Chapter 8.43


8.43.010    Intent and purpose.

8.43.020    Definitions.

8.43.030    Prohibited activities—Protections.

8.43.040    Tenantability.

8.43.050    Waiver.

8.43.060    Severability.

8.43.010 Intent and purpose.

(A)    The Board of Supervisors finds that Santa Cruz County faces an affordable housing crisis in that:

(1)    The UC Santa Cruz-based No Place Like Home Project surveyed 1,700 renters in Santa Cruz County in 2017 and found that 70 percent of renters surveyed were “rent-burdened” and spent more than 30 percent of their net income on housing; specifically noting that renters in Westside Santa Cruz, Beach Flats, Live Oak, and Watsonville spent 60 to 76 percent of their household income on housing costs.

(2)    Santa Cruz County had the fourth-highest rate of people experiencing homelessness per total county residents in California, as reported in the 2019 point-in-time count.

(3)    Eighty-one percent of very low-income and 92 percent of extremely low-income households are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs compared to the income spent by moderate-income (35 percent) and above moderate-income households (five percent), as highlighted in the 2021 Santa Cruz County Housing Affordability Needs Report (SCCHANR).

(4)    The National Low Income Housing Coalition has ranked Santa Cruz County as the second-most expensive rental market in the nation and the least affordable county in California for the average renter, given that four full-time jobs at minimum wage are needed to afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent in 2022.

(5)    The ATTOM U.S. Home Affordability Report (Q1—2022) ranked Santa Cruz County as the least affordable homeownership housing market in the United States, with neighboring Monterey County ranked as the seventh-least affordable county in the nation.

(B)    The Board of Supervisors finds that the lack of adequate affordable housing development in the community coupled with low vacancy rates and rents far beyond the means of most renters creates significant housing stress on households in Santa Cruz County.

(C)    The Board of Supervisors finds that due to the lack of affordable housing in the community, landlords have been known to rent substandard units to lessees or fail to maintain rental units in accordance with health and safety requirements. Tenants who lawfully organize to advocate for affordable rents and/or tenants’ rights, including, but not limited to, addressing inadequate or substandard living conditions, decreased services as outlined in the lease agreement, or evictions, often face the risk of retaliatory eviction which may result in homelessness or other hardships to the lessee.

(D)    The Board of Supervisors finds that lessees who are unlawfully evicted from their dwellings confront significant difficulties and expenses in finding other permanent affordable housing. The lack of affordable housing alternatives leads to overcrowding which itself may result in health and safety problems. Further, after being displaced, low- and moderate-income tenants have difficulty finding affordable housing, given the increased financial burden or inability to afford the up-front security deposit and first and last month’s rent at a new location.

(E)    The Board of Supervisors finds that efforts to prevent and end homelessness in Santa Cruz County will remain challenging in an environment of low rental unit vacancy rates, high rents, mean renter incomes inadequate to pay for annually increasing housing costs, and unaddressed unlawful evictions.

(F)    The Board of Supervisors finds that lessors who evict their lessees in retaliation for their exercise of rights protected under this chapter or in order to harass their tenant should bear responsibility for the hardship their actions create for the lessees.

(G)    The Board of Supervisors finds that while existing State law provides some protection to a tenant facing retaliation or harassment, the remedies available may not provide adequate compensation for all of the damages or losses the tenant may suffer.

(H)    The Board of Supervisors finds that protecting the efforts of tenants and tenant organizations to lawfully advocate for affordable rents or lessees’ rights can be an effective means of preserving the County’s affordable housing stock and should be protected.

(I)    The Board of Supervisors finds that the protections provided in this chapter provide greater benefits than those set forth in California Civil Code Section 1946.2 or are more restrictive in areas relating to unlawful evictions, protections for lessees against retaliation and harassment, and other tenant protections that are not preempted or otherwise precluded by any other provision of law.

(J)    The purposes of this chapter are to promote long-term stability and certainty for tenants in the rental market while providing landlords an ability to receive a fair return on their property, further preserving and protecting the County’s affordable housing stock. The provisions outlined in this chapter are not meant to inhibit a landlord’s lawful exercise of a right of eviction consistent with the obligations of a lease and the requirements of law. [Ord. 5410 § 2, 2022].

8.43.020 Definitions.

For purposes of this chapter, the following words and phrases, whenever used, shall be construed as defined in this section:

(A)    “Tenant” means a person who has occupied a dwelling or structure for a period of 30 days or more under a written or verbal agreement with the owner by which the tenant has paid rent or provided other valuable consideration to the owner in exchange for the right of occupancy.

(B)    “Dwelling” means any structure which serves as the place of permanent or customary and usable abode of a person, including, but not limited to, a single-family dwelling, multifamily dwelling, a unit of a condominium or cooperative housing project, or any other residential unit which is considered to be real property under State law. A structure need not be decent, safe, or sanitary to be considered a dwelling.

