Rent hikes and termination limits under California's Tenant Protection Act
California's new Tenant Protection Act (AB-1482) places limits on yearly rental increases and mandates additional notices that landlords are required to give to tenants. First, the law sets forth three ways that rental increases may be limited: (1) a cap of 5% plus the percent change in the cost of living; (2) a cap of 10%; or (3) where local rent or price control that restricts annual increases in the rental rate to an amount less than the state law. The cap that applies is the one that is the most restrictive on the landlord. For example, if the cost of living has gone up by 6%, and there is a local law that restricts rental increases by 15%, then the state law would cap the landlord to a rental increase of 10%.
Notably, this doesn't count any discounts or incentives that are applied to the rent, if they are (a) listed separately and (b) clearly stated within the residential lease agreement. Thus, even if the effective increase would be beyond the applicable cap, the landlord is not obligated to cap rent using the discounted rental fees.
Finally, this does not prohibit the landlord from freely setting a rent for new tenants. The cap only applies to existing tenants.
Certain properties are exempt from the rental cap provision, allowing landlords to increase rents without limitation for the residential properties below:
Housing restricted by deed for purposes of affordable housing.
New housing with a certificate of occupancy that has been granted within the previous 15 years.
Condominiums or townhouses provided that the owner is not (a) a real estate investment trust; (b) a corporation, or (c) a limited liability trust.
A duplex in which one of the units is owner-occupied as the owner's primary residence.
Notably, AB-1482 is not limited to rent restrictions. AB-1482 also restricts the ability of a landlord to evict tenants after the tenant has been occupying the property for over 12 months without just cause. Just cause includes items typical to an ordinary eviction action, such as a failure to pay rent or a default of a material term of the lease, or nuisance actions. Importantly, the legislature provided "no-fault just cause" such as the intent to occupy the real property by the owner or one of their family members, withdrawal of the property from the rental market, compliance with a government agency or an intent to substantially remodel the property.
In the event that the just cause is "no-fault," then the owner must either (a) assist the tenant in relocating by providing a direct payment of a full month's rent to the tenant within 15 calendar days of the notice; or (b) waive the payment of the last month's rent. Effectively, this puts a cost on the landlord to terminate a tenancy. Importantly, an owner's failure to do either of those actions will render the termination of tenancy void, and cannot be contractually waived.
This does not apply to any of the housing types exempt under the rental cap provision, or (a) transient and tourist hotel occupancy; (b) housing accommodations in a nonprofit hospital, religious facility, extended care facility, licensed residential care facility for the elderly, or in an adult residential facility; (c) housing accommodations in which the tenant shares bathroom or kitchen facilities with the owner; (d) single-family owner-occupied residences where the owner leases no more than two units or bedrooms; or (e) student housing for kindergartens or grades 1 to 12.
Notwithstanding, landlords must also provide additional language within their lease giving notice of the rental cap law and the tenant's rights regarding termination. This language is stated within the law, and must be given in 12 point font.
Ultimately, landlords will have to show more care towards termination processes and rental increases moving forward. At a bare minimum, landlords will have to revise their form leases for new tenants and prepare addendums for any tenancies continuing in 2020. While the bare minimum is the new, state-mandated language to inform tenants of their rights, other language may be required if the landlord wishes to reserve a right to terminate in order to take occupancy for themselves.
Furthermore, for any leases going forward, any landlord that wants to provide a temporary discount or incentive to rent their units will have to include language outlining and specifically stating the presence of the discount or incentive, or chance that a tenant may contest the increase in rent as a violation of the rental cap portion of the law. Similarly, the changes above will have to be implemented as an addendum to any leases being renewed. Failure to follow this procedure may enable a tenant to successfully contest either the termination for being improper or an increase in rent as being excessive.