rules and allow their children to be outside without adult supervision, then they run the risk of being evicted for breaking the rules. But if they obey the rules, then they are forced to make their children stay inside all the time.

Isn’t there a better choice? Yes, there is. While apartment complexes are allowed to enact and enforce reasonable rules, the type of supervision rule mentioned above has been found to be unreasonable (and therefore illegal), even if you signed them! Unfortunately, it normally takes the help of a lawyer to get an apartment complex to realize that it needs to change its rules. If you are in that situation, then, please, get in touch with us.

Do I have to Pay My Rent? Yes!

In this crazy time, some are wondering if they have to pay their rent. Yes, you have to pay your rent . . . unless . . . there is a moratorium on rent payments. Moratorium? What’s that? A moratorium is a legally authorized period of delay in the payment of a debt. In other words, if a moratorium is in effect, then you don’t have to pay your rent . . . right now. Even if there is a moratorium in effect, then you will have to eventually pay the rent. You do not simply get to live where you are living rent free.

This poses a problem for those renters whose incomes have been taken away by the coronavirus. So what is a renter to do? First and foremost, don’t waste any unemployment or stimulus check that you might receive. If at all possible, pay your rent now. Because if you don’t pay your rent now, then you are going to owe it later. And if you don’t have it later, then your landlord is going to be able to rightfully evict you.

But what about moratoriums on evictions? How do those work? Again, a moratorium is a legally authorized period of delay. Eventually, the delay comes to an end, and the evictions can begin. In short, a moratorium on evictions does not mean that you give to live rent free. It just means that your landlord can’t evict you right now. Your landlord will be able to eventually evict you for not paying rent, even if you did not have the ability to make your rent payment.

In the end, it all sounds rather brutal, but it is something that we all have to live through. So, make sacrifices where you can and ask your landlord if you could possibly pay some rent now and make up the difference in the months ahead. For example, you might offer to pay 75% of your rent now and make up the difference by paying an extra $250/month (or whatever it might be) once you get back to work.

Landlords should be willing to work with their current tenants because if they don’t, then they’ve got to pay to evict them and then start all over again. Expect landlords to be reasonable, but, unfortunately, they are not required to be reasonable.

DOT-TO-DOT. “IS IT A DOG?” “NO, IT’S HOUSING DISCRIMINATION”

Do you remember when you were a kid and you played dot-to-dot? You’d start connecting all the dots and you’d start to have some idea of what the figure was going to be. Eventually, after you connected enough dots, you could see the figure: “Oh, it’s a dog!”

Figuring out whether you have been discriminated against under the Fair Housing Act or California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act is a lot like dot-to-dot. So, let’s see if any of the “dots” below look familiar. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is against the law:

• For a landlord to refuse to rent to a person because of that person’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability;
• For a landlord to tell you an apartment or a house is not available for rent when it actually is available for rent;
• For a real estate agent to intentionally show you homes only in certain neighborhoods, basically because they don’t want you to buy a home in another neighborhood;
• For a landlord to have different terms, conditions, or privileges for renting an apartment or a home;
• For a landlord to advertise housing to preferred groups of people only;
• For a landlord to refuse to make reasonable accommodations for persons with a disability if the accommodation may be necessary to afford such
person a reasonable and equal opportunity to use and enjoy a
dwelling;
• For a landlord to harass, coerce, intimidate, or interfere with anyone
exercising or assisting someone else with his/her fair housing
rights.

In the end, if you see some of these “dots” starting to connect together, then realize that you may be a victim of housing discrimination. Know also, however, that one “dot” can be enough to prove housing discrimination, so you don’t have to wait until all the dots are connected before calling for help.

When Does 5 Days Equal 60 Days? Coronavirus, Rent Payments, and Executive Order N-37-20, Part 2 (Sort of)

23 days after issuing his first executive order proclaiming a State of Emergency in the State of California, Governor Newsom issued a second executive order that brought further relief to California tenants. Below we will take a look at the significance of his order.

5 = 60?

