Written by Daniel Bornstein
New laws affecting California landlords cover a broad spectrum of issues including rental listing services, landowners with shared boundaries, landlords with tenants who were victims of human trafficking, effective posting of utility rates in dwellings, adhering to new smoke alarm requirements, and changes to San Francisco’s smoke-free disclosure policy pertaining to multi-unit rental properties. Below are detailed explanations of the new laws to take effect in 2014.
1. Prepaid rental listing service agent must have a license
Beginning January 2014, any person engaging in a prepaid rental listing service must have a prepaid rental listing service license or a real estate license. In addition, rental service licensees will be required to include their licensee number and notice about refunds before accepting a fee from a prospective tenant.
2. Landowners with shared boundaries must also share responsibility in maintaining those boundaries. Starting January 1, 2014, landowners living next to one another will have equal responsibility for maintaining shared boundaries and fences. Under the new law, there are specific requirements for an owner who intends to build a division fence to notify the landlord next door of the estimated costs of building the fence as well as other information. This new law repeals an existing law that required a landowner to refund a just proportion to a neighbor if a fence built enclosed the entire property.
3. Smoke detectors
Starting January 1, 2014, owners of both multi-family and single-family rental units will be responsible for testing and maintenance of smoke alarms in all units in or on their properties. Landlords or their agents, after giving at least 24-hours written notice, will be permitted to enter the unit in order to install, test, or maintain the devices.
Also effective January 1, 2014, the State Fire Marshall will only approve battery-operated smoke alarms that have a non-replaceable, non-removable battery that is capable of powering the device for at least 10 years. Owners, managing agents, contractors, wholesalers or retailers who ordered a smoke alarm on or before July 1, 2014 have until July 2015 to comply. In addition, starting January 2015, the State Fire Marshall will only approve a smoke alarm if it has: a date of manufacture displayed on the device; a place on the device to insert the date of installation; and a hush feature. An end-of-life feature, which provides notice that the device must be replaced, is no longer required.
A landlord will be issued a building permit for alteration or repairs amounting to $1,000 or more only if s/he can demonstrate that all smoke alarms installed are on the State Fire Marshall’s list of approved devices. Failure to comply with any of the law is an infraction resulting in a fine of $200 per violation.
4. Landlord must post utility rate schedules
Starting January 1, 2014, landlords must post (in a conspicuous place) current utility rate schedules. Instead of posting rates, they may post a website address for tenants to access the rates if the landlord states in 1) posting that the user may request a copy of the specific rates; and 2) providing a schedule to the tenant upon request at no cost.
5. Human trafficking victims offered protection as tenants
Starting January 1, 2014, victims of human trafficking may terminate their tenancy within 30 days by notifying the landlord that they have been a victim of such an offense. Generally, notice to the landlord must include a copy of a police report or protective court order. However, from January 1, 2014 to January 1, 2016, a tenant may just provide documentation from a qualified third party professional indicating that the tenant or tenant household member is seeking assistance for the physical or mental injuries resulting from human trafficking. In addition, a landlord may not terminate or fail to renew a victim’s tenancy unless the victim allows the wrongdoer to visit the property or the landlord believes that the wrongdoer poses a physical threat to other tenants in the building.
6. The new smoke-free disclosure policy
Pursuant to the recently-added Article 19M of the San Francisco Health Code, owners of San Francisco multi-residential rental properties that permit smoking in some of their units must: (1) complete a process to designate each rental unit as either smoke-free or smoking-optional, and include the designation in both the lease agreement and rental listings; (2) prior to renting unit to applicant, provide applicant with a list designating units as smoking-optional; (3) prior to entering into a lease agreement, disclose in writing that landlord has designated the rental unit as smoke-free or smoking-optional.
The designation process explained
1. Provide written notice to existing tenants stating the proposed initial designation of their unit as either smoke-free or smoking-optional. If an existing rental unit has a lease designating it as smoke-free, then it shall continue to be smoke-free. If the rental unit does not have a lease stating that it is smoke-free, then it shall be designated as smoking-optional. Only a tenant in a smoking-optional unit may request that it be changed to a smoke-free unit. Tenants in a smoke-free unit may not request that the unit be changed to smoking-optional.
2. Tenants will have 30 days to review and comment on the initial designation before it is then finalized. Tenants can only request a change during this 30-day designation process.
3. Owners will develop a master list that identifies which units are smoke-free or smoking-optional, and notify tenants that the list is available upon request.
4. The list will be given to a prospective tenant before the unit is rented.
5. The landlord will disclose in writing that s/he has notified the prospective tenant about designated smoke-free or smoking-optional units before entering into the lease agreement.
6. For small property owners, the deadline for the designation process is December 31, 2013.
In sum, the above laws to take effect January 1, 2014 provide additional disclosures and specifications to landlords as well as offer protection to consumers and tenants. The above descriptions are meant to be summaries and may not cover the complexities of each new law. Navigating the nuances of these laws may require the assistance of an attorney.
The information contained in this article is general in nature. Consult with an attorney for any specific problem. Daniel Bornstein is founding member of the San Francisco law firm of Bornstein & Bornstein. He specializes in landlord/tenant disputes, civil litigation, property management and real estate sales. He may be reached at (415) 409-7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.