(C)    “Housing services” are the provisions outlined in the lease or rental agreement between a tenant and respective landlord or agent for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation. [Ord. 5410 § 2, 2022].

8.43.030 Prohibited activities—Protections.

(A)    It shall be unlawful for a lessor to increase rent, decrease services, cause a lessee to quit involuntarily, bring an action to recover possession, or threaten to do any of such acts, for the purpose of retaliating against the lessee because they have lawfully organized or participated in a lessees’ association or an organization advocating for affordable rents or lessees’ rights or have lawfully and peaceably exercised any rights under the law. In an action concerning this chapter, the lessee shall bear the burden of producing evidence that the lessor’s conduct was, in fact, retaliatory.

(B)    It shall be unlawful for a lessor to do any of the following:

(1)    Interrupt, terminate or fail to provide housing services required by the applicable rental agreement or by Federal, State, County, or local housing, health, or safety laws, or threaten to do so, or violate or threaten to violate California Civil Code Section 789.3.

(2)    Take any of the following actions in bad faith:

(a)    Fail to perform repairs and maintenance required by the applicable rental agreement or by Federal, State, or local laws;

(b)    Fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance once undertaken;

(c)    Conduct elective renovation or construction on the leased premises for the purpose of harassing a tenant;

(d)    Take action to terminate any tenancy, including service of any notice to quit or other eviction notice or bring any action to recover possession of leased premises based upon facts which the landlord has no reasonable cause to believe to be true or upon a legal theory which is untenable under the facts known to the landlord; however, no landlord shall be liable under this subsection for bringing an action to recover possession unless and until the tenant has obtained a favorable termination of that action;

(e)    Violate a tenant’s right to privacy by requesting information regarding residence or citizenship status, protected class status, or social security number, except as required by law or in the case of a social security number, for the purpose of obtaining information for the qualifications for a tenancy;

(f)    Release information protected by the tenant’s right to privacy except as required or authorized by law;

(g)    Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate leased premises through fraud, misrepresentation, intimidation, or coercion, which shall include threatening to report a tenant to the United States Department of Homeland Security, as outlined under California’s Immigrant Tenant Protection Act;

(h)    Violate, in the provision of housing services, any law which prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference, sexual orientation, ethnic background, nationality, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), occupancy by a minor child, or source of income;

(i)    Commit repeated acts or omissions of such significance as to substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace, or quiet of any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of the leased premises and that cause, are likely to cause or are intended to cause any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of the leased premises dwelling unit to vacate them or to surrender or waive any rights in relation to such occupancy;

(j)    Provide false written or verbal information regarding any Federal, State, County, or local tenant protections, including mischaracterizing the nature or effect of a notice to quit or other eviction notice. False information includes, without limitation, requesting or demanding a tenant sign a new rental agreement not in the tenant’s primary language if:

(i)    Rental agreement negotiations were conducted in the tenant’s primary language, as outlined under Civil Code Section 1632; or

(ii)    The existing rental agreement is in the tenant’s primary language;

(k)    Interfere with the right of tenants to organize as tenants and engage in concerted activities with other tenants or an organization advocating for affordable rents or lessees’ rights; provide property access to tenant organizers, advocates, or representatives working with or on behalf of tenants living at a property; convene tenant or tenant organization meetings in an appropriate space accessible to tenants under the terms of their rental agreement; or distribute and post literature informing other tenants of their rights and of opportunities to involve themselves in their project in common areas, including lobby areas and bulletin boards or prevent lessees from lawfully and peaceably exercising any rights afforded to them under the law.

(C)    Nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting in any way the exercise by the lessor of their rights under any lease or agreement or any law pertaining to the hiring of property for any lawful cause.

(D)    Any lessor or agent of a lessor who violates this section shall be liable to the lessee in a civil action for treble the actual damages sustained by the lessee, or three months of the dwelling’s actual rent at the time of the violation, whichever is greater. For each additional violation of this section within one year, the lessor or agent of a lessor shall be liable to the lessee for treble the actual damages sustained by the lessee or nine months of the dwelling’s actual rent at the time of the violation, whichever is greater.

(E)    In any action brought for damages for retaliatory eviction, the court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party if either party requests attorney’s fees upon the initiation of the action or in their initial responsive pleading.

(F)    The remedies provided by this section shall be in addition to any other remedies provided by statutory or decisional law. [Ord. 5410 § 2, 2022].

8.43.040 Tenantability.

A dwelling is untenantable for purposes of this chapter if it meets the definition of an untenantable dwelling set forth in California Civil Code Section 1941.1. [Ord. 5410 § 2, 2022].

8.43.050 Waiver.

Any waiver by a tenant of rights under this chapter shall be void as contrary to public policy. [Ord. 5410 § 2, 2022].

8.43.060 Severability.

The provisions of this chapter are severable. If any section, paragraph, sentence, phrase or word of this chapter is declared invalid for any reason, that decision shall not affect any other portion of this chapter, which shall remain in full force and effect. [Ord. 5410 § 2, 2022].