No-Just-Cause Eviction: A Primer

Renters Alliance regularly hears from tenants unaware that the landlord can end a month-to-month tenancy for any reason or no reason at all. “Is that legal?” We remind tenants that in Beverly Hills, all that stands between us and a stomach-churning search for a new apartment is the landlord’s good grace (and 60 days notice). Here’s a primer on no-just-cause eviction: what it is, what to expect, and what you can do.

Update: Beverly Hills outlawed no-just-cause termination in October of 2018. We’ll keep this posted to remind ourselves that the city allowed it to continue for thirty-five years.

The California Civil Code allows the landlord to terminate a month-to-month tenancy with just 60 days notice. No cause need be given. Sections 1946 and 1946.1 (with my emphasis):

A hiring of real property, for a term not specified by the parties, is deemed to be renewed at the end of the term implied by law unless one of the parties gives written notice to the other of his or her intention to terminate the same… and the rent shall be due and payable to and including the date of termination. - State Civil Code § 1946
An owner of a residential dwelling giving notice pursuant to this section shall give notice at least 60 days prior to the proposed date of termination. A tenant giving notice pursuant to this section shall give notice for a period at least as long as the term of the periodic tenancy prior to the proposed date of termination. - State Civil Code § 1946.1(b)

The first provision puts the continuation of a month-to-month tenancy at the landlord’s discretion. The second provision mandates the minimum notice period. It also obligates the tenant to give 30 days notice to the landlord. These sections are often referenced in the boilerplate of a 60-day notice.

An important caveat to the the no-just-cause termination is the shorter notice noticing period allowed when a roommate, partner or spouse has been residing in the unit for less than a year. At that point the landlord is only required to notice 30 days ahead:

(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (b), an owner of a residential dwelling giving notice pursuant to this section shall give notice at least 30 days prior to the proposed date of termination if any tenant or resident has resided in the dwelling for less than one year. – State Civil Code § 1946.1(c)

Please take note of this important provision! If your cohabitant is authorized by the landlord then you will both know that only 30 days notice is required until the other resident is in the unit for a year.

But if the co-inhabitant is not authorized by the landlord as an occupant, the rules change: the landlord can serve a 3-day notice to correct or quit: get rid of the unauthorized resident or move out. On this latter point of law be aware that the tenant’s departure is voluntary and no relocation fee is due.

The only circumstance wherein a landlord cannot take advantage of the no-just-cause termination is when there is a lease in effect. That is, while the month-to-month tenancy confers nearly all of the protections of the lease, it does not provide any protection against eviction. (The relocation fee would cushion the move-out though.) A lease may be desirable from this perspective, but the landlord is not obligated to renew it.

There is an important caveat on the lease issues: the landlord may not be obliged to renew the lease but he cannot stop a tenant from transitioning to a month-to-month agreement. If the landlord neither allows the tenant to renew nor allows her to go month to month, then it would be considered an involuntary termination and a relocation fee is due.

These policies are specific to Beverly Hills. Many California cities have no rent control and allow for no-just-cause terminations. Most of our neighboring cities, though, do not allow no-just-cause terminations.

What To Do If Noticed

These steps apply to no-just-cause termination. For-cause termination (for a breach of the rental agreement) is a different matter.

Check the notice to see if it was properly served. That can include personal service (by hand); posted on the door and mailed; or ‘substituted’ service where the notice is left with a responsible person at home (or work) and also mailed (per state Code of Civil Procedure § 1162). The notice can also be simply mailed certified with return receipt. The allowable means of service is carefully proscribed because the court needs to know the tenant actually received notice (or should have).

The time to raise a problem with the service is early. Making service an issue at the courthouse is not a winning strategy. A judge will recognize the landlord’s good-faith effort to notify if the landlord has taken the necessary steps. By the same token, raising the issue early may simply prompt the landlord to notify again lawfully. The tenant may buy some time by informing the landlord but not much time.

Verify that the date of termination affords the full period required by law. The clock starts ticking the day after the notice is posted or posted and postmarked (whichever is later). Does it allow for a full 60 calendar days including weekends? If the notice is demonstrably defective in this regard, the termination will have to be notified again. Some landlords are sloppy. Check the dates!

Identify the priority. Is it to stay in the apartment? Perhaps a tenant will be leaving anyway at some undetermined date, or is perhaps concerned with affording (or qualifying for) replacement housing. These are excellent reasons to try to persuade the landlord to allow a tenant to stay. Perhaps it will take a some modification of behavior or a concession like an increased security deposit (two months is the legal maximum though). A concession to buy time may be a worthwhile trade-off. Know the objective before talking with the landlord.