Normally, when a landlord personally serves an unlawful detainer action (i.e., an eviction) on a tenant, the tenant has a mere five days to file a response to it. (A tenant gets 15 days to respond, if they are served by mail.) As such, tenants often scramble to find a lawyer for help. Sometimes, sadly, tenants simply don’t know what to do and just let the five days pass without doing anything. This puts the eviction in the fast lane.

Governor Newsom has done something significant for tenants in executing this latest executive order. What he has done is to give tenants 60 days to file a response to an unlawful detainer. Why is that significant? Because it means that the landlord cannot finish the eviction process in short order. As a result, the tenant cannot be evicted for at least 60 days, regardless if the tenant is paying rent or not. In fact, the tenant will not be evicted for quite some time because once a tenant files a response to an unlawful detainer action, then the matter is set for trial. The landlord then has a number of hurdles to jump through before being able to lawfully evict a tenant.

In the normal process of things, an unlawful detainer is set for trial a week or two after the tenant files a response. Trial is then conducted. It doesn’t last weeks or days. It usually lasts but a few minutes. If the landlord proves its case (it usually has no problem proving its case), then judgment is entered in favor of the landlord. The landlord then gives the necessary paperwork (a writ of possession) to the marshal, and the marshal serves the paperwork on the tenants informing the tenants that they will be physically removed from the property if they have not moved out by a certain date. This date is usually very sudden.

Governor Newsom’s order, however, forbids the enforcement of any writs while the Governor’s executive order is in effect (for qualified evictions). So when does the Governor’s order end? Right now, it ends on May 31, 2020. That’s obviously subject to change. Regardless, what this means is that a landlord cannot ask a marshal to enforce an eviction until at least June 1, 2020.

But can a landlord begin an eviction before that time? Yes, but then the landlord has to wait for the 60 days to pass from the service of the unlawful detainer on the tenant before having the matter set for trial. Practically speaking, however, 60 days from April 1st is May 31, 2020, so that is not going to be a real issue.

What’s the Catch?

While the Governor’s executive order is helpful, it does come with some prerequisites: 1) it only applies to evictions for non-payment of rent; 2) the tenant has to notify the landlord in writing (no later than 7 days from when rent is due) that the tenant needs to delay some or all of the rent because of an inability to pay due to reasons related to COVID-19; and 3) the tenant has to retain verifiable documentation explaining the tenant’s changed financial circumstances that resulted in the tenant not being able to pay the full rent. The verifiable documentation ultimately has to be turned over to the landlord. In other words, this is not a “take my word for it” type of defense.

What Qualifies as “Reasons Related to COVID-19″?

No, binge watching CNN or Fox News coverage of COVID-19 does not count! Obviously, if the tenant or one of the tenant’s children has contracted coronavirus (or suspected to have contracted the disease), then that counts. Income reduction caused by COVID-19 also counts. And a tenant whose children’s school was closed as a result of coronavirus will have a reason related to COVID-19, but only if the tenant needed to miss work to care for the child. So, if a tenant’s 17-year-old child’s school is closed, then it is going to be hard to convince a court that a tenant would need to miss work to care for that child. (Yes, litigation is looming regarding how old a child needs caring if home from school.)

When Should a Qualified Tenant File a Response to an Unlawful Detainer Action?

While a qualified tenant now has up to 60 days to file a response to the unlawful detainer action, the LAST THING IN THE WORLD that the tenant wants to do is to respond immediately. Why? Because the sooner the tenant files a response to the unlawful detainer lawsuit, the sooner the trial date is set. And the sooner the trial date is set, then sooner the tenant is going to lose. Yes, there is still some protection because the marshal will not be able to serve and enforce the writ of possession, but there is no reason for a tenant to put his or her eviction on the fast track. Some courts, in addition, have pushed back trial dates, but there is no reason for a tenant in distress to respond until the last possible date.

Evictions (During a State of Emergency) that were Already in the Process:

When the Governor’s two executive orders are read jointly, then a landlord who was in the process of evicting a tenant when the state of emergency was declared is allowed to finish up the eviction, and the marshal will be able to serve the writ of possession (effectively ending the tenants’ occupancy) because those tenants did not meet the prerequisites of the new law.

Does Anyone have to Pay their Rent?

