Landlord-Tenant Relationship

For over 10 years attorney Kazachki has been representing both landlords and tenants in disputes related to both residential and commercial leases. The landlord-tenant relationship is regulated by the existence of many elements of a contract defining the rights and duties of each signatory to it. While the laws governing landlord-tenant agreements can be dated to the beginning of time when they mostly dealt with the lease of agrarian lands, today’s landlord-tenant laws are very complex.

A commercial tenantA residential tenant
It is generally given less protections and the relationship is pretty much governed by the terms of the commercial lease.It is often afforded many statutory protections.

Starting with the Notice to Evict, a landlord must strictly comply with the requirements of the statute or they may see their case dismissed and may have to start over. Also, a residential tenant in a rent-controlled jurisdiction is afforded many more protections compared to one who is not. According to one tenant organization “28 out of 482 cities in California have strong tenant protections.”

As our practice is focused primarily on the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino, the local rent-controlled cities are Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood. Unlawful detainers have shortened deadlines, so it is very important that a tenant who has been served with an eviction notice seeks immediate help. There are many eviction defense firms who will demand a jury trial in all cases and use the expense of such a trial as a negotiating point.

In the typical pre-trial settlement agreement, the Landlord would agree to seal the record (thus allowing the tenant to seek future housing with a clean record) and waive any past-due rent (usually several months), while the Tenant would agree to vacate in a short period of time (usually 30 days).

New impossed laws since 2019

As California has struggled to address increasing homelessness, high real estate prices, and a housing shortage the State Legislature, City and County governments, many non-profit groups and associations have tried to influence the legal landscape. In 2019 a statewide rent cap law, AB 1482 or the “Tenant Protection Act of 2019,” was passed. It prohibits most landlords from raising the rent by more than 5 percent, plus the local rate of inflation, in one year. Most recently in the November 2020 election (the most expensive ballot measure campaign season ever) California voters rejected Proposition 21, a plan to expand rent control to more apartments and even to some single-family homes.

The COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 had a very serious impact on California landlord-tenant relationships. So far two different sets of rules were imposed. First, on April 6, 2020 in response to the Pandemic the Judicial Council of California, acting under broad authority granted by Governor Newsom, enacted emergency orders halting all eviction lawsuits statewide. These orders covered both commercial and residential properties. These ordered remained in effect until August 2020. Second, California state lawmakers approved AB 3088, a plan to protect tenants from eviction through January 2021. Starting in September 2020 AB 3088 allows tenants to remain in their homes as long as they pay 25 percent of their rent. In addition, any rent unpaid between March 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021 cannot be used as a basis for eviction. Landlords may try to recover these amounts by filing a breach of contract action after March 1, 2021. As we enter December 2020 and are faced with a second wave of COVID-19 infections the planned return to normal in the Spring of 2021 looks more and more elusive to Landlords.

When should you take action?

Too often we are contacted after the landlord-tenant relationship has already soured. We urge both landlords and tenants to give negotiation and dispute resolution a chance before running to court. We have often been successful in crafting solutions, renegotiating leases, short of commencing litigation. We strongly recommend that anyone who considers signing a lease be it residential or commercial consult with an experienced attorney.

Our best advice to landlords is:

(a) use a vetted lease and regularly review it with your attorney.

(b) make sure to raise the rent regularly by as much as possible. Believe it or not we often receive calls from landlords who have not raised the rent in 20 or 30 years.

We have seen a rise in the number of disgruntled long-term tenants who are filing so-called habitability lawsuits against their Landlords. These lawsuits often allege an endless list of Civil Code, Health and Safety Code, Local Municipal Code and other violations. Plaintiffs seek thousands of dollars in damages, return of rent (often as much as 100% of the rent paid), and attorneys fees which may range in the hundreds of thousands. Laws which were meant to address really egregious situations where Landlords failed to meet the most basic of standards are now used to extort huge settlements. Of late, our practice has focused on defending such lawsuits.