If you live outside of San Francisco: your protections may be different. See the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project's map of updated protections across the US here or this Columbia Law list here, and the Coronavirus Resource Guide developed by Tenants Together for California renters. Information about AB 3088 for a statewide audience is available here.
** Updated November 16, 2020 **
San Francisco Tenants: if you can’t pay rent right now, you are not alone. Please reach out to a tenant rights group if you do not plan to pay your rent this month! Click here to connect to organizing for a just recovery.
The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 (AB 3088) is a new state law that protects residential tenants from eviction if they are unable to pay rent due between March 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021 if certain requirements are met.
San Francisco already had a number of local laws and orders in place to protect tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. AB 3088 replaces our local non-payment protections, so it is important to understand the new law. Some other eviction protections may continue locally.
Your protections and payment deadlines depend on when unpaid rent was due:
For rent due March 1-15, 2020: You are covered by AB 3088. In order to be protected for non-payment of March rent, you must return the Declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord. Your landlord can never evict you for this debt, but can bring a civil lawsuit to collect any remaining unpaid rent from this period.
For rent due March 16-August 31, 2020: you are protected by two local laws. The mayoral order ensures that you have until at least February 28, 2021 to pay your missed rent. It is recommended (but not required) that you send a letter to your landlord explaining that you cannot pay the full amount of rent because of COVID-related hardship. If you still cannot pay the rent back by that point, you are protected from eviction by a Board of Supervisors ordinance. Your landlord can never evict you for this debt but can bring a civil lawsuit to collect any remaining unpaid rent from this period.
For rent due September 1, 2020- January 31, 2021: you are covered by the state law AB 3088. To qualify for protections under the law, you have to return the “Declaration of COVID-19-Related Financial Distress”, to your landlord within 15 days of receiving a rent non-payment notice. Additionally, you must pay at least 25% of your September-January rent on or before January 31, 2021 or your landlord can begin eviction proceedings. The remaining 75% of your rent can be collected via the civil debt collections process, but you cannot be evicted for that portion of the rent. See more about how to access these protections below.
Frequently Asked Questions about the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 (AB 3088)
1. Who is protected by AB 3088?
The rules apply to all residential housing regardless of whether it is covered by the local rent ordinance. This includes private-market rentals, single family homes, BMRs and other units where the rent is regulated by the city, and SROs and boarding houses. Tenants are covered regardless of immigration status. AB 3088 covers tenants who are unable to pay all of their rent because of increased costs or loss of income due to the pandemic.
To access the protections for non-payment of rent, you must return the “Declaration of COVID-19-Related Financial Distress”, to your landlord within 15 days of receiving a rent non-payment notice AND pay at least 25% of your September-January rent on or before January 31, 2021.
2. Can my landlord give me an eviction notice for nonpayment?
Yes, but a notice is just one step of the eviction process. The state law allows landlords to give you a notice for nonpayment (notice to pay or quit) but extends the amount of time you have to pay or respond to 15 days from the typical 3 days.
If you don’t respond to the notice in 15 days, either with the required declaration or by paying your rent, your landlord can file for an eviction as early as October 5, 2020. If you didn’t respond in time because of an unintentional error, you may have a defense in court.
You are protected from an eviction if:
• You respond to the notice within 15 days with the required declaration. Each adult in the household should sign the declaration, and you should repeat this each month.
• AND you pay 25% of the total rent owed September-January before January 31, 2021.
If you have completed both of the above steps, your landlord can move to collect the remaining rent via the small claims or superior courts, but cannot evict you for the remaining debt. If you do face an eviction action for rent due March 4, 2020-January 31, 2021, this state law "masks" (limits the public disclosure of) the court records.
3. How should I return the declaration form?
You can deliver the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord by mail to the address indicated by the landlord in the notice; in person or by email if the form indicates an address where you can do that; or any way that you pay your rent, if it is possible to deliver the declaration by that method.
The declaration must be sent or received within 15 days of receiving the non-payment notice from your landlord. It is important to keep proof that you delivered the declaration, such as asking for a receipt if you deliver in person or sending certified mail if you send by mail.
4. What if I did not return the required declaration on time?
In order to be protected, you must sign and return the declaration within the 15-day time period given in the eviction notice. However, if you do not do so on time, you may be able to do so later in any court action that is filed if you can provide a good reason why you did not return the declaration within the 15-day time period.
5. Can my landlord require me to provide proof of income to qualify for AB3088 relief?
No! The landlord may ask for documentation of financial hardship if the tenant is known to be "higher income," But the landlord cannot demand any tenant to provide income information in order for the tenant to seek relief under AB3088. If you receive a request for proof of income you should seek advice from an attorney or a housing counselor.
Most tenants do not have to provide anything other than the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress. “High-income tenants” (those earning more than 130% of median household income) must provide documentation to support their declaration if a landlord asks for it. A landlord can only require additional documentation if they already had evidence of your income before serving a nonpayment eviction notice.
In San Francisco, a “high-income tenant” is defined as a household making at or above the following income limits:
Documentation of hardship could include tax returns, pay stubs, a statement from your employer, medical bills, or many other things that are evidence of your hardship.
If the landlord has provided the appropriate notice and request for documentation, and the tenant fails to provide both the appropriate documentation as well as the signed declaration, the tenant will not be protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent under the Tenant Relief Act.
6. Do I have to pay this rent back?
Yes. Neither the local board ordinance nor the state law cancels rent. Protections ensure that you cannot be evicted for 100% of missed rent March-September and 75% of missed rent October-January, provided you follow the above guidelines. But this protection from eviction is not the same as rent cancellation, and your landlord can try to recover the money through small claims or superior courts. Contact a tenant rights group if your landlord sues you for back rent!
We are joining groups from around the state and country to call for full rent cancellation, and we will keep fighting to ensure that this recovery is not on our backs! Join us!
7. Does the state law affect eviction for reasons other than nonpayment, such as a lease violation or nuisance?
No. The state law does not affect evictions for reasons other than nonpayment due to the impacts of the COVID-19 emergency, though it makes it illegal for your landlord to try to use other kinds of evictions as a back door to evict you for non-payment. Currently, a local law bans all other kinds of evictions (except for those related to health and safety or the Ellis Act) until March 31, 2021.
8. Can my landlord use a different excuse to try to evict me for nonpayment?
Landlords who use other kinds of evictions as a way to get around restrictions on eviction for nonpayment of rent face enhanced penalties under the new state and federal laws. Under the state law, it is illegal for a landlord to bring a different kind of eviction case in order to retaliate against a tenant or as a pretext for eviction based on nonpayment of rent, and those who attempt to circumvent the required court process for evictions can be fined $1,000-$2,500 for each violation. The CDC order adds penalties of up to $200,000 for violations of the federal order.
Links to Relevant Legislation:
→ Federal CDC Order; covered period September 4 - December 31, 2020.
→ The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 (AB 3088); covered period: March 1, 2020- January 31, 2021.
→ SF Board of Supervisors emergency legislation prohibiting rent increases in rent control units. Covered period April 7- October 21, 2020. See list of extensions and details about coverage on the SF Rent Board site.