Navigating Santa Rosa's Rental Property Laws: A Comprehensive Guide for Rental Owners & Investors - Article Banner

Understanding the landlord and tenant laws in California is essential when you’re renting out a property in Santa Rosa. The problem that most owners have is that these laws change all the time. It can be difficult to keep up, especially if you’re not a legal expert or if you’re busy with other things. 

In 2020, there was a list of new legislation that went into effect, most notably rent control and just cause eviction laws. There are new requirements for accepting applications for Section 8 tenants and in some cities, landlords can no longer run a criminal background check prior to screening an application. 

Recently, there are new requirements around organic waste. There’s more of an enforcement requirement if habitability complaints are made. These are just the new laws. There are existing laws to remember that deal with security deposits, fair housing, and habitability. 

A Santa Rosa property management partner can be your best defense against expensive legal mistakes. Here is some information and advice about navigating the rental property laws that pertain to your Santa Rosa investment. 

Rent Control and Just Cause Evictions 

There is a statewide rent control law in California, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. It applies to most, but not all, rental properties throughout the state. If your rental home is a multi-family property that is at least 15 years old, you are likely bound by rent control restrictions. Most single-family homes and condos are exempt unless they’re owned in part or in whole by a corporation. 

The rent control law caps rental increases to five percent plus the cost of living increase set by the Consumer Price Index. You’ll need to pay attention to this annually, as you propose new rental amounts in your lease renewal offers. 

It’s important that your lease reflects whether or not your property is subject to rent control law. The language has to be specific, and you don’t want to leave this out of your lease. Double-check your own lease agreements, and if you’re not sure whether you’ve adequately met this requirement, reach out to a property manager. 

The properties affected by rent control are also bound to just cause eviction laws. If you need to remove a tenant from your property, there has to be a just cause or a very good reason. You are not permitted to simply terminate a tenancy because you don’t want your tenant living in your property anymore. 

The law requires you to have just cause if you want to terminate a tenancy and not renew a lease agreement. Legally, there are actually 16 different just cause for eviction in Santa Rosa:

  • Nonpayment of rent.
  • Lease violation that has not been corrected after written notice.
  • Nuisance or substantial damage to the unit.
  • Illegal use of the unit. 
  • Tenant refuses to execute a written extension after the lease ends.
  • Refusal to grant the landlord access to the unit as required by law.
  • Unapproved subtenant living in the unit. 
  • Landlord or close relative of the landlord needs to move into the unit. 
  • Sale of a unit that has been converted to a condo. 
  • Demolition or removal of the unit from housing use. 
  • Capital improvements or rehabilitation.
  • Substantial rehabilitation of a building that is essentially uninhabitable.
  • Ellis Act evictions which require withdrawal from rental housing use all of the units in the building. 
  • Lead abatement.
  • Demolition.
  • Good Samaritan Occupancy Status for the tenant expires.

In some of these cases, a tenant relocation payment will be required. 

If you’re evicting for nonpayment of rent or because a lease violation or criminal activity has occurred, you’ll want to follow the legal steps set forth in the landlord and tenant laws. There are specific timelines and forms that need to be filed. Every detail is critical. Don’t evict on your own. Get help from a property manager, who can refer you to an attorney.

This is perhaps the largest and most important law on the books in the state of California right now. Make sure you understand rent control and eviction before you begin renting out a home in Santa Rosa. 

Fair Housing Laws in California 

Fair housing is another biggie. You don’t want to find yourself making a fair housing mistake, because that can lead to a fine that’s up to or even exceeding $16,000. So, how well do you know the fair housing laws? These are big laws to navigate, and the California state laws are actually stricter than the federal fair housing laws. 

In California, we have a longer list of protected classes than the seven identified by federal laws. The most important federal laws you need to know are the Fair Housing Act, The Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Familiarize yourself with at least the basics of those laws. 

When you’re thinking about fair housing, however, it’s important to prioritize the state laws in California. If you’re on track with the state laws, you can trust that you’re covered federally, too. 

California’s fair housing laws prohibit discrimination when it comes to leasing, screening, and managing your rental property based on:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Religion or creed
  • National origin or ancestry.
  • Sex
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Familial status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Gender identification
  • Gender expression
  • Veteran or military status
  • Citizenship 
  • Primary language
  • Marital status
  • Source of income
  • Genetic information

This is a list that is always evolving. It is essential that when you rent out a property, you keep up with all fair housing laws at the state, local, and federal levels. Things have changed with service animals and emotional support animals, for example. Make sure you’re up to date. 

Recent Laws You Need to Know 

We’ve been following some recent laws that are less attention-grabbing than fair housing and eviction, but still just as important. For example, there are state laws around organic waste, habitability, and even support animals. Here are some highlights: 

  • Organic Waste

New recycling laws have gone into effect for multi-family properties with five or more rental units. If you’re an owner of a building, you need to provide your tenants with a way to dispose of organic waste separately and in accordance with state law. 

You’ll want to subscribe to the city’s curbside collection service for organics. Otherwise, you will be required to haul the waste to a composting facility. 

Your building needs a container that’s correctly labeled. You must provide the composting information on organic waste collection to your residents within 14 days of them moving into your rental unit. 

  • Habitability 

The Implied Warranty of Habitability is not a new law in California, but enforcement has been ramped up with a recently passed law that requires a city or county to investigate any habitability complaints from residents. Santa Rosa cannot ignore a complaint that might be considered a mere nuisance rather than a legitimate concern. Instead, they must communicate with residents who file the complaint and reasonably enforce the state housing laws that speak to habitability. 

  • Support Animal Documentation 

The laws around service animals and support animals can sometimes feel murky. There has been a growing trend of tenants needing companion animals, which are most commonly emotional support animals. These are different from service animals; they’re not trained in any specific function. They merely exist to bring comfort to their owners. 

These animals are different from service animals, but they’re also not pets. They’re protected accommodations that tenants can request – even if you don’t allow pets. Emotional support animals would be exempt from a pet fee, pet deposit, or pet rent. 

Landlords often felt like it was too easy for tenants to claim a pet is a support animal. Recent laws require that any licensed physician who provides documentation about an individual’s need for an emotional support animal must have an established relationship with their patient. That relationship must have been established for at least 30 days in order for the documentation to be accepted. The physician must also complete an in-person clinical evaluation of the individual who requests the emotional support animal.

Security Deposits and Section 8

One of the most common areas for owners to make mistakes is with security deposits. 

There are limits to how much you can collect in a security deposit (up to the equivalent of two months’ rent on an unfurnished property), but the real trouble seems to come with the way a security deposit is returned. You have 21 days after a tenant moves out to return the security deposit and/or an itemized accounting of why money was withheld and what it’s being used for. You cannot deduct for normal wear and tear. You can deduct for damage, unpaid rent, and applicable cleaning fees. If your tenant disputes what you’ve withheld and takes you to court, you might lose. In that case, you’ll have to return the full deposit and pay extra damages. 

Don’t forget that Section 8 tenants can apply for your property. The housing vouchers they receive can be used as income when you’re screening. 

Contact Property ManagerThis does not cover all the laws you need to know when you’re renting out a property in Santa Rosa, but it gives you a good start. If you’d like to hear more, please contact us at Prestige Real Estate & Property Management. We manage homes in Sonoma County, including Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sebastopol, Petaluma, and Rohnert Park.