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California's 2020 Housing Laws: What You Need to Know

  • The biggest news out of Sacramento in housing law is a historic measure providing statewide rent control and "just cause" eviction requirements for California renters.
  • For advocates of increased housing production, the most significant effort enacted into law is the "Housing Crisis Act," which creates important new vesting rights for housing developments and limits on local review procedures.
  • The California Legislature also again embraced Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), with a package of laws that some are calling "the end of single-family zoning," allowing most single-family homes to be converted into three separate housing units.
  • In its first year, the Newsom Administration is focusing on planning for housing development on surplus state lands and further reforming the regional housing needs allocation process. It remains to be seen whether next year's legislative session will yield the major steps forward on streamlining housing approvals that will be necessary for the administration to come close to meeting its goal of building 3.5 million homes by 2025.

As California's housing supply and homelessness crisis continues, the State Legislature has for the past several years passed numerous pieces of housing legislation in each legislative session. (See Holland & Knight's previous alerts, "A Closer Look at California's New Housing Production Laws," Dec. 6, 2017 and "California's 2019 Housing Laws: What You Need to Know," Oct. 8, 2018.) This year was no exception, with more than 30 individual pieces of housing legislation enacted into law.

This Holland & Knight alert takes a closer look at these laws, grouped into following categories:

  • Tenant Protections. A statewide rent control measure that will take effect in 2020, among other tenant protection measures.
  • Streamlining, Increasing Density and Reducing Barriers to Production. Sen. Nancy Skinner's "Housing Crisis Act" creates important new vesting rights for housing developments, and the Legislature has also enacted important new reforms to the Density Bonus Law and clarifications to SB 35's Streamlined Ministerial Approval Process.
  • Accessory Dwelling Units and "Triplexes." A groundbreaking package of new laws that some are calling "the end of single-family zoning" will create new incentives and streamlined processes to build ADUs and triplexes.
  • Surplus Land Availability / Planning and Impact Fee Data. New laws significantly expand Surplus Lands Act requirements for local agencies in an effort to achieve more affordable housing on surplus publicly owned properties.
  • CEQA and Housing. The major transit stop definition was broadened to make more projects eligible for streamlining and a handful of limited California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemptions were created for specific homelessness projects.
  • Funding. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have created an "Affordable Housing and Community Development Investment Program" that would have revived redevelopment, but he signed a number of smaller funding bills, including laws that will create new regional finance agencies in the Bay Area and the San Gabriel Valley.

This alert also includes some observations about the important work California still needs to do to stem the housing crisis, and consider what may be around the corner in the 2020 legislative session. Except where noted, these new laws take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Tenant Protections

The most significant housing law of the 2019 legislative session was the enactment of a statewide rent control law.

AB 1482 (Assembly Member David Chiu) – The Tenant Protection Act of 2019 enacts a cap of 5 percent plus inflation per year on rent increases statewide for the next 10 years. The new law does not apply a cap to vacant units, and owners can continue to reset rents to market rate at vacancy. It also prevents landlords from evicting certain tenants without landlords first providing a reason for the eviction and requires relocation assistance. The law does not apply to properties built in the last 15 years, nor does it apply to single-family home rentals (unless owned by large corporations) or to projects already under construction or under current rent control schemes. The new law defers to more stringent local measures, including existing local rent control with lower limits and local just cause eviction laws. The law's anti-eviction protections, which would limit evictions to lease violations or require relocation assistance, will kick in after a tenant has lived in an apartment for a year. Gov. Newsom's enactment of a rent cap comes less than a year after California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have expanded local rent control policies statewide, which would have likely resulted in tighter restrictions in some cities than those now offered by AB 1482. (For additional detail, please see Holland & Knight's previous alert, "Rent Control Bill Gets Gov. Newsom's Support as Clock Ticks on Deadline for New Laws," Sept. 9, 2019.)

AB 1110 (Assembly Member Laura Friedman) – Noticing Rent Increases requires 90-day notice, rather than 60-day notice, before a landlord may increase the rent of a month-to-month tenant by more than 10 percent.

SB 329 (Assembly Member Holly Mitchell) – Housing Discrimination prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants who rely on housing assistance paid directly to landlords, such as a Section 8 voucher, to help them pay the rent.

SB 18 (Sen. Nancy Skinner) – The Keep Californians Housed Act ­removes the Dec. 31, 2019, sunset date on a state law which gives tenants at least 90 days' notice before their tenancy can be terminated if a landlord loses ownership of their rental property as a result of a foreclosure sale.

Streamlining, Increasing Density and Reducing Barriers to Production

Sen. Skinner's SB 330, the "Housing Crisis Act of 2019," stands out as the most important new law affecting large-scale housing developments.

