Starting September 1, 2020, the State of California has expanded tenants’ rights in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. SB 3088 significantly alters landlord-tenant relationships throughout California until January 31, 2021 and after.

No Non-Payment Cases Until October 5, 2020

California courts are unable to issue any summons on a non-payment unlawful detainer (eviction) case until October 5, 2020. Although technically it can be filed, if no summons is issued, the eviction could not be properly served.

If a landlord had already filed an unlawful detainer prior to March 1, 2020, SB 3088 does not apply; however, no new unlawful detainer case can be filed non-payment of rent even for rent due prior to March 1, 2020.

Rent Relief for Tenants Until January 31, 2021

Even after October 5, 2020, tenants will have significant protections until January 31, 2021 for rent owed. Tenants who cannot afford to pay rent due to a COVID-19 related hardship cannot be evicted for rent due from March 4, 2020 through August 31, 2020 if a tenant provides a declaration stating that the tenant’s finances have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. A tenant who pays 25% of the rent owed from September 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021 cannot be evicted for non-payment as a result of a COVID-19 hardship.

In order to be protected, a tenant must provide a landlord with a declaration of hardship under penalty of perjury and pay 25% of the rent owed from September 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

Declarations of Hardship

If a tenant does not pay rent starting September 1, 2020, a landlord must now provide a fifteen day notice to pay rent or quit (prior to that time, a landlord was only required to serve a 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit). Unlike a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, a 15 Day Notice must provide disclosures regarding AB 3088 and COVID-19 eviction protections. The fifteen days do not include weekends or holidays. A fifteen day notice would have to be served for all rent owed from March 1, 2020 through August 31, 2020.

In order to be protected, a tenant must provide the landlord the declaration of hardship within fifteen days of service of the notice. Even if the tenant fails to timely serve the declaration on the landlord, a court can still dismiss any eviction filed by the landlord if the delay was the result of mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.

Although most tenants do not have to provide financial documents, AB 3088 does require “high-income tenants” to provide financial records but only if the landlord requests such documents. A landlord can only request such documents if the landlord had information that the tenant was “high income.” A high income tenant is defined as any tenant who makes more than 130% of the median income for the tenant’s county as defined by HUD in 2020 but not less than $100,000.

Rent Owed Becomes Consumer Debt

Tenants still owe all rent owed. AB 3088 does not waive any rent owed by a tenant. Instead, AB 3088 now converts a tenant’s rent that is owed from March 4, 2020 through January 31, 2021 to a “consumer debt” which the landlord can recover through small claims court if the tenant fills out a declaration of hardship. Although small claims court is only for cases less than $10,000, AB 3088 allows a landlord to file a small claims lawsuit for any amount of rent owed even if more than $10,000 for rent due from March 4, 2020 through January 31, 2021. Landlords can file small claims actions starting March 1, 2021 and can file as many actions as needed against multiple tenants.

Just Cause Eviction Expands to Single Family Homes

California’s Rent Control, which applies to nearly all multi-family housing was expanded to apply to single family homes and condominiums owned by individuals. Until January 31, 2021, an owner of a single family residence or condo must have “just case” to evict a tenant unless the owner intends to occupy the residence or for substantial remodel if it implicates health and safety.

Parties Cannot Waive AB 3088

A landlord or tenant cannot waive the protections under AB 3088. Any such waiver would be void against public policy.

AB 3088 Does not Apply to Commercial Tenancies

AB 3088 does not apply to commercial tenancies. For landlords of commercial properties, there may be local moratoria that apply but not State law at this time.