Yes, people who don’t qualify have to pay their rent on time. If they don’t, then they will face eviction. Indeed, Governor Newsom’s executive order states expressly: “Nothing in this Order shall prevent a tenant who is able to pay all or some of the rent due from paying that rent in a timely manner or relieve a tenant of liability for unpaid rent.” Tenants who can–but don’t–pay rent will be subject to eviction, as normal. And they won’t get 60 days to respond.

Coronavirus, Rent Payments, and GOVERNOR NEWSOM’S Executive Order N-28-20

You may have recently heard that California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order concerning evictions and foreclosures. But what exactly did it say with respect to evictions? (We’ll leave foreclosures for another day.) Let’s address the main issues.

The first item in the executive order states: “The time limitation set forth in Penal Code section 396, subdivision (f), concerning protections against residential eviction, is hereby waived.” (Cal. Penal Code section 396 will be discussed in depth below.)

What good is the first item of the order? It only seems to extend the time before a landlord can raise rents after evicting a prior tenant. The first order continues, “Those protections shall be in effect through May 31, 2020.” Put simply, this provides a disincentive for landlords to think about evicting tenants and raising rents. That practice is prohibited by the Governor’s executive order until May 31, 2020 (with possible extensions).

The second item of the order basically says that local government is allowed–but not required–to limit when a landlord cannot evict a tenant. Basically, the Governor is passing the ball to local government to let them make the unpopular decision (unpopular, that is, from the landlords’ perspective) to stop evictions. This way, the Governor can tell all the big donors, “Hey, I didn’t forbid you from evicting delinquent tenants; the local government did.”

All kidding aside, if the local government takes no action to delay evictions, then evictions can proceed as normal. This likely will come as a surprise to most California tenants.

But even if the local government decides to implement limitations on evictions, it is very limited in the kind of evictions that it can limit. For the executive order only permits local governments to limit evictions when two conditions are met: 1) the basis for the eviction is nonpayment of rent, which is basically caused by a substantial decrease in a household’s income; and 2) the decrease in household income was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic AND it is documented. Thus the only evictions that a local government could choose to stop would be those where the tenant was unable to pay rent because the tenant’s rent was substantially reduced as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and there was documentation to support the claim.

While there will be many people who actually will fit the bill, it does not mean that the tenant who was already out of work, and thus unable to pay the rent, gets to just stay in place until the pandemic passes. That tenant can be rightly evicted, even if the local government gets around to implementing limitations on evictions. So, too, may the tenant who lost a part-time job be evicted if the tenant did not have a substantial decrease in household income. (Do you think that some lawyers and judges are going to have a fun time figuring out what that means?)

The Governor’s order expressly states that the only evictions that the local government can stop are the ones talked about above. So, the local government CANNOT ban all evictions at this time.

Next, the Governor’s order is very clear: “Nothing in this Order shall relieve a tenant of the obligation to pay rent, nor restrict a landlord’s ability to recover rent due.” What does this mean? First, even if the local government limits evictions, this is not a get-out-of-paying-rent-free card. Tenants who have not had a substantial decrease in their household income still have to pay rent. The Governor’s order is meant to protect certain people who have been substantially impacted by the coronavirus, and no one else. Next, as we have discussed, the executive order is not meant to restrict a landlord from being able to collect rent that is due. In other words, if a tenant did not lose a job and thus can pay rent, but chooses not to, then the landlord can seek to collect that rent, and even evict that tenant. In the end, the Governor’s executive order protects some tenants, but not all.

Cal. Penal Code §396

Rent Increases During a State of Emergency:

In the State of California, during a state of emergency, it is illegal for a landlord to increase a tenant’s rent by more than ten percent, except for in limited situations, for the first 30 days following the proclamation. Cal. Penal Code §396(f). That’s right, it’s a crime. It is perfectly fine, however, for a landlord during that 30-day period of the state of emergency to increase an existing tenant’s rent by up to ten percent. So, if a landlord increased the tenant’s rate from $1,000/month to $1,100/month, then that ten percent increase would not be unlawful under Cal. Penal Code §396(f). 31 days after the proclamation or declaration, all bets are off, and the rules go back to normal. Thus if two months after the state of emergency is declared a landlord increases the tenants rent from $1,000/month to $1,200, then such a rent increase would not violate Cal. Penal Code §396(f). It doesn’t mean that the rental increase wouldn’t violate any other law (e.g., perhaps a local rent control ordinance), but it would not violate Cal. Penal Code §396(f).

