Over 40 percent of California households are renters, according to 2009 Census data. State and local laws attempting to balance the rights of property owners with the rights of tenants address landlord-tenant relations in the Golden State. One situation that is a cause for concern for both tenants and heirs alike is the disposition of property after a rental property owner dies.
In California, a lease survives the death of the property owner. If the lease is for a specified period of time, the death of the landlord will not change that. The new owners are obligated to follow the terms of the lease. If the lease has expired or is for a month-to-month term, the property owner's heirs then turn to state and local law to understand the eviction notice requirements applicable to the property. Simply because the lease does not include a specified period of time or has expired, however, does not necessarily mean the heirs will evict the tenants. They may not have any definite plans for the building. When a property owner dies, therefore, it's in the tenant's best interest to contact the new owners and, if the lease does not include a specified rental duration, to ask for a new lease or negotiate a period of time in which to move.
State Eviction Notice Requirements
If you do not have a lease, your lease has expired, or your lease is for a month-to-month tenancy, the new owners can choose to evict you. State law requires the property owners--new or old--to give 30 day's advance notice to tenants who have lived in the property less than one year. In all other cases, the landlord must give 60 day's notice. These notices are applicable to cases in which the tenants are in full compliance with the lease, especially with paying the rent. If the tenant has been late in paying rent or is in violation of other terms of the lease, the new owner can initiate eviction with a three-day notice. It is therefore very important to continue to pay rent after the property owner has died. Until you receive notice redirecting your rent, continue delivering it to the location specified in your lease.
Just Cause Eviction
State law in California prevails in determining what type of eviction notice is required unless the city or town in which the property is located has a more restrictive rule. Sixteen cities in California have local rent control ordinances. Most rent control ordinances restrict evictions to "just cause." This means tenants can only be evicted for good reason, such as not paying rent. Each rent control city defines its own meaning of the term just cause. San Diego has no rent control but does have a just cause eviction requirement. If you live in a city with a just cause eviction requirement, review the ordinance to find out what standards must be met for a landlord to initiate eviction, especially if the landlord's heirs live out of town. Contact them to let them know what regulations apply.
Mary Gallagher runs Mary Gallagher Planning (mgaplanning.com), an urban planning and consulting business in San Francisco. She is the former assistant planning director for San Francisco and planning director for San Mateo. Gallagher has been writing about real estate, development and land use for numerous websites since 1995. She holds a master's degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University.