Back in November 2019, the California Law Revision Commission (CLRC) recommended some changes to the laws surrounding the Revocable Transfer on Death Deed (RTDD). RTDD simplifies the process of transferring properties upon death. CLRC also suggested a 10 year extension, but noted that further study would be required. RTDD was set to expire on January 1, 2021, but the pandemic has made review difficult. To give more time for review, it has now been extended an additional year, to January 2022.
Populous cities are generally considered to be higher density areas, but in some of the largest cities in California, about 75% of the land is zoned for single-family residences. The history of the overabundance of SFRs can be traced back to segregation. It was a tool designed to price out lower-income Black people from predominantly white neighborhoods, something which cities hope to rectify with new zoning laws.
Though many people aren’t aware of the racist roots, and rezoning isn’t going to completely eliminate racism, SFRs are outdated in more ways than one. California desperately needs more affordable housing, but building large apartment complexes is expensive for construction companies. The middle ground is medium-density housing, such as triplexes and fourplexes. To that end, San Francisco has drafted plans to allow fourplexes in every district considered a residential district. A few other Bay Area cities are considering similar plans.
President Biden has proposed a $15,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, perhaps aimed at allowing renters who were getting ready to make the jump to homeownership before the pandemic to realize their plans. Not all renters have homeownership in the near future, but it’s possible that the tax credit could help quite a few people. Assuming a down payment of 3.5% for a 30-year loan at 3% interest rate, it could be a boon to renters in 40 of the 50 largest US metros.
Since it’s a flat amount and not a percentage, the tax credit would be especially useful in less expensive metro areas. Areas like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and St. Louis could see somewhere around 40% of renters being able to afford a mortgage on the median property with the tax credit. More expensive regions, such as California, aren’t going to benefit as much. It’s more likely that the number of people aided would be only in the thousands. However, these are all probably high estimates, since they are based on the minimum down payment of 3.5% for an FHA loan, which is not ideal.
The proposal does have one major flaw. Currently, demand is quite high and supply is incredibly low. The supply of available properties is already struggling to support the number of prospective buyers. If first-time homebuyers start trying to take advantage of their tax credit, it’s probable they’ll be entirely out of luck. Competition is fierce with multiple offers per property, and those attempting to use tax credits to scrape together money to buy aren’t likely to be providing the best offer.
Currently, there are approximately 2.7 million homeowners protected under forbearance programs. When the foreclosure moratorium expires, which it is slated to do June 30, 2021, these homeowners will have a respite as long as they are in good standing with their forbearance program. This is important, because 2.1 million of those are delinquent in their payments and would otherwise be subject to potential foreclosure immediately after June 30th. This is a fate likely to befall 1.1 million more US homeowners, who are delinquent and aren’t protected under a forbearance program.
Why aren’t they protected? Well, the answer is probably that they don’t know what their options are. Some may not know that forbearance programs even exist, but they certainly do and are still available. They may think they aren’t eligible for whatever reason, even though the only eligibility requirement is financial hardship due to COVID-19. It’s possible they don’t think they will be able to make a lump sum payment after their forbearance period. This is a real concern for a few people; however, most mortgages are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, who will allow you to continue to make payments throughout the life of the loan, rather than immediately as soon as forbearance ends.
If you’re in need of rental assistance, now is the time. California opened the window for COVID-19 rent relief applications a few days ago, on March 15th, 2021. There are state, county, and city programs — be sure to look at all the possibilities, because they do have some differences. Also be aware of the application windows. Some close as early as March 31st.
Information about the California state program is available at www.housing.ca.gov, and you can get a personalized report from https://ucilaw.neotalogic.com/a/Cal-Covid-Info-App-for-Tenants-and-Landlords. If you are a landlord, you can also participate in the state program by waiving 20% of the rent in order to get reimbursed for 80% of the unpaid rent. Tenants whose landlords don’t wish to participate are given 25% of their unpaid rent. The state program also pays 25% of prospective rent and provides assistance with utility payments.
