Counsel, Advocacy & Representation for California Tenants

What does “Just Cause” mean?

Description of Just Cause Eviction Controls

Civil Code section 1946.2 now describes and limits the permissible reasons that landlords can evict their long-term tenants.  These eviction controls are also called “just cause” protections. Civil Code now provides that, after a tenant has continuously and lawfully occupied the rental property for 12 months, the landlord can’t terminate the tenancy without stating one of the permissible reasons for doing so.  This reason, or just cause, must be stated in the written notice to terminate.

If any additional adult tenants are added to the lease before an existing tenant has lived at the property for 24 months, then just cause will only apply if either (1) all of the tenants have continuously and lawfully occupied the property for 12 months or more, or (2) one or more tenants have occupied the property for 24 months or more.

A “just cause” termination can be based on a cause or reason that is either “at-fault” or “no-fault.” At fault means the tenant is alleged to have done something the justifies his or her termination. No fault means that although the tenant has not done anything wrong, the tenancy may still be ended by the property owner due to some other permissible reason.

The exceptions carved out of the just cause requirements are limited to those cases where the property owner is removing it from the rental market, or because the government is forcing the property owner to take some kind of action which will require tenants to be removed. In most cases, if a tenant is terminated under a “no fault” notice, he or she will have a right to relocation assistance

At Fault Termination

A landlord can terminate a tenancy based on an allegation of tenant wrongdoing as follows:

  • Default in the payment of rent.

  • A breach of a material term of the lease, as described in paragraph (3) of Section 1161 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

  • Maintaining, committing, or permitting the maintenance or commission of a nuisance.

  • Committing waste.

  • The tenant had a written lease that terminated on or after January 1, 2020, and after a written request or demand from the owner, the tenant has refused to execute a written extension or renewal of the lease for an additional term of similar duration with similar provisions, provided that those terms do not violate this section, or any other provision of law.

  • Criminal activity by the tenant on the residential real property, or criminal threats that are directed at any owner, or agent of the owner, of the residential real property.

  • Assigning or subletting the premises in violation of the tenant’s lease.

  • The tenant refuses to allow the owner to enter the residential real property as authorized by Civil Code § 1954, or to install water efficient plumbing fixtures, smoke detectors, or carbon monoxide detectors as required by California law.

  • Using the premises for an unlawful purpose.

  • The employee, agent, or licensee’s failure to vacate after their termination as an employee, agent, or a licensee.

  • When the tenant fails to deliver possession of the residential real property after providing the owner written notice as provided in Section 1946 of the tenant’s intention to terminate the hiring of the real property, or makes a written offer to surrender that is accepted in writing by the landlord, but fails to deliver possession at the time specified in that written notice.

Opportunity Must Still be Provided to Cure Certain Breaches

Before an owner issues a notice to terminate a tenancy alleging a tenant is at-fault, if the allegation is a lease or contract violation that could be corrected, then the owner must first give the tenant a written notice with an opportunity to do so.  If the violation is not cured within the period stated in the notice, then a 3-day notice to quit without an opportunity to cure may afterward be served to terminate the tenancy. (Civil Code, § 1946.2(c))

No Fault Termination

A property owner may terminate a residential tenancy even if there is no allegation of tenant wrongdoing under the following circumstances:

  • The property owner, or his or her spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren, parents, or grandparents intend to occupy the residential real property.  (For leases that begin on or after July 1, 2020, this basis to terminate will only apply if the tenant agrees, in writing, to the termination, or if a provision of the lease allows the owner to terminate the lease based upon an intent to have herself or an an immediate relative occupy the real property. The lease, or renewed rental agreement, must include a statement that allows termination for this reason).

  • Withdrawal of the residential real property from the rental market.

  • The landlord intends to demolish, or to substantially remodel the residential real property (Cosmetic improvements alone, including painting, decorating, and minor repairs, or other work that can be performed safely without having to vacate the property, do not qualify as substantial rehabilitation)

  • The owner is being ordered to comply with any of the following:

    • An order issued by a government agency or court relating to habitability that necessitates vacating the residential real property.

    • An order issued by a government agency or court relating to habitability that necessitates vacating the residential real property.

    • An order issued by a government agency or court to vacate the residential real property.

    • A local ordinance that necessitates vacating the residential real property.

