There are new Santa Monica tenant laws coming early 2024. City council voted and approved the new changes January 23, 2024, and they are expected to take effect early March. The changes are set to impact tenant relocation awards, cash for keys, anti-harassment laws, and evictions.
Here are some of the changes coming in 2024:
- Expansion of cash for keys agreements
- Eviction restrictions for unauthorized alterations
- Minimum rent requirements
- Stronger anti-harassment provisions
- Relocation assistance
- Restrictions on rent increases
- Housing status as a protected class
Changes to Santa Monica Cash-for-Keys Agreements
The scope of cash for keys regulation will expand in 2024. The current law only applies to cash for keys agreement for rent controlled units. Starting 2024, tenants under the just cause ordinance will also be protected by these laws. The city also set minimum buyout amounts for everyone.
How are cash for keys agreements currently regulated in Santa Monica
The municipal code regulates buyout agreements in several ways. Here are some of the things landlords have to do in order for the agreement to enforceable:
- Agreement must be in writing
- Disclosures of tenant rights must be given to tenant before signing the agreement
- Contract must contain certain language informing the tenant of their rights
- Tenant can change their mind 30 days after signing the agreement and go back to the unit at the same rent
- The signed agreement must be filed with the city
You can read more about the requirements in Santa Monica in our previous post about cash for keys agreements.
2024 changes to cash for keys contracts
New cash for keys rules expand their scope and set new minimums:
- Units under ‘just-cause’ ordinance will also require compliance with buyout regulations. These are apartments built after rent controlled passed, and are covered by the Tenant Protection Act.
- Minimum buyout amounts – all cash-for-keys amount will have to be for the minimum amounts set by Santa Monica Municipal code for permanent relocation:
- Single – $18,250
- 1BR – $25,150
- 2BR or bigger – $34,950
- Buyout agreements will now have to include additional language. Landlords will have to inform tenants that repeated requests for a buyout after tenant refusal in writing is harassment.
Restrictions on evictions for unauthorized alterations
This change will not take effect March 2024, but will be on the November 2024 ballot. We expect it to pass by voters.
Currently landlords can evict tenants when they perform unauthorized or unpermitted work on the unit. For example, if a tenant removes a wall or self install a skylight, the landlord has the right to evict the tenant for breach of the lease.
The city council wants to restrict this power, if not completely eliminate it. Under the new rules, tenant will have new affirmative defenses in an unlawful detainer action:
- If the tenant had the consent of the landlord for the alteration, but no permit was obtained due to landlord’s ‘lack of cooperation.’
- When landlord received notice of violation or citation from the city, but did not notify of that citation to the tenant.
- Landlord received a notice of violation or citation, the tenant is not able to appeal the notice or citation, seek a variance, or obtain a permit to legalize the work, and the tenant requested the landlord do one of the foregoing but the landlord refused.
Landlords will still be able to collect damages in a civil lawsuit against the tenant for non-permitted alterations.
Rent thresholds for evictions
Also voted on in November 2024 ballot are ‘economical thresholds’ for evictions, just like City of Los Angeles passed in 2023 in the Just Cause changes. This means that evictions in Santa Monica for non-payment of rent can’t be for a small amount of rent due and unpaid. The amount will be equal to 150% of median rent in LA County for the number of bedrooms. The proposed amounts:
This means that if a tenant is paying $1,500 per month for a rent controlled 3 bedroom apartment, the landlord will have to wait 4 months until they can file an eviction if the tenant stops paying rent. If this change will appear on the ballot we see a high likelihood this will pass.
Stronger anti-harassment laws
Santa Monica already has a very strong anti-harassment laws in the city charter. It allows tenants to collect up to $10,000 per violation against the landlord. It also has a statutory attorney’s fees and punitive damages, in addition to criminal penalties.
All of the following will be considered harassment under the new rules:
- Bad-faith discrimination on the basis of housing status.
- Bad-faith refusal by the landlord to accept rent payment.
- Excessive rent increase – when the increase is “significantly above market for the purpose of forcing a tenant to vacate in circumvention of just cause laws”. It will also apply to illegal rent increase to all rental units in the city.
- Unreasonable refusal by landlord to accept subtenant or assignment.
- Repeated buyout offers made by landlord after tenant refused a buyout offer in writing.
The new anti-harassment laws will increase the maximum monetary penalty for each violation to $20,000.
Expansion of relocation assistance laws
Currently Santa Monica tenants in rent controlled (or under the just cause ordinance) units received relocation assistance to landlords when they are evicted for no-fault. This occurs when the landlord decides to take the unit off the rental market, or in an owner move-in to the unit.
New rules will add five new ‘events’ that will trigger relocation assistance to tenants:
- Tenant move out due to excessive rent increase
- Tenant moves out after a temporary relocation longer than six months
- A determination by code enforcement that landlord’s conduct forced the tenant out
- Health and safety officer determines the unit cannot be fixed and tenant has to move
- Tenant moves out of illegal/bootleg unit that is not permitted for residential use
The current statutory relocation assistance amounts:
- Single – $18,250
- 1BR – $25,150
- 2BR or bigger – $34,950
Rent increase restrictions
The new rules regarding rent increases are aimed to assist tenants who face substantial rent increases since they are not covered by rent control. The new rules will provide an affirmative defense to a tenant who is facing an eviction for non-payment of rent after a substantial rent increase. If the tenant can show a ‘bad faith’ and ‘substantial’ rent increase above market rate, with the intent to influence the tenant to vacate – the tenant will not be evicted. Evidence of bad faith rent increase can be any of the following:
- 6 months or less after a failed eviction
- 6 months after tenants complained of health and safety issue, harassment, or discrimination
- the rent increase is during a price gouging protection period
This will impact all residential units, including single family homes and condos.
Updated housing discrimination laws
Landlords will no longer be able to reject a tenant due to their ‘housing status’. That includes being homeless, living in temporary hosing, a voucher program, transitional housing, temporary housing, or shelters. That also includes ‘gaps in housing history’.
There is nothing to suggest that housing providers would not be able to ask for housing history or current address. Rather, the reason for rejecting an applicant cannot be for that reason.