New California Laws for 2020 – Part 1

Our legislators were busy as bees last year, enacting 50 new laws affecting your real estate practice. As a real estate advisor, you need to be able to explain how these new laws may affect your clients. Bookmark this post and refer back to it often. I have provided links to summaries and texts of each of the new laws to answer all your questions.

This is the first of two posts covering the new laws for 2020.


AB 1018 Home inspectors are prohibited from giving an opinion of valuation on a property. Effective 1-1-20


This law provides that the drafting party of a consumer or employment-related arbitration agreement is in material breach of the arbitration agreement if the drafting party fails to pay, as required by existing law, specified costs and fees associated with the arbitration proceeding. Effective 1-1-20


  • Exempts from the CCPA information collected from employees and independent contractors for one year. AB 25
  • Broadens the public information exemption for personal information (PI). AB 874
  • Creates a new category and registration requirement for “data brokers.” AB 1202
  • SB 1355 excludes consumer information that is de-identified or aggregate consumer information from PI definition.
  • Rescinds requirement for a business that operates exclusively online and has a direct relationship with the consumer to provide multiple means for consumers to submit information requests. AB 1564
  • Expands the type of data subject to the Information Practices Act of 1977. AB 1130


AB 38 Requires delivery of a statutory disclosure re home hardening for homes in designated high fire areas built before 2010, and that seller list specified retrofits. Effective dates of the disclosure requirements will be 1-1-20; 1-1-21; 7-1-21; and 7-1-25; depending on the disclosure


AB 51 Prohibits employers from requiring employees or applicants for employment to waive a right, forum, or procedure for a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act or the Labor Code as a condition of employment or an employment-related benefit. It also prohibits employers from threatening, retaliating discriminating against, or terminating employees or applicants because they refused to waive any such right, forum, or procedure. Existing contracts for employment entered into, modified or extended on or after January 1, 2020, are exempt.


The right of real estate agents to be treated as independent contractors has been explicitly reconfirmed. Effective 1-1-20


The sexual harassment training deadline required for employers with five or more “employees” has been postponed. Deadline extended until 1-1-21 – Effective 8-30-19


Defines the specific requirement to develop best models for defensible space and additional standards for home hardening and construction materials to increase the resilience of communities. Effective 1-1-20


This law provides that the measure of cash recovery, less depreciation, for a structure or its contents, lost under an “open” policy is the cost to repair, replace, or rebuild the structure or contents. Effective 1-1-20


Any provision in a CC&R that prohibits or unreasonably restricts the construction, use or rental of an accessory dwelling unit or junior accessory dwelling unit on a lot zoned for single-family residential use is void and unenforceable. Effective 1-1-20


Establishes the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, which will accelerate housing production in California by streamlining permitting and approval processes, ensuring no net loss in zoning capacity (“Down zoning”) and limiting fees after projects are approved.


This law redefines “major transit stop” under CEQA to include “bus rapid transit”. Effective 1-1-20


This exemption will allow low-income homeowners to rebuild their homes with the requirement that was in effect at the time their home was originally constructed. Effective 1-1-20


This law seeks to bring greater certainty to developers by allowing updates to community plans without the threat of noncompliance based on the environmental impact report and will help with housing production. Effective 1-1-20


This group of three laws removes impediments to ADU construction by restricting local jurisdictions’ permitting criteria.

  • AB 68 makes major changes to facilitate the development of more ADUs and address barriers to building. It expands the categories of ADUs that cities must approve without applying any local development standards to include an 800 sq. ft. detached ADU. The bill also requires cities to allow “junior ADUs,” which in some instances can be developed in addition to a conventional ADU.
  • AB 881 removes impediments to ADU construction by restricting local jurisdictions’ permitting criteria, clarifying that ADUs must receive streamlined approval if constructed in existing spaces and eliminating minimum lot size requirements. It also prohibits jurisdictions from establishing a maximum square footage requirement for an ADU that is less than 850 sq. ft., or 1,000 sq. ft. if the ADU contains more than one bedroom. This will allow future ADUs in various cities to be a few hundred feet larger.
  • SB 13 eliminates local agencies’ ability to require owner-occupancy for five years and eliminates impact fees for ADUs under 750 sq. ft. For larger ADUs, it creates a tiered fee structure based on size. The Bill also addresses other barriers by shortening the application approval time frame, creating an avenue to get unpermitted ADUs up to code, and enhancing an enforcement mechanism allowing the state to ensure that localities are following ADU statutes. Effective 1-1-20


The budget provides $20 million for legal services for renters facing eviction. Effective 1-1-20


Makes changes to the Ellis Act to 1) clarify that owners may not pay prior tenants liquidated damages in lieu of offering them the opportunity to re-rent their former unit; and, 2) clarify that the date on which the accommodations are deemed to have been withdrawn from the rental market is the date on which the final tenancy among all tenants is terminated. Effective 1-1-20


A landlord may only collect one month security for an unfurnished unit, or two months for furnished units, from a service member who resides on the property. Effective 1-1-20


Discrimination in housing on the basis of veteran or military status is now unlawful under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.


