Landlord Warning- LA City Council Passes New Ordinance Giving Tenants a New Right to Sue Landlords
The scales further tip in favor of tenants with the pending passage of Los Angeles City Council's new ordinance found here. The ordinance is awaiting Mayor Garcetti's signature, expected soon. These new protections are similar to existing protections, but now allow residential tenants a way to sue landlords for violations of the eviction moratoriums. While in theory this law is designed to protect residents from abusive landlords, it's unclear terms only set out to make it risky for a landlord to exercise his or her rights.
New Residential Tenant Eviction Protections
1. Repayment Plan Options- "The tenant and Owner may, prior to the expiration of the Local Emergency Period or within 90 days of the first missed rent payment, whichever comes first, mutually agree to a plan for repayment of unpaid rent selected from options promulgated by the Housing and Community Investment Department (“HCID”) for that purpose."
This is not so bad. HCID Repayment Plans and notice tenants are to provide to landlords regarding unpaid rent can be found here.
2. Disallowed Evictions- Landlords may not evict for:
- No-fault reasons, under California and LARSO, during the local emergency period;
- Presence of unauthorized occupants or pets, or for nuisance related to COVID-19 during the local emergency period.
3. No Interest or late fees allowed.
4. New Owner Notice Requirements- This is a little onerous. Owners are required to send tenants this notice informing tenants of their rights under the new ordinance within 15 Days of it becoming effective.
Landlords also must serve a copy of that notice with every eviction related notice (i.e. 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, 3 Day Notices to Perform or Quit, 3 Day Notice to quit, etc.) for the 12 months following the end of the local emergency.
5. Landlords cannot force/ coerce tenants to turn over government assistance funds to pay rent.
6. Tenant Private Right of Action- Tenants may sue landlords for alleged violations of the ordinance and seek injunctive relief, monetary relief, a civil penalty of up to $15,000.00 and attorney's fees and costs.
There is a fee shifting provision if the landlord can prove the tenant's lawsuit is frivolous. However, that would require a judgment in favor of the landlord first, which requires paying an attorney to defend against a lawsuit. Then the landlord has to pay an attorney to sue the tenant and hope a trier of fact finds the tenant's losing case frivolous. Assuming the case is found to be frivolous it is unlikely a tenant will ever have the money to pay a judgment, if one is ever received by the owner. So the fee shifting provision is a farce.
New Commercial Tenant Eviction Protections
Landlords may not evict commercial tenants during the emergency period and three months following for non-payment of rent during the local emergency period if the tenant is unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ordinance defines COVID 19 related hardship as:
A. Loss of income due to a COVID-19 related workplace closure;
B. Child care expenditures due to school closures;
C. Health-care expenses related to being ill with COVID-19 or caring for a member of the tenant’s household or family who is ill with COVID-19; or
D. Reasonable expenditures that stem from government-ordered emergency measures.
Landlords should be very cautious. If you know a tenant is playing games and abusing the system now more than ever you should consult with an attorney. I advise my clients to lay low and play a long game. Creating a record of your good faith attempts to resolve tenant breaches will serve you best when the day comes to evict tenants.
All in all, this is not the worst thing to happen, but it definitely pumps the breaks on any landlord trying to exercise their rights. The private right of action is a heavy threat to wield against a landlord with no protections for the landlord in the event of tenant abuses of the crisis.
The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.