AB 1620 (2023) Opens the Door for Local Governments To Compel the Rental of “Accessible Floor” Units
January 12th, 2024
Contributor: Justin A. Goodman
An amendment to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act will make significant changes to the reasonable accommodation, interactive process with respect to a tenant with a permanent physical disability who seeks to move into an equal or smaller unit. Costa-Hawkins is a state law that guarantees landlords vacancy decontrol in many circumstances, even if their jurisdiction has a rent control ordinance. It previously did not speak to fair housing law, but AB 1620 expresses a policy that California will now defer to local governments as to how they synthesize reasonable accommodations for physically disabled tenants with their rent control regimes.
How to Qualify for AB 1620
To qualify, the building or parcel must consist of five or more units with a common owner. The tenant must be permanently physically disabled, they must request the accommodation in advance of the accessible unit becoming vacant, and their current unit must not be on an accessible floor or have an operational elevator (i.e., the move must be “necessary to accommodate” the disability).
The accessible unit must be equal in size or smaller (in terms of bedrooms and square footage), and all occupants of the current unit must agree to move. The new rules do not apply if the owner or a close family member intends to occupy the accessible unit. If these conditions are satisfied, fair housing law requires the landlord to offer the physically disabled tenant a comparable or smaller unit at the same rent and other terms as their current unit. (This is the “vacancy control” aspect of the accommodation and why a change to Costa-Hawkins was required for this feature to operate.)
This amendment to Costa-Hawkins feels a bit like a covert undermining of the Ellis Act in giving local governments the ability to compel an owner to offer a vacant unit to a tenant. However, the focus on “comparable or smaller units” in mid-to-large apartment buildings, and the carve-out for owner/relative occupancy squares the law with the broader purpose of fair housing regulations. And while the newly vacated unit would be decontrolled (i.e., market rate), there are also specific safeguards to guarantee a fair rate of return.
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Categories: Landlord/Tenant Issues