Legal FAQs for Renters in
Table of Contents
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Do I have housing protections because of COVID-19?
My landlord gave me an eviction notice
What can I do?
I've been sued in court for eviction
What can I do?
Do I have housing protections because of COVID-19?
- Are there any special protections for California renters during the COVID-19 emergency?
Yes, California Governor Newsom signed law AB 3088 that bans evictions of tenants who can't pay rent due to COVID-19 hardships through February 1, 2021. The missed COVID-19 hardship must have occurred between March 1, 2020 and January 3, 2021. The renters must pay at least 25% of their rent to avoid eviction. Read more about California's protections here.
Previously, Governor Newsom had ordered that renters facing an eviction lawsuit that started during the state of emergency have an extra 60 days to respond to it, and protects residents from utility shutoffs for non-payment. It went into effect on March 27, 2020. As of the last update, the order ended on May 31, 2020.
Many local California cities and counties have implemented such eviction freezes and additional protections for renters. Check here to see if any apply to you.
- What do the protections mean for renters in California?
The protections mean that through California's state of emergency:
- Your landlord can still give you a notice to quit. You still cannot be made to leave without going through the court process. The notice is a warning that your landlord will begin that process as soon as they are legally able to do so.
- Your landlord can still file an eviction claim in court against you. If the filing was made after March 27, you may have a longer period to respond (rather than the usual 5 day deadline).
- Hearings on eviction are suspended or delayed, and the court will not hear an eviction case against you unless there is a health and safety threat. If they are claiming this type of threat, they must let you know about the hearing so you can decide if you want to go.
- You cannot be removed from your home if you have a COVID-19 hardship, and you've filled in the declaration of hardship. (For hardships between Sept. 1 and January 31st, you must also pay 25% of your rent to be protected).
- Your utilities cannot be shut off if you do not pay your bills.
Please check if your local California city or county gives you additional protections from eviction. Over 150 local California governments have issued eviction freezes or other protections.
You may also have US national protections against eviction through the CDC Eviction Moratorium through January 31, 2021. Check here to see if you get these national protections.
- Do I still have to pay rent during COVID-19 in California?
Yes, California renters still need to pay rent during the emergency. If you are unable to pay, you may be protected from eviction during the state of emergency.
To be protected from eviction under law AB 3088, renters need to pay at least 25% of the rent they owe to their landlord to be protected from eviction.
After the state of emergency ends, renters will have to pay back all rent or face consequences.
Many local California cities and counties give additional protections about how long a renter will have to pay back the rent owed, but not all do. Check here to see if your local government has set a special timeline for paying back rent, or if they have rules to protect you from late fees.
If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:
- Communicate with your landlord: Send a written letter or email to your landlord within 7 days of the rent's due date. (You must do this for each missed rent payment). Explain why you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19 impact. You can also try to negotiate with your landlord to make a payment plan or get a temporary rent reduction. Get help here with drafting and mailing a letter to your landlord. You can also use this letter-writing tool here.
- Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
- Keep proof of COVID-19 impact on you: Keep any proof of your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. You may need to use these as evidence to protect yourself against eviction.
- Check for help: If you need financial assistance for housing costs, you may be able to get help.
- Can my landlord evict me during COVID-19 in California?
California renters cannot be evicted during the emergency, if they have a COVID-19 hardship and are paying at least 25% of their rent. Many local city or county California governments may give you additional protections.
During the emergency period, landlords can still file eviction lawsuits against renters, though the courts will not hear these cases unless it is necessary to protect public health or safety. All pending eviction cases in the courts are delayed for at least 60 days.
You may also have U.S. national protections against eviction that last through January 31, 2020. Check here below to see if you are eligible for them.
If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.
- Can my utilities be shut off during COVID-19 in California?
California renters' utilities cannot be shut off due to a lack of payment during the state of emergency.
Governor Newsom's Executive Order guarantees that if a person does not pay for utilities during the emergency, their utilities will not be shut off. The California Public Utilities Commission is in charge of guaranteeing this protection.
Renters must still pay their utility bills. If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.
Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.
- Are you eligible for eviction protections under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
What is the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium orders that renters should be protected from eviction if they are unable to pay their rent due to hardships like job loss, income loss, or medical expenses. This protection lasts from September 4, 2020 through January 31, 2021.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium is not automatic protection against eviction. Renters need to fill in a Declaration document and give it to their landlord to get the protection.
