Landlords, Brace Yourselves: New Law Now Limits Your Rental Increases & Terminations

February 20, 2020 Published Article

California can be an especially expensive place to live. While this is the common wisdom, residents of the state are also painfully aware that location is an equally important factor. Yet, to curb unscrupulous actions in certain areas and expansive rental increases, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed AB-1482, which is a state-wide limitation on yearly rental increases, prompting potential additions to leases, and additional notices that landlords are required to give to tenants. Failure to do so may cost landlords unnecessary costs and unforeseen complications around the termination of a tenancy.

How Does the Rental Cap Work?

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.

Exempt Properties from the Law

Certain properties are also exempt from the rental cap law, 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.

‘Just Cause’ for Terminations Is a Necessity

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.

What Landlords Must Do Right Now

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.

A failure to do any of these actions risks that a tenant may contest either the termination for being improper or an increase in rent, as an excessive rent hike.