Pre-Sale Inspection Reports

Cities in California that Require Building Reports

The cities shown below mandate a variety of prerequisites for the sale or transfer of real estate. These may include specific inspections, fees or taxes. They may also include mandated low-flow toilets, water heater strapping or mandatory affordable housing waivers. Be aware of the requirements in the city in which you are considering buying or selling a property. If you have questions, contact the particular city’s building and safety department.

Click Pre-Sale Inspection Reports to download a pdf version of this report.



Click Pre-Sale Inspection Reports to download a pdf version of this report.


FIRPTA, the Foreign Investment in Real Property Transfer Act, is part of the U.S. tax code. It requires buyers of real estate to withhold up to 15% of the sale price when a seller is a foreign person. If the buyer does not withhold the required funds, and if the IRS cannot collect from the seller the tax owed on the transaction, then the buyer will be liable for the payment of the tax, plus interest. As such, whether buying commercial or residential real estate, it’s important to understand the requirements of FIRPTA.

FIRPTA Diagram

Download pdf version of FIRPTA Flyer


FIRPTA: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who is responsible for FIRPTA withholding?

A: The IRS rules place the responsibility for withholding potential income tax due in the amount of 10% of the purchase price on the buyer of the real property from a foreign entity. The real property becomes the security for the IRS to ensure that they receive taxes that are due to them. If the payment is not made by the buyer, the IRS can seize the real property (or other assets of the buyer).

Q: Can’t the buyer assign the responsibility for withholding to the settlement or escrow agent?

A: There are no provisions in the IRS rules for the buyer to assign their responsibility to anyone else, including the escrow or real estate agents. The escrow agent cannot provide legal or tax advice.

Q: The seller is foreign, but has a social security number. We’re okay, right?

A: If the seller is foreign, it is likely they do not have a social security number. Foreign citizens doing business and earning income in the United States are required to have taxpayer identification numbers (TINS). These look similar to social security numbers. The test of whether FIRPTA withholding is required or not, is a statement made by the seller under penalty of perjury that they are not a non-resident alien for purposes of U.S. income taxation.

Q: I don’t understand what that means, “not a non-resident alien”. What does that mean?

A: Another way to explain that (although it may not cover all situations) is that the seller must either be a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a green card.

Q: The seller is taking a loss on their home. They don’t need to pay FIRPTA withholding, right?

A: Under FIRPTA there is no automatic exemption from withholding if the seller is taking a loss or no gain. If a foreign seller feels they are exempt from FIRPTA withholding because there is no gain on the sale, they need to consult with a tax expert and may find they need to apply for a withholding certificate from the IRS that will grant them the exemption on the transaction using IRS form 8288-B. If this is the case, this should occur early on in the transaction.

Q: A foreign seller doesn’t have a TIN and is willing to pay the IRS. Can the money just be sent to the IRS without a TIN?

A: No, the IRS requires that sellers of real property have TINs.

Q: A foreign seller only owns a portion of the property. How much money does the foreign seller owe?

A: The foreign seller will owe withholding on their percentage of ownership of the property.

Q: The property is under $300,000 and the buyer is going to live in it. Doesn’t that automatically exempt it from withholding?

A: The buyer must agree to sign an affidavit stating that the purchase price is under $300,000 and the buyer intends to occupy. The buyer may choose not to sign the form, in which case withholding must be done.

Q: Isn’t a transaction from a foreign seller to a foreign buyer exempt from withholding?

A: No. The same rules apply, and both parties are required to have TINs.

Q: The FIRPTA withholding was paid at close of escrow, but not that much money was due to the IRS. How does the seller get their money back?

A: The seller can either in advance of closing file an 8288-B Application for Withholding Certificate to request a reduced amount or no withholding. The seller can also file a tax return the following year to obtain any refund due.  A CPA or other tax expert should be consulted for guidance.

Q: The sellers and buyer don’t want to pay a CPA to answer their questions. Can’t the real estate person or escrow person help with FIRPTA questions?

A: Escrow personnel and real estate agents may have experience with FIRPTA, but are not qualified to provide advice on individual taxpayer’s situations.

Q: The seller lives in another country, but says they are a U.S. citizen. Isn’t withholding required?

A: U.S. citizens may be living in other countries. Current residency is not a good indication of FIRPTA status.


Tips for Earthquake Safety

Earthquake Preparedness involves more than just stocking your home with earthquake preparedness supplies. Although that is an important task, Fidelity recommends a five-step program including planning, eliminating hazards, disaster kits for home and car, knowing how to be safe during an earthquake, and knowing what to do after an earthquake.

We hope the following flyer is helpful for you and your clients

Download a PDF of this flyer: Tips for Earthquake Safety

Earthquake Safety

Homeowners’ Exemption

California property tax laws provide two alternatives by which the Homeowners’ Exemption, up to a maximum of $7,000 of assessed value, may be granted.

 Alternative 1: The exemption is available to an eligible owner of a dwelling which is occupied as the owner’s principal place of residence as of 12:01 a.m., January 1 each year; or

Alternative 2: The exemption is available to an eligible owner of a dwelling subject to supplemental assessment(s) