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May 04

County approves emergency moratorium on residential rent increases

Posted on May 4, 2020 at 9:21 pm by Clay Curtin

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an urgency ordinance temporarily banning rent increases on certain existing residential leases due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ordinance applies to all areas in San Mateo County, both unincorporated and incorporated, and is in effect immediately through May 31, 2020.

The ordinance temporarily prevents property owners from increasing rent on certain residential properties in the County where the residential tenant demonstrates an inability to pay the increased rent as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic or any federal, state or local government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium does not apply to residential properties that are exempt from the rent limits imposed by Civil Code Sections 1947.12 and 1954.50, et seq. (i.e., the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act). 

“This temporary halt of rent increases for qualifying properties brings short-term relief for some of our residents, many of whom are already rent burdened and under increased pressure and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mayor Cecilia Taylor. 

Examples of reasons a tenant may be unable to pay increased rent under the ordinance include:
  • Lost household income as a result of being sick with COVID-19, or caring for a household or family member who is sick with COVID-19;
  • Lost household income as a result of a lay-off, loss of hours, loss of business, or other income reduction resulting from COVID-19 or the federal, state or local government response to COVID-19;
  • Lost household income due to compliance with the Shelter-in-Place Order or a recommendation from a government agency to stay home, self-quarantine, or avoid congregating with others;
  • Lost household income as a result of caring for minor children affected by school, pre-school and/or childcare closures;
  • Tenant or a member of Tenant’s household incurred substantial medical costs related to COVID-19; and
  • Tenant suffered any other substantial financial hardship caused directly by COVID-19 or the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noticing requirements are similar to the previously passed countywide moratorium on residential evictions. During the effective period of the ordinance, whenever a landlord serves a written notice to increase rent, the landlord must also provide the tenant with written notice explaining the tenant’s rights under this ordinance. A tenant then has 14 days after receiving the notice to prove, through written documentation, that the tenant is unable to pay the rent increase as a direct result of COVID-19 or the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protection against rent increases applies to all rent increase notices served on or after April 28, 2020, through May 31, 2020. A landlord’s ability to increase rent resumes once the ordinance expires. 

In the event a knowing violation of the ordinance occurs, a residential tenant may file an action seeking injunctive relief, money damages and any other relief the court deems appropriate, and the prevailing party in that action is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. The ordinance also operates as an affirmative defense to an unlawful detainer action based on the tenant’s failure to pay increased rent imposed in violation the rent increase moratorium.

For more information, you can review the County’s COVID-19 residential rent increase regulation frequently asked questions.