SB 330 (Skinner) – Housing Crisis Act of 2019 includes a number of new procedural protections, including the following:

  • Preliminary Application Protections – limitations on a jurisdiction's ability to change development standards and zoning applicable to the project once a "preliminary application" is submitted
  • Application Completeness Streamlining – amends the Permit Streamlining Act to specify what constitutes a "preliminary application" and states that a jurisdiction has one chance to identify incomplete items in an initial application and after that may not request the submission of any new information that was not in the initial list of missing items
  • Fees/Exactions Limitations – prevents jurisdictions from increasing exactions or fees during a project's application period, but allows such increases if the resolution or ordinance establishing the fee calls for automatic increases in the fee over time
  • Hearing Limitations – prohibits cities or counties from conducting more than five hearings if a proposed housing development complies with the applicable, objective general plan and zoning standards in effect at the time an application is deemed complete
  • Downzoning Prohibitions – prohibits a jurisdiction (with some exceptions) from enacting development policies, standards or conditions that would change current zoning and general plan designations of land where housing is an allowable use to "lessen the intensity of housing"; from placing a moratorium or similar restrictions on housing development; from imposing subjective design standards established after Jan. 1, 2020; and limiting or capping the number of land use approvals or permits that will be issued in the jurisdiction, unless the jurisdiction is predominantly agricultural

Some of the most important provisions in SB 330 sunset on Jan. 1, 2025, if not extended. (For additional detail on SB 330, see Holland & Knight's previous alert, "California Legislature Passes Housing Crisis Act of 2019 and Rent Control Bill, Among Others," Sept. 12, 2019; For background on the Housing Accountability Act, upon which SB 330 builds, see Holland & Knight's previous alert, "California Governor Signs into Law Major Reforms to Housing Accountability Act," Sept. 29, 2017.)

AB 1763 (Chiu) – Density Bonuses for 100 Percent Affordable Projects creates enhanced density bonus options, including a potential 80 percent increase in base density and unlimited density bonuses for qualifying projects within a half-mile of a major transit stop, under the State Density Bonus Law. However, this only applies to projects that consist of 100 percent affordable housing (no more than 20 percent moderate-income, and the remainder for lower-income).

AB 1485 (Assembly Member Buffy Wicks) – Amendments to SB 35's Streamlined Ministerial Approval Process makes a number of important clarifications to SB 35 of 2017, a law that allows qualifying housing and housing-rich mixed-use projects to qualify for a streamlined, ministerial CEQA-exempt approval process if the project meets the local government's objective zoning, subdivision and design review standards, provides a specific minimum number of affordable housing units, agrees to pay prevailing wages to construction workers, and meets other qualifying criteria. AB 1485 amends SB 35 in several ways:

  • Moderate-Income Options – broadens eligibility for SB 35 to Bay Area projects that provide 20 percent of their units for moderate-income households (less than 120 percent of area median income), under certain conditions
  • Calculating "Two-Thirds" Mixed-Use Projects – clarifies that the calculation to determine if a project qualifies for SB 35 where it consists of two-thirds residential excludes underground space such as parking garages and basements
  • Approval Expiration Dates – clarifies that the three-year expiration for SB 35 approvals in case of litigation expires three years after a final judgment upholding the approval, and clarifies that the approval also remains valid as long as vertical construction of the development has begun and is in progress
  • Subsequent Permits – clarifies that local governments must issue subsequent permits – such as demolition, grading, building permits and final maps – without unreasonable delay, as long as those subsequent permit applications substantially comply with the approved SB 35 permit
  • Standards of Review and Consistency with Other Laws – clarifies that the standard for determining whether a project qualifies for SB 35 is highly deferential to the project applicant: a project complies with SB 35's criteria as long as "there is substantial evidence that would allow a reasonable person to conclude" that the development complies
  • Housing Accountability Act– clarifies that under existing law, SB 35 projects are entitled to protection under the Housing Accountability Act

(For further information on SB 35's streamlined ministerial approval process, see Holland & Knight's previous alerts, "California Issues Initial Implementation Guidance on 2017 Housing Laws," Feb. 15, 2018, and "A Closer Look at California's New Housing Production Laws," Dec. 6, 2017.)

AB 101 – Housing Development and Housing 2019-20 Budget Act – requires local governments to provide "by right," CEQA-exempt approvals to certain qualifying navigation centers that move homeless Californians into permanent housing. The law, which took effect on July 31, 2019, also creates additional incentives for cities to comply with their mandates to plan for sufficient housing in their Housing Elements, and provides some modest additional remedies that the state can use in court when cities fail to comply with housing element law. These reforms fall well short of Gov. Newsom's proposal at the beginning of 2019 to withhold state money from cities that fail to plan for and approve sufficient housing.

AB 430 (Assembly Member James Gallagher) – The Camp Fire Housing Assistance Act of 2019 is intended to create housing relief in areas of Butte County, where the housing stock was devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire. The new law creates a streamlined, ministerial CEQA-exempt approval process in and adjacent to the cities of Biggs, Corning, Gridley, Live Oak, Orland, Oroville, Willows and Yuba City for qualifying housing developments that comply with those localities' objective zoning, subdivision and design review standards.

AB 1783 (Robert Rivas) – Farmworker Housing creates a streamlined, ministerial CEQA-exempt approval process for qualifying agricultural employee housing developments on land zoned primarily for agricultural uses.