Landlords may still try to file an eviction lawsuit against renters, but renters can use the moratorium to defend themselves in court.
Do you qualify for protection under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium applies to people who:
- Rent a home in the United States; AND
- Make less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if you file a joint tax return); AND
- Are facing eviction based on nonpayment of rent (not for other problems, like lease violations or criminal activity); AND
- Can show they’re unable to pay rent because they’ve had a financial hardship, like losing a job, decrease in income, or medical bills; AND
- Can show that they’ve been trying their hardest to pay their rent and find any rental assistance; AND
- Can show that they’re at risk of homelessness if they were to be evicted.
If you live in a state, county, or city that has an eviction moratorium, the CDC Eviction Moratorium doesn’t replace this local one. It adds on top of your local protections.
What does the CDC Eviction Moratorium get you?
The CDC Eviction moratorium can stop an eviction proceeding against you. It could stop your landlord from removing you from your home, or from a court giving your landlord an eviction order through Jan. 31, 2021.
- If your landlord has already started an eviction lawsuit against you, you can use the CDC Eviction Moratorium as a defense in court.
- You can use the Declaration form to tell your landlord that you are protected from eviction, and to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- You must follow the process below to be protected by the CDC Eviction Moratorium.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium does NOT get you rent relief:
- Even if you fill in the Declaration, this does not cancel rent that you owe, or stop rent or late fees from building up.
- After the CDC Moratorium expires on Jan. 31, 2021, you may be evicted for the rent that you owe.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium may NOT stop a landlord from suing you:
- Even after you fill in the Declaration and send it to your landlord, they might still file an eviction lawsuit against you.
- You can bring the Declaration to the court eviction hearing, to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- Call a local lawyer for help if your landlord sues you for eviction.
How do you use the CDC Eviction Moratorium to protect yourself?
To secure CDC Eviction Moratorium protection, follow these steps:
- Apply for rental assistance. Look for any rental and utility assistance in your area, and submit applications to these programs. Find local assistance programs here.
- Fill out Declarations. You and every adult in the household need to fill out a Declaration about your financial hardships and your attempts to get assistance. In the Declaration, you must say that you are telling the truth and that you may face legal consequences if you are lying. You can use this guide for help with the Declaration.
- Send the Declarations to your landlord, and also tell the landlord that you will do your best to pay when you can. Keep a copy of the Declarations, as well as any receipt or documentation that you have sent it to your landlord (like email receipt or screenshots of the message). These can be useful evidence that you followed the process correctly.
- Protections through Jan. 31st. After you send this, your landlord cannot remove you from your home for nonpayment of rent through January 31, 2021. They are also never allowed to harass or intimidate you, or force you to leave the home without a court order.
- If your landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against you, you can bring your Declarations to the court to ask them to stop the lawsuit. Contact a legal aid lawyer to help you with the lawsuit. Please note: Your landlord can still evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, like for engaging in criminal activity in the home, violating building codes or health ordinances, or threatening the health and safety of other residents.
- You will continue to owe your rent. Try to make a plan about how you will take care of all the rent you owe. At the end of the Eviction Moratorium protections on Jan. 31, 2021, you will no longer be protected from being evicted.
- Make sure you know your lease and its terms. Some landlords may try to evict you based on violations of the terms in your lease. If you know your lease, you can protect yourself by making sure you do not break any of its terms.
If your landlord is trying to evict you, you should contact a legal aid attorney who helps with evictions. The CDC Eviction Moratorium might give you protections that lawyers can help you with.
What if I need repairs to my home during COVID-19 in California?
Can I break my lease during COVID-19 in California?
What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me during COVID-19 in California?
Are eviction cases still proceeding through California courts?
My landlord gave me an eviction notice
- My landlord gave me a notice to "pay or quit" my rental home in California. What should I do?
You do not have to leave your home yet. Landlords can not legally physically remove you, touch your personal property, change the locks, or cut off your utilities.
In California, your landlord must give you an official notice that they may bring you to court to evict you for not paying your rent (or other reasons). The notice should give you time to either pay your rent or prepare defenses against eviction.
This official notice must follow some rules to be valid. If it doesn't follow these rules, then you can challenge it and stop an eviction.