The protections for tenants and homeowners under AB 3088 were set to expire a few days ago, on January 31, 2021. However, SB 91 extends these through June 30, 2021, giving tenants more time without fear of eviction as long as their application is proper and they pay at least 25% of their rent. SB 91 is not merely an extension of AB 3088, though. It also creates new tenant protections and establishes a rent relief program.
The rental assistance program is available regardless of citizenship status, but only for those with an income below 80% of area median income (AMI). The program prioritizes households below 50% AMI or who have been unemployed the full 90 days prior to applying. Assistance is given for rental arrears first, before new rent and utility arrears.
The new tenant protections mostly prevent landlords from attempting to squeeze money out of tenants in ways separate from the normal rent payments. Landlords won’t be able to apply the security deposit to debt, charge late fees, or factor in debt when determining rent prices. Landlords also can’t assign or sell debt until June 30, 2021, or at all if the tenant qualifies for the new rental assistance program. Landlords may not take legal action to recover debt until July 1, 2021, at which point they still need to provide documentation of good faith efforts to cooperate with qualifying tenants. Courts are allowed to limit attorney’s fees for rental debt cases, and if the landlord refuses to participate in the rental assistance program, the court can also reduce the amount of damages.
The FHA has increased the loan limits for every category in 2021, a boon to prospective homebuyers who may have been negatively impacted by the recession that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. The two primary categories of loan limits are low-cost area and high-cost area, and each category has separate limits for SFRs, duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes.
For low-cost areas, your loan limits have gone up approximately between $25,000 and $47,000. The SFR limit went from $331,760 in 2020 to $356,362 in 2021. The duplex limit went from $424,800 to $456,275, triplex $513,450 to $551,500, and quadplex $638,100 to $685,400. High-cost areas saw an increase between about $57,000 and $110,000. For SFRs, it went from $765,600 to $822,375, duplexes from $980,325 to $1,053,000, triplexes $1,184,925 to $1,272,750, and quadplexes $1,472,550 to $1,581,750.
In order to qualify for any FHA loan, the requirements you’ll need to meet include credit score, down payment amount, and debt-to-income ratio. The credit score minimum is 500. If your credit score is below 580, you need a minimum down payment of 10% of the purchase price, otherwise the minimum down payment is 3.5% of purchase price. The maximum debt-to-income ratio for all debt is 43%, and 31% front-end. In addition, you must have an FHA appraisal and home inspection, cannot purchase and resell the home within 90 days, and must use the loan for a primary residence.
Proposition 19 has now passed in California, and with it brought changes to how property tax is reassessed for some purchases, effective April 1, 2021. The new law replaces Prop 60 and Prop 90, affecting replacement property by homeowners who are over 55, severely disabled, or whose home has been substantially damaged by wildfires or natural disaster. It allows the homeowners to transfer their original home’s taxable value to a replacement property. It’s unclear as of yet how properties sold prior to April 1 will be treated if the replacement purchase occurs after this date. Regardless, the replacement purchase must occur within two years of the original property’s sale.
Under prior law, this type of reassessment could only be applied if the purchase was made in the same county as the prior residence or in specific counties. Under new law, it applies throughout California. Additionally, prior law required the replacement home to have equal or lesser value than the original home. Prop 19 has provisions for an adjusted rate in a circumstance where the value is greater. The adjusted rate is calculated as the original home’s taxable value plus the difference between the replacement home’s purchase price and the original home’s sale price. This reassessment can be applied up to three times, or indefinitely any time that it is applied under the provisions for substantial property damage.
With Prop 19 also came a change to intergenerational transfers. Previously, a child or grandchild could inherit a property with no change to the property tax amount. Effective February 16, 2021, that exemption from reassessment applies only while the heir is using the property as their primary residence, and only if the heir claims a homeowner’s or disabled veteran’s exemption within one year of the transfer. The new law also requires that the property continue to be used as the child or grandchild’s primary residence. Once the property is no longer their primary residence, the property will be reassessed.
