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Summary of AB 3088 – The California COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020

A.  Effective Date. The California COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 (“Tenant Act”) was approved by the Governor on August 31, 2020 and is effective immediately.

B.  Applies to Residential Property. The Tenant Act applies to residential real property and does not apply to commercial real property.

C.  Time Period. The Tenant Act covers rent and any other financial obligation of a tenant for the period March 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021 (“COVID-19 rental debt”), and creates two time periods: (a) the protected time period of March 1, 2020 through August 31, 2020, and (b) the transition time period of September 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

D.  Required Tenant Notification. On or before September 30, 2020, a landlord must provide, in at least 12-point font, a specified notice to tenants who, as of September 1, 2020, have not paid one or more rental payments that came due during the protected time period (March 1, 2020 through August 31, 2020).

E.  New Requirements for Notices Demanding COVID-19 Rental Debt. Notices that demand COVID-19 rental debt (i.e. a Notice to Pay Rent or Quit or a Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit) must comply with the following requirements: (1) the notice must be no shorter than 15 days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and other judicial holidays; (2) the notice must include a statement of the amount of rent demanded and date each amount became due; (3) the notice must include specified text from the State of California that differs depending on whether the notice seeks rent for the protected time period or transition time period, (4) the notice must include information regarding the methods for the tenant to submit a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress; and (5) the notice must include an unsigned declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress. If the landlord seeks COVID-19 rental debt for both the protected time period and transition time period, the landlord must serve two different notices to pay rent or quit – one for each period. A notice which does not meet these requirements, regardless of when the notice was issued, is invalid. The Tenant Act has no effect if the landlord lawfully regained possession of the property or obtained a judgment for possession of the property before the operative date of the Tenant Act.

F.  Special Rules for High Income Tenants. A landlord may require a high-income tenant to provide, in addition to and together with a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress, documentation supporting the claim that the tenant has suffered COVID-19-related financial distress. “High-income tenant” means a tenant with an annual household income of 130 percent of the median income for the county in which the residential rental property is located, but not less than $100,000. This rule applies only if the landlord has proof of income in the landlord’s possession before the service of the notice showing that the tenant is a high-income tenant and the notice includes special language required by the Tenant Act.

G.  Effect of Tenant Delivering Declaration of COVID-19-Related Financial Distress. If a tenant returns a signed declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to the landlord before expiration of a 15-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit or 15-Day Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit, then the following applies: (a) if the notice demanded for rent for the protected period, the tenant is deemed not to be in default for that rent; and (b) if the notice demanded rent for the transition period, the tenant is deemed not to be in default for that rent if, on or before January 31, 2021, the tenant tenders an amount equal to or not less than 25% of the rent demanded in the notice. A tenant may file a declaration with the court on or before the time to respond to the unlawful detainer action, if the tenant establishes that the failure to timely submit a declaration was due to mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect.

H.  Restrictions on Unlawful Detainer Actions. Before October 5, 2020, courts are prohibited from doing any of the following in an unlawful detainer action that seeks possession of residential real property and that is based, in whole or in part, on nonpayment of rent or other charges: (1) issue a summons on a complaint for unlawful detainer; or (2) enter a default or a default judgment for restitution. Before February 1, 2021, a court may not find a tenant guilty of an unlawful detainer unless it finds that one of the following applies: (i) the tenant was guilty of the unlawful detainer before March 1, 2020; (ii) in response to service of a notice demanding payment of COVID-19 rental debt pursuant to the Tenant Act, the tenant failed to comply with the requirements of the Tenant Act by providing a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress and making any necessary payments; or (iii) the unlawful detainer arises because of a termination of tenancy for just cause, as defined by AB1482 (See, Civil Code § 1946.2). The Tenant Act also requires the landlord to file a new supplemental cover sheet with the court. Any complaint or responsive pleading must include a specified statement that the action is for the recovery of COVID-19 rental debt.

I.  Partial Preemption of Local COVID-19 Moratoriums. The Tenant Act suspends certain requirements of local eviction moratoriums until January 31, 2021.

J.  Tenant Act Protections Cannot Be Waived. Any provision of a stipulation, settlement agreement, or other agreement entered into on or after the effective date of the Tenant Act, including a lease agreement, that purports to waive the provisions of the Tenant Act is prohibited and is void as contrary to public policy.

K.  Retaliation Prohibited. It is unlawful for a landlord to bring an action for unlawful detainer based on a cause of action other than nonpayment of COVID-19 rental debt, for the purpose of retaliating against the tenant because the tenant has a COVID-19 rental debt.

L.  Small Claims Court. The small claims court has jurisdiction in any action for recovery of COVID-19 rental debt, and any defenses thereto, regardless of the amount demanded. A small claims action to recover COVID-19 rental debt cannot be commenced before March 1, 2021. Any claim for recovery of COVID-19 rental debt is not subject to the limitation that a person may not bring two or more small claims actions in which the amount demanded exceeded two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) in any calendar year. This section remains in effect until February 1, 2025.

The law firm of Wallace, Richardson, Sontag & Le, LLP represents landlords, property management companies, institutional and private lenders, employers and insurance companies throughout the State of California in real estate, business and employment litigation. The information provided herein is for general interest only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.

September 1, 2020 | Landlord-Tenant Law |