These are the California requirements for an eviction notice:
- The notice must be written down.
- It has to have your full name and address.
- It must explain why you may be evicted -- whether it is for non-payment of rent, a lease violation, or other reason.
- It has to say exactly how much rent you owe and the dates it was due. Multiple months must be listed separately. (it can only include 1 year of back rent, so even if you owe money for a longer time, the landlord can only request up to 1 year of payment).
- It has to say that this rent must be fully paid within 3 days of receiving this notice or you must move out (the 3 days do not include weekends or federal holidays).
- It must say the dates and times you can pay the rent you owe, as well as the address you can pay it at or mail it to.
- If the notice is based on a violation of the lease, it must explain how you can correct the problem, and when you need to do so.
Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't correct, or if you need assistance in defending yourself against the eviction.
- What if the landlord has just told me, face-to-face or over the phone, that I need to leave my home in California?
A verbal conversation doesn't count as an "eviction notice". To be legal, the notice must be written down and given to you in the correct way.
Reach out for legal help if your landlord is trying to make you leave without going through the court process. This is illegal and a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself.
- Do I have to leave my home in California by the time of the eviction notice's expiration date?
No, you do not have to leave (or 'quit') your home by the date listed on the eviction notice.
You do not have to leave your home until you have been brought to court, and a judge has ordered that your landlord can make you leave.
After the date on the eviction notice passes, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court against you. You will be able to go to court and present defenses to protect yourself.
My eviction notice says that I will be evicted unless I pay back-rent I owe in California. What if I can't afford to pay it?
How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice in California to pay back the rent to stop the eviction?
I've been sued in court for eviction
- My landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against me in court in California. What should I do?
You should make sure that the landlord properly 'served' you with the lawsuit. If they didn't give it to you in the correct way, you can challenge the eviction lawsuit. In California, a landlord must follow certain rules to let you know about the lawsuit:
- Only certain people can give you the lawsuit's Summons and Complaint. The landlord can not give you these papers - it has to be a person not involved in the case.
- The server must let you know you are being served and must give you the papers in person.
- If the server can not reach you, they have to try again for least 2-3 times, on different days and different times. Only then can the server hand the court papers to a member of your household or to someone in charge where you work. They also have to mail a copy of the papers to your home.
- If both of these methods don’t work, the landlord has to get permission from the court to post and mail the papers to you. The serve must post the papers on the property where you can see it and mail a copy to your last known address.
You should also reach out to local lawyers who can help you prepare for your court hearing so you can protect yourself against the eviction.
- Do I have to do anything after I get an eviction Summons and Complaint in California?
In California, you are required to respond to the eviction lawsuit, if you want to avoid the eviction. You will need to submit a proper legal response, not just call the courts to send them a letter. There is a form response available.
If you were served in person, you will have 5 days (not including weekends or holidays) after you receive the Summons and Complaint to get a written response back to the court. If the Summons and Complaint was handed to a member in your household and/or you received in the mail, you have 15 days, starting from the postmark date on the envelope (the first 10 days include weekends and holidays, and the last 5 days do not) to submit your written response. If you do not submit this response by this time frame, you may lose your case and the judge may give the landlord permission to remove you from your home.
Reach out to legal help to learn what your rights and defenses are in your eviction case. These organizations can help you deal with this lawsuit.
- Can I settle my eviction case without going to court in California?
You can come to an agreement, but you should still go to court to make sure your case is closed.
You can work with your landlord to work out an agreement before the date of the court hearing. This might be a payment plan or other agreement on what needs to happen for you to stay in your home.
Be sure to get this agreement in writing, so that you can prove it exists and that your landlord follows through on it.
Also, you should still go to court for your hearing date, to make sure the court knows about the agreement and closes the lawsuit. If you do not go to court, the lawsuit might still continue and the judge might rule that the landlord can remove you. Go to court yourself to make sure this doesn't happen.
You can reach out for legal help to get assistance in negotiating an agreement with your landlord, and making sure this agreement is being followed.
Its information is taken from these sources:Governor's executive orderJudicial Council orderPrinceton Eviction Lab's COVID Policy ScorecardsColumbia Law School COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria analysisEnergy and Policy Institute Utility Disconnect TrackerNolo's page of California emergency tenant protectionsGovernor's extension of local moratorium