Senator Lowenthal Introduces Mandatory Smoke Detector Retrofit


Senator Lowenthal Introduces Mandatory Smoke Detector Retrofit—will cost landlords millions!

One week before the only policy Senate committee hearing on SB 1394, Senator Lowenthal amended his bill to require every residential rental unit including single-family one to four units to install smoke detectors in every bedroom, hallway and other habitable areas of the dwelling before a new tenant may occupy the property.

In addition, Senator Lowenthal is proposing to require that once this upgrade is completed, the landlord or property manager is to "ensure that placement of (every) smoke alarm is in compliance with current building code standards." This will require our members to verify with the state and local government that placement of the alarms is correct and will prohibit us from allowing a new tenant to take occupancy until we have verified we are in compliance with the newest code requirement.

We will continue to be responsible for testing and maintaining the alarms as we have in the past. Landlords and managers will still be required to provide operable devices at the time of a new tenancy.

The terms of the bill may even prohibit subtenants or sublessees from taking occupancy until we determine we are in compliance with the new state law.

Other measures carried in the Legislature that have mandated retrofit requirements have never prohibited us from renting a rental unit until we upgrade or verify compliance with the law and have never tied compliance with re-rental of a dwelling.

Smoke detector devices that are currently in place would be changed to be tamper proof thus preventing removal of a battery and would require total replacement when the battery fails.

If Senator Lowenthal is successful, the mandate would start on January 1, 2014.

Senator Simitian proposes to require every landlord to provide a copy of a notice of (foreclosure) sale to tenants and failure to do so would permit a tenant to free rent.

As you would expect, dozens of foreclosure remedy bills have been introduced in the Legislature this year.

Of noteworthy comment is SB 1191. The bill would require every landlord who is in default of a mortgage and who has received a notice of sale from a trustee to disclose the notice of sale to any prospective tenant prior to executing a lease agreement. A violation of the failure to make the disclosure would invalidate the lease and entitle the tenant to recover all rent paid under the lease.

Federal and state law provides substantive protection for tenants in properties that are subject to foreclosure. This measure proposes to add a number of complications related to a foreclosure sale and may be argued it is unnecessary.

AB 2610 (Skinner) proposes additional tenant protections subject to foreclosure action.

The bill purports to give tenants the same protections tenants are afforded under the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009 (hereinafter referred to as the "Foreclosure Act"), which established temporary rules governing evictions of tenants living in foreclosed properties. That Act sunsets on December 31, 2012. The bill amends both the notice requirements under California Civil Code Section 2924.8, and the substantive tenant protections under Cal. Civ. Code Section 1161b.

First, the bill requires a successor in interest to a foreclosed property to give current tenants, under a month-to-month tenancy, 90 days to move out (instead of 60 days under current California law).

Second, if a current tenant has a lease, the bill states without conditions that the tenant or subtenants "shall have the right to possession until the end of the lease term." There is no mention that tenants and landlords have many legal obligations to perform under law.

No sunset provision is contained within the bill, nor does the bill contain any exceptions for owners who seek to move into their own property.

We argue the bill provides for no reciprocal duties or obligations on the part of the leasing tenant or lessee with respect to honoring the current lease terms or any other law that governs tenancy.

Additionally, we argue the bill implies that the tenant has the right to remain in possession without any legal consequences for breaching the lease terms or breaking any law. We base this statement with the following language in the bill: the tenant "shall have the right to possession until the end of the lease term."

The terms of the bill could easily be construed to allow a leasing tenant unconditional rights to possession of a residence without regard to federal, state, local or contract laws.

The above bills are just a sample of measures we face this year.

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