If the value of the inherited property is more than one million dollars greater than the original purchase value, there will be a partial reassessment. Essentially, the heir is allowed to use the original purchase value, plus one million dollars as the baseline property value. Above that, normal property taxes are applied.
In addition, family farms are now also included in properties that can retain their taxable value when transferred. Farms are not subject to the primary residence test, however all other qualifications and exemptions apply.
On Jan. 19th, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously for preliminary approval of two ordinances designed to increase affordable housing. The policy is still subject to objections prior to final approval, but if it continues as written, 11% of rental developments and 10% of housing developments will need to be set aside for affordable housing, else be subject to a fee. This would apply only to developments of 9 or more units in certain areas of Long Beach.
The City doesn’t want this to be a temporary solution, so ideally the policy will be the best it can be. However, it’s already been the focus of some criticism, ironically that some aspects end after a certain number of years and the policy therefore looks a lot like a temporary solution. There were also objections to the long phase-in schedule and the rather lenient option of developers replacing nearby properties with affordable housing if they don’t want to include them in the development itself.
There’ve been plenty of articles written about the ever-changing details of the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. Less has been said about other forms of pandemic relief, such as federal rent relief stimulus. While the stimulus was passed already in December, there are still some things you may not know about it.
The federal pandemic relief bill includes $25 billion in rent relief, approximately $2.6 billion of which is going to California. We haven’t yet heard the details on how to apply for rent relief, except that there is an option to give your consent to your landlord to allow them to apply on your behalf, but there is information about who qualifies. One need not be a citizen of the US or have documents to qualify, though it’s possible that individual states and jurisdictions could limit this. The main qualification is that the pandemic have caused you risk of homelessness or housing instability. Qualifying households must make 80% of the area’s median income or less, and there must be at least one person in the household who qualifies for unemployment or has experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
A qualifying household can get a maximum of 15 months worth of relief, as determined by their need, usable for unpaid and future rent and utility payments. It’s possible that some of the money could be used for other purposes, however, because the money is intended to be primarily for rent and utilities, it will be paid to the landlords and utility companies. Only if the landlord refuses it will the tenant be paid directly.
A moratorium is currently protecting many renters from evictions, but it’s going to end eventually, and many renters will still owe a backlog of payments. What’s more, the legal process for acquiring protection can be difficult to grasp for some renters. The bottom line is that renters are going to need help understanding their rights — as well as fighting for them in court. I’m sure most everyone is aware of their guaranteed legal right to an attorney if they cannot afford one, but not everyone realizes that only applies in criminal cases. People struggling with evictions don’t have that same guarantee.
Fortunately, the federal COVID-19 relief package has taken that into account. In addition to $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium through January, the most recent package also includes $20 million in legal assistance for renters. The vast majority of landlords can already afford an attorney, so aid to renters is aimed at levelling the playing field. The prediction is that it will do more than that, though. An estimated 92% of renters in Baltimore, Maryland, would win their cases if they had legal counsel, yet only 1% do, compared to 96% of landlords.
This brings us to the next step in helping renters get back on their feet: extending the guarantee of legal counsel to renters facing eviction, which is what the aforementioned city of Baltimore has just decided to do. The city has been given four years to complete implementation of this new requirement. It’s even expected to save the city and state money in the long run by reducing costs elsewhere, such as homeless shelters and foster care. Baltimore was only the most recent city to try this, though. It was first accomplished by New York City in 2017, and similar laws exist in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Newark, New Jersey.
Many attempts have been made, and are still being made, to help lower income people to acquire affordable housing. We haven’t been worried about higher-income housing; those who can even consider affording it don’t particularly need the help. But there’s a group we’ve mostly been forgetting about: the dwindling middle class. The income gap has increased dramatically, but there are still those few who earn too much to get subsidies, yet too little to afford higher priced housing.
To this end, California lawmakers have passed AB 725, which modifies California zoning laws to allow for more moderate-density housing in metropolitan and suburban areas. 25% of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation must be for moderate income housing zoned for 4 or more units. Interestingly, a further 25% must be for above-moderate income housing, also zoned for 4 or more units. This is potentially because there could be significant backlash from a major drop in home values in areas that are already primarily high income neighborhoods.
