Q: I noticed a tenant in a single-family home of a rent increase. He replied that he is under rent control pursuant of civil code 1954.52(d), because of serious code violations from the previous building owner. Is there anything I can do?
A: In general, single family homes are exempt from local rent controls under a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Rental Act (“Costa Hawkins”). Costa Hawkins provides that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, an owner of a single-family home may establish the initial and all subsequent rental rates. Accordingly, a tenancy at the single-family home would not be subject to the rent limitations imposed by the San Francisco Rent Ordinance.
Costa Hawkins does not provide a landlord with carte blanche right to increase the rent for single-family homes. Here are some circumstances where a landlord’s right to raise the rent for a single-family home are not permitted under Costa Hawkins:
The current tenancy was created prior to January 1, 1996;
The preceding tenancy was terminated by the landlord with a termination notice (this does not include terminations based upon a tenant’s default under the rental agreement or nuisance);
The preceding tenancy was terminated upon a change in terms of tenancy;
The home contains serious health, safety, fire, or building code violations, which have remained unabated for six months or longer preceding the vacancy.
Your tenant refers to the last circumstance above as his reason why you cannot increase his rent. However, simply because code violations may have existed under the prior owner’s watch does not by itself prevent you from raising the rent under Costa Hawkins. Your tenant would have to establish not only that the serious code violations existed, but that they existed for at least six months and actually resulted in a vacancy. If that was the case, then the Costa Hawkins rent control exception would not apply to the next tenancy.
In addition to the above, it is important to know that if there are current code violations at the home, then your rights to increase the rent may be also restricted. A separate state law prohibits a landlord from demanding, collecting, or increasing rent when a citation for dangerous conditions has been issued and those conditions have not been corrected for 35 days. So, whether the conditions existed prior to your ownership or after, you should always promptly repair any dangerous conditions. Otherwise, you may be precluded from collecting rent until those conditions are corrected.
Copyright © 2017 by Fried & Williams LLP. All Rights Reserved. The information in this article is general in nature and should not be considered legal advice. For any specific matter, please consult with an attorney.