Evictions (During a State of Emergency) for the Purpose of Selling the Rental Property:

It is also illegal for a landlord to start an eviction during a state of emergency and rent or offer to rent to another person at a rental price greater than the evicted tenant could be charged. In other words, a landlord cannot evict a tenant who is paying $1,000 a month for rent, and then turn around and immediately rent the same place to another tenant for $1,200 a month, for that is a greater amount than the landlord could have been charged. Remember, it would be okay for a landlord to raise a tenant’s rent by up to ten percent.

Note, this does not mean that a landlord is forbidden from evicting a tenant who does not pay rent. It simply means that the landlord cannot evict a tenant for the purpose of immediately getting a new, higher-paying tenant. Cal. Penal Code §396(f). But 31 days after the proclamation or declaration of the state of emergency, all bets are off, and the rules go back to normal.

When might a situation arise where a landlord is trying to evict a tenant who is not late on rent? It might occur where a tenant is on a month-to-month tenancy. (Many tenants are on month-to-month tenancies without even realizing it, for if a term lease expires, then, in most cases, it automatically becomes a month-to-month tenancy if a new term lease is not signed.) The landlord could give the tenant the required notice to terminate the tenancy (30 or 60 days, depending on how long the tenant has been renting). If the tenant does not timely move out after receiving the notice to terminate the tenancy, then the landlord normally has the right to start the eviction process. But that is not true during a state of emergency, if the reason the landlord is terminating the tenancy is to get a new tenant to pay a rent that is more than ten percent higher than the old tenant’s rent.

Evictions (During a State of Emergency) for the Purpose of Selling the Rental Property:

If during a state of emergency, however, a landlord is terminating the tenancy because, for example, the landlord wants to put the house up for sale, then that is perfectly fine. That is not illegal. Of course, if the landlord says one thing and does another, then the landlord may be guilty of a crime, if the landlord raises the rent on the new tenant by more than ten percent within the 30 days following the proclamation or declaration of the state of emergency.

Let’s imagine a landlord who truly wants to sell the rental property. The landlord evicts the tenant. But then the landlord realizes two months later that the market has tanked, then there is nothing illegal about a landlord putting the house up for rent in excess of ten percent greater than the last tenant’s rent. By way of example, if the evicted tenant were paying $1,000/month for rent, and the landlord was now offering that same place for rent at $1,500/month, then there would be nothing illegal about that because it was more than 30 days following the proclamation or declaration of the state of emergency.

Evictions (During a State of Emergency) that were Already in the Process:

A landlord who was in the process of evicting a tenant when the state of emergency was declared is allowed to finish up the eviction and set the new rental rate. In that situation, the landlord is not limited to raising the rent by only ten percent. Cal. Penal Code §396(f).

“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.

Know When to Seek the Help of a Fair Housing Lawyer

The Fair Housing Act is a set of rules aimed at governing and eliminating discrimination in real estate transactions (i.e., leases, rentals, sales, advertisements). If you are a landlord or a tenant, chances are you already may have dealt with the law in one way or another. For example, fair housing laws give you the right to equal treatment when you are renting or buying. But the fair housing laws also impact what landlords can do when they are looking for new tenants, such as who they can refuse to consider and on what basis.

This post is aimed to put some light on the fair housing act and when to seek the help of a professional fair housing lawyer.

Property Advertisement      

Advertising is the usual first step to making a property available for rent, and tenants search ads, whether they are in print or online. Landlords want to promote their property on the best platforms, so that they gain access to the most potential tenants. These tenants can then check the specifications of the property to make informed decisions. The key for a landlord, however, is to ensure that its ads are lawful.

Here are some common statements that you must avoid.

  • No families with young children;
  • No Muslims;
  • No pets (including emotional support animals).

A landlord who using any of these statements in its rental advertisement, may be violating the fair housing laws. If in doubt, then it is smart to connect with a fair housing lawyer, so that expensive litigation can be avoided.

