New No-Fault Rules Regarding Renovation-Based Evictions Begin April 1, 2024

California enacted new landlord-tenant legislation that takes effect April 1, 2024. Under the new law, California makes no-fault just-cause evictions more complex by expanding and defining specific terms for owner-occupation- and remodeling-based evictions.

The updated code replaces the word “landlord” with “owner.” For evictions based on renovations, the legislature changed the notice requirements and made it more difficult for landlords to qualify for the “substantial remodel” required to evict an occupant. A highlighted (aka red-lined) copy of the changes can be viewed by downloading this document: Red-Lined Changes to Civil Code section 1946.2.

Definition of “substantially remodelled” is reformatted.

Change 1: Specific Definition: California previously defined “substantially remodel.” The new law reformats and relocates the definition. The definition continues to mean construction that could not be “reasonably accomplished in a safe manner that allows the tenant to remain living in the place and that requires the tenant to vacate the residential real property for at least 30 consecutive days.” (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(ii).) And, it specifically limited the type of work to one of two situations:

Situation 1: “replacement or substantial modification of any structural, electrical, plumbing, or mechanical system that requires a permit from a governmental agency.” (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(ii)(I).)

Situation 2: “abatement of hazardous materials . . .” (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(ii)(II).)

This means that if you don’t need to pull permits for the renovations, it is unlikely that your renovation is sufficient to qualify for a remodel-based eviction. This change is not new, except that the definition is now easier to parse and understand in its new format, which is not true of the remainder of the changes to the statute.

Tenant now has a limited right to remain during repairs.

Change 2: Tenant’s Right to Remain: Under the new law, where the definition appeared previously, there is now a new tenant right: Namely, the tenant has the right to remain in the property during construction “on any days where a tenant could continue living in the residential real property without violating health, safety, and habitability codes and laws.” (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(iii).) This change makes it substantially more difficult for a landlord to qualify for the 30-consecutive-day limit on defining a “substantial remodel” because to reach that requirement, the state of the residence must be such that habitation would violate health and safety laws prohibiting habitation for the full duration of the thirty-days.

There are new notice requirements.

Change 3: Notice Requirements. The notice terminating tenancy must now include specific language. It must state the owner’s intent to demolish or substantially remodel the unit. (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(iv)(I).) It must include quoted statutory text informing the tenant of their rights (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(iv)(II)); any deviation from the statutory language would render the notice ineffective. The notice must also describe in detail the repairs or work that will be done and may require copies of the permits or signed contracts. (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(iv)(III).) Finally, the notice must inform the tenant that they may have the opportunity to re-occupy the unit after the completion of repairs and that they should notify the owner of how to contact them if they wish to resume renting after repairs. (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(iv)(IV).)

Tenant may have an implied right of re-entry.

Change 4: Re-entry rights. Under the new law, the tenant may have a right to re-enter. (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subd. (a)(2)(D)(iv)(IV).) The statute’s specific language does not grant that right but implies it by requiring the landlord to inform the tenant of a method and means by which the tenant can be notified when repairs are complete for re-entry. No portion of the new law specifically states that the tenant has a right to re-enter. Still, this provision would require the landlord to notify the tenant of the residential units’ re-entry to the marketplace, which further implies that the tenant should have an opportunity to at least apply upon completion.

Attorney fees are now available to the tenant.

Change 5: Attorney Fees. The legislature gave the new law some teeth by specifying what damages are available to tenants and by noting that notices not complying with the new law are void. (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subds. (g) & (h).) Under the new law, tenants can claim attorney’s fees and costs “in the court’s discretion” when the “owner [] attempts to recover possession of a rental unit in material violation of this section . . . .” (Civ. Code, § 1946.2, subds. (h).)

General Thoughts

The new law is cumbersome. It has seven subsection levels, which makes tracking the relationships between paragraphs difficult. In one situation, it created definitions that do not apply to more than one subset of the document, which is bewildering.

In its efforts to enhance tenant protections, California’s legislature made the law too difficult for most laypersons to understand. The more complex structure may increase the reliance upon attorneys who are already overworked and charge “too much” for their services. Prices will only increase with the increased demand because price is the only lever attorneys have to reduce the number of clients who will demand their services.

The California legislature needs to step back and rework some of these statutes, reduce the number of sub-section levels to a reasonable amount, and decide whether defining words that apply only to a third-level paragraph is truly necessary.

Until that happens, law firms like Coleman & Horowitt will continue to charge landlords for hourly consultation services to help them navigate the complexities of landlord-tenant law.