Issue I: Tenants’ Rights & COVID-19

UPDATED May 22, 2020

Issue I: Tenants’ Rights & COVID-19


The pandemic has displaced all of us from our daily routines. Many have also been physically uprooted from their rental apartments and homes, especially students who may have returned to stay with family. These students may be looking for ways to end their one-year leases early. Others may be struggling to pay rent to keep their apartments, and feeling concerned about eviction. This guide answers some frequently asked questions about new and old rules governing tenants’ rights in California and the Bay Area, and provides links to further resources.

FAQs for Renters

A. No, not right now.  


Governor Newsom’s executive order put some protections in place for California tenants who are unable to pay rent because of the coronavirus. More importantly, the Judicial Council of California issued new rules that prevent almost all new eviction cases from moving forward by restricting courts from issuing summonses. For a detailed overview of the new rules, check out this analysis. There is an exception for landlords who want to evict a tenant for reasons of public health and safety. It is important to note that you will still have to pay any rent that you owe after the emergency ends. Some jurisdictions have set deadlines to pay back the rent. For example, Alameda County has expanded their order and has given tenants 12 months for rent repayment. 

A. Technically, yes. Practically speaking, it is unlikely that you will be evicted during the state of emergency. But you won’t have extra time to pay your rent. 


At the moment, the Judicial Council of California’s emergency rules have stopped courts from issuing summonses in almost all unlawful detainer cases. (Landlords may ask the court for special permission to move forward in an eviction for public health and safety reasons.) Additionally, some local courts are not accepting unlawful detainer filings. However, you will still owe your rent, and your landlord may attempt to evict you once the emergency rule has expired. You will not have the extra time to pay your landlord unless you make an agreement.

A. If you are in a one-year lease and seek to end it early, you may be responsible for the rent if you do not have a replacement tenant. Month-to-month tenants need to give 30 days notice in writing to their landlords that they plan to move.


If your lease is longer than month-to-month and you end the lease early, the law requires your landlord to try to find another tenant for the rest of the lease term. But it’s probably a good idea for you to try to find that replacement tenant yourself if you can. You’re more motivated (the landlord gets rent either way) and the pandemic could provide a plausible reason for landlords to say they couldn’t find anyone. If you are able to find a suitable tenant to replace you, it will be difficult for your landlord to require that you keep paying rent. 

A. Likely, yes. Under the order, moving can be an essential activity


Technically, moving is considered essential if the move was already planned, or if the move is necessitated by safety, sanitation, or habitability reasons, or if the move is necessary to preserve access to shelter. 

A. With exceptions, landlords have to return your security deposit within 21 days.


After a tenant has moved out, the landlord may only withhold money from the security deposit for the following reasons: 

      • Unpaid rent
      • Damage to the unit beyond normal wear and tear
      • Cleaning the rental unit (only to make it as clean as when the tenant moved in)
      • If specified in the lease, personal property that the tenant failed to restore or replace.

The Berkeley Rent Board has helpful suggestions for recovering your security deposit and you can reach out to them for help. If you are having trouble getting your security deposit back, you can also call Bay Area Legal Aid or EBCLC for advice. 

A. Contact your landlord in writing. Plumbers, electricians, and others who provide for the habitability of residences are considered essential under the shelter-in-place order. 


If you need a repair, contact your landlord in writing as soon as possible and be specific. Follow up any phone calls with a written request or confirmation. Do not withhold your rent. Take pictures of the damage or issue. If the landlord is not making repairs, call the city inspectors or code enforcement. After that, if the landlord continues to refuse to make repairs, you can take legal action against them. They must comply, whether or not you are able to pay rent. 

A. Yes, they do. For the specific tenant protections in your city and county, you can look to your local ordinances and sources of information.


This guide is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice.


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