AB 725 definitely has its flaws, though. Of course, it does little to nothing to further affordable housing, only increasing the density of housing, but that wasn’t the objective. The more pressing issue is that there are no provisions to improve infrastructure for higher densities, fund new constructions, or guarantee that new constructions will qualify for the required income range. Essentially, California lawmakers are saying “You better do this,” without providing any assistance in making it feasible.
SB 1079, also known as “Homes for Homeowners, Not Corporations” has now been signed into law, and becomes effective January 1, 2021. The law seeks to balance out the advantages that corporations and Wall Street have in bulk purchasing foreclosed homes. We saw the devastating effects of this type of corporate greed during the Great Recession, and California lawmakers don’t want a repeat of that.
To this end, the new law does a couple things. Firstly, bulk purchasing is much more difficult, as bundle auctions will no longer be allowed except as permitted by security instruments. Second, eligible bidders and tenant buyers will have 45 days after the trustee sale to beat out the highest bid. Importantly, not listed among eligible bidders are for-profit corporations. Also of note, an eligible tenant buyer need only match, not exceed, the highest bid, and if they do so before the trustee sale ends, the sale is final. Though it doesn’t affect chances of homeownership, SB 1079 also increases fines for owners failing to maintain vacant properties.
AB 3088 was signed into law, extending eviction moratoriums to January 31, 2021, under certain conditions. While tenants will still be responsible for unpaid amounts after this date, they cannot be evicted for missing payments between March 4 and August 31. For rent due between September 1 and January 31, tenants will be required to pay at least 25% of the amount owed each month to be immune to eviction. Tenants also are not immune to eviction for causes unrelated to missing payments.
In order to be eligible for these protections, tenants will also need to declare financial distress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be in the form of loss of income, increased expenses related to performing essential work or to health care, child care, elderly care, disability, or sickness, or some other category, but must be a result of the pandemic. This declaration also applies to 15-day eviction notices the tenant may receive. If no response is provided, the tenant may still be evicted.
California bill AB 3173, introduced in February, would require some cities and counties to permit microunits in areas zoned for multifamily residences. The city or county must have a population of 400,000 or more to qualify for this requirement. Because of the way zoning laws operate, the bill would not apply on city land in a city with a population under 400,000 even if the county has a population over 400,000. The bill also establishes size and affordability requirements for the microunits.
Using 2019 population estimates for cities and the 2010 Census data for counties, the bill would apply in 8 cities and 21 counties. Eligible cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, and Oakland. It’s possible that Bakersfield, with an estimated population of 384,145 last year, has now passed the 400,000 mark. Eligible counties are Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, Santa Clara County, Alameda County, Sacramento County, Contra Costa County, Fresno County, Kern County, San Francisco County, Ventura County, San Mateo County, San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County, Sonoma County, Tulare County, Solano County, Santa Barbara County, and Monterey County. It’s very likely that Placer County, with a population of 398,329 at the 2010 census, has now surpassed the requirement.
California proposed a Universal Basic Income bill in February, which would be administered by the State Department of Social Services, called AB-2712. This May, AB-2712 was amended, establishing new requirements for eligibility as well as shifting administration to the Franchise Tax Board.
Under the amended UBI bill, the CalUBI Program would be an opt-in program that granted $1000 per month to eligible California residents over the age of 18. The amount is unchanged from the February version, but the amended bill establishes new requirements. The new requirements are:
-Currently reside in California
-Lived in California for the past 3 consecutive years
-Not currently incarcerated in a county jail or state prison
-Income no greater than 200% of the median per capita income in the county of residence
In addition, the amendments make this income non-taxable under state tax law, and won’t affect income eligibility for state programs. Rather than a flat value-added tax of 10% proposed by the original bill, the amended bill gives the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration until July 1, 2024 to report on the feasibility of a value-added tax.