For terminations under the “No Fault” exceptions, landlords may be required to offer relocation assistance to the displaced tenants.  To learn more about whether the termination of a tenancy will entitle a tenant to relocation benefits, click on the link below

Required Notice to Tenants

Initially, an owner of residential rental property which is subject to the just cause protections must provide notice of these protections to the tenant. If the tenancy began before January 1, 2020, then Civil Code Section 1946.2(f)(2) requires that this be done in writing prior to August 1, 2020. This notice must still be supplied to the tenant, but it can be done with an addendum or notice of changes to terms and conditions of the rental contract.

For tenancies beginning after July 1, 2020, the notice must be included in the rental agreement itself, or if not in a separate writing signed by the tenant, which also must be provided to her (Civil Code §1946.2(f)(1)).

Section 1946.2 is silent as to what method of service is necessary to deliver this notice.

However, prudent landlords should make sure that they are providing written notice to tenants, which should be either personally delivered to the tenant, or an adult residing at the property, or posted and thereafter mailed to the tenant at the property. 

If a landlord fails to give this required written notice after the law takes effect, then even if he or she claims to be exempt from the just cause requirements, the tenant may still be able to defeat a case to evict.

This notice is subject to the foreign language translation requirements of Civil Code § 1632, which means that if the lease was negotiated in a language other than English, then a translation of the notice must be provided to the tenant in that language.

Legal Advocacy & Representation will Make a Difference

Whether a specific situation constitutes a good faith basis for an “at fault” termination, or whether a tenant is being terminated under the landlord’s assertion of  “no fault” will come down to the individual facts of the case.  How courts will interpret those facts should not be left to guess work. 

When it comes to legal disputes it is not a good idea to let the chips fall where they may.  The effective assistance of an attorney who has experience advocating and litigating on behalf of tenants will make a material difference to those tenants who are intent upon seeing their rights protected. 


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Get Representation

If you have a situation that is more than a question, and are already having a dispute with your landlord, then information alone is often not enough to settle the matter to your advantage. What most renters need, but seldom have, is an attorney who knows the law, and the landlord’s duties under the law, and is not afraid to advocate for tenants.

Even the most informed tenants can find the court system overwhelming.  Defending against eviction on your own is more than just challenging.  Fort the unprepared and unrepresented it is an ordeal filled with traps.  Tenants who go to court without an attorney frequently enter into bad agreements and suffer humiliation at the hands of the landlord’s lawyers. Having an experienced attorney on your side will make a difference.

Get Informed

If your situation is not a lawsuit in court, but rather a question, or a curiosity about what the law says, there are many places where you can find educational materials, and  every tenant should become familiar with the legal protections for tenants in California law.

Many times the answer to tenants’ legal questions are more complicated than they may first appear.  It’s important to be careful, and not to rely upon every piece of information posted online, or simply accept the advice of friends and neighbors.  Make sure the source of your legal advice is reliable and up to date.

Look around the website and see if we have information to help you.  If you have a question and you can’t find an answer,  click here to send us a comment.  An attorney that specializes in advocating for tenants will reply, and can direct you to the resources you need. 

Don't go to Trial unprepared

Written notices demanding the payment of rent, notices that threaten the termination of your lease, accusations of illegal activity, and notices of changes in terms and conditions of a lease from a landlord or property manager are often the prelude to legal action.  They must be taken seriously.  It is critical for tenants to respond to notice from a landlord intelligently and prudently.

Before you agree to excessive rent increases, or allow the oppressive actions of the owner or management intimidate you, meet with a professional.

Information, early in time, is the key to success.  Often times becoming informed can help you to avoid being on defense.  If you are not able to avoid litigation, then consult with an attorney who stands with tenants and defends their rights.

Don't Waste Time

When a tenant has a legal conflict with the landlord, there is often only a short period of time to act.  Under California law, landlords are usually required to give notice to tenants before they resort to legal action. However, most of these legally required notices give a tenant only three days to act.  When a tenant fails to act within the three days then the landlord can proceed to court.

Once an action to evict (also called unlawful detainer) is filed against a tenant in court, it can move very quickly.   Landlords enjoy a unique legal procedure, which is known as a summary proceeding.   Once a tenant is sued in court, and then served with an unlawful detainer summons, then he or she has only five days to respond.

If your landlord has sued you or is threatening to sue you, then you must act quickly. Hesitation and uncertainty can lead to a loss of money, loss of security and the loss of your home. Don’t wait.  Schedule an appointment for a consultation  immediately to discuss your case.