Tenant Screening

Landlords want to be sure that they are choosing the best tenants for their property. Good tenants are good for everyone. However, landlords sometimes do it the wrong way and ask some screening questions that may be unlawful (or used as evidence of possible discrimination).

Questions to be avoided in the screening process include:

  • Where is your accent from?
  • Do you have a service dog?
  • How old are your children?
  • What religion are you?

It is important for landlords to be fair to everyone when choosing tenants. Landlords should follow the same process for screening every potential tenant, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, etc. One potential tenant should not be required to come in for a personal interview, while other potential tenants are permitted to be interviewed over the phone.

Eviction Process

Not every disagreement between a landlord and a tenant justifies an eviction. Again, potential evictions must be handled uniformly. So if one white tenant blares his music at 1 a.m. on a Friday and is simply given a warning notice, then if a tenant of color does the same thing the following weekend, that tenant also should receive a warning notice. Different treatment with similar circumstances is often one of the biggest indicators of unlawful discrimination.

Whether you are a tenant or a landlord, it is important to be aware of fair housing laws. The best way to protect your rights as a tenant is to hire a fair housing lawyer.

How Does the Unruh Civil Rights Act Protect Renters?

The Unruh Civil Rights Act (“Unruh Act”) stands as a bulwark protecting each person’s inherent right to “full and equal” access to “all business establishments.” The Unruh Act, like the common law principles upon which it was partially based, imposes a compulsory duty upon business establishments (including apartment complexes) to serve all persons without arbitrary discrimination. The Unruh Act thus serves as a preventive measure, without which it is recognized that businesses might fall into discriminatory practices.

The Unruh Act provides in pertinent portion at Cal. Civ. Code §51:

“All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin . . . are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments or every kind whatsoever.” Although not specifically enumerated in Cal. Civ. Code §51, the Unruh Act also protects from discrimination on the basis of age and familial status. Cal. Civ. Code §51.2(a) (age); Marina Point, Ltd. v. Wolfson, 640 P.2d 115, 124 (Cal. 1982) (familial status).

The Unruh Act makes it unlawful for a business establishment to deny, discriminate, or make a distinction contrary to the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The law is rather straightforward: if a business opens its doors to the public, then it cannot unlawfully discriminate against its potential customers. Thus an apartment complex which forbids children from playing outside denies families with children the full and equal advantages, facilities, or privileges of living in that apartment complex in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Of note, Cal. Civil Code §52 does not focus on the reason for the prohibited behavior. Rather, it simply bans the denial, aiding or inciting a denial, or making of any discrimination or distinction contrary to the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The key word–“contrary” means that Civil Code §52 is violated if the defendant engaged in “willful, affirmative misconduct” that is contrary to a person’s rights to the full and complete access to the business. Consequently, the California Supreme Court has declared that only intentional discrimination–in contradistinction from discriminatory effect discrimination–is actionable under the Unruh Act:

“[T]he [Unruh] Act was passed in 1959 and its predecessor in 1897, long before the disparate impact theory was recognized by the federal courts. On the contrary, the language of the Act suggests that intentional acts of discrimination, not disparate impact, was the object of the legislation.”

The California Supreme Court continued:

“Section 52 states: ‘Whoever denies, or who aids, or incites such denial, or whoever makes any discrimination, distinction, or restriction on account of sex, color, race . . . contrary to the provisions of section 51 . . . , is liable for each and every such offense . . . .’”

It concluded:

“In summary, we hold that a plaintiff seeking to establish a case under the Unruh Act must plead and prove intentional discrimination in public accommodations in violation of the terms of the Act. A disparate impact analysis or test does not apply to Unruh Act claims.”

Thus “intentional discrimination” in the context of the Unruh Act means: “Whoever denies, aids or incites a denial, or makes any discrimination or distinction contrary to Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6, . . .”

At the end of the day, if your landlord is forbidding your children to play outside at your apartment complex because of the fact that they are children, then your landlord is likely violating the Unruh Act. Renters have rights. The Unruh Act contains some of those rights. If you’d like to discuss your rights as a renter, then give us a call, whether you are in San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, or anywhere in the State of California, we are here to help.