Likewise if the goal is simply some more time in the unit with a date certain of departure (like at the end of the school year), aim to make that part of the involuntary termination agreement. Landlords are often flexible as long as the rent is paid and there is a date certain of departure. The 60-day notice can stretch out to six months. Under no circumstances restructure the departure as a voluntary one: the tenant will lose her relocation fee.

Contact the landlord. What was his motive? Was there a dispute over some aspect of the tenancy? Had the landlord earlier expressed some displeasure? Try to deal with an issue constructively. The helpful California Tenants Guide offers this advice:

If you want to continue to occupy the rental unit, ask the landlord what you need to do to make that possible. While a landlord is not required to state a reason for giving a 30-day or 60-day notice, most landlords do have a reason for terminating a tenancy. If you want to stay, it’s helpful to know what you can do to make your relationship with the landlord a better one. If your landlord agrees that you can continue to occupy the rental unit, it’s important that your agreement with the landlord be in writing. — California Tenants Guide (p. 68)

The last point bears repeating: always be sure that any agreement with the landlord is in writing or, if verbal, formalized in writing afterward by text or email. Trust but verify!

If that fails, take an opportunity to remind the landlord that the relocation fee is due when the keys are turned in. This is yet another opportunity to reopen the negotiation before the tenant commits to replacement housing. A landlord may not have thought through the cost of a no-just-cause termination; mention of the fee may change his mind. Contact the city’s rent stabilization office; ask them if the landlord reported the termination as required. Ask the office to send a notice reminding the landlord that he can’t raise the rent for the next tenant can be helpful too. Whatever may help to change his mind.

Know when the cause is lost. Some landlords simply deal professionally with tenants. Neat and clean. Others may send mixed signals with one message coming from the owner but a different message comes from his attorney. It’s fine to game that out a while, but know that the odds are long and the clock is ticking in the meanwhile. Start looking for housing immediately.

Lock in the Relocation Fee

Once a commitment is made to move then immediately notify the landlord. The tenant who gets no traction with the landlord should then secure replacement housing and, once committed, immediately notify the landlord of the final day in the unit. Because the landlord can rescind the eviction notice at any time. That includes up to the point day that the tenant is due to depart. Important: until the tenant specifies a date of departure, a rescinded notice can mean the tenant is both committed to a lease elsewhere despite the landlord withdrawing the notice. No fee will be obligated.

Avoid Landlord Traps

Don’t take advantage of a landlord’s verbal agreement to allow an extra day or two. The tenant who overstays the date she’s specified in her notice to the landlord can lose her relocation fee. The tenant should at least get the permission in writing. Moreover, a tenant who leaves behind property, which she can do under the law, should inform the landlord so there’s no misunderstanding about when she’s out of the unit. Unfortunately a tenant won’t find this advice on the city’s Rent Stabilization Program website.

Don’t agree to a tenant buyout unless the fee is substantially more than the obligated relocation fee. The city’s rent stabilization ordinance prohibits a landlord from raising the rent after serving a Chapter 6 tenant with a no-just-cause eviction. That’s leverage for the tenant should the landlord want to remodel and re-rent. In a voluntary departure the tenant should receive substantially more than the relocation fee because that’s the premium he should pay for an involuntary termination.

The most dangerous trap is the pretext eviction. Leases have become more restrictive over time and there are many ways a tenant can run afoul of the agreement. Many are spelled out but some (like “laying waste” or altering the apartment) are explicit in state law. An unscrupulous landlord may change tactics from a no-cause action to a for-cause action to keep from paying the fee (and to shorten the time to eviction).

Turning Over the Keys

A tenant preparing to vacate should arrange a final inspection in advance of her last day in the unit. At that time, bring up the relocation fee and memorialize the landlord’s agreement that the fee will be paid when the keys are turned over. And copy to the city’s Rent Stabilization Program:

Final Thoughts

Ending no-just-cause would put an end to abuses like we see at 462 South Rexford Drive. The property was sold and needlessly emptied of tenants while the owners pursued entitlements for a new apartment building. Today, years later, the property is still vacant. In fact it is now back on the market. With entitlements in hand and units empty the asking price is 50% higher. Even though there is no cash flow because no tenant is paying rent. Why? Because a building emptied of tenants is more valuable.

462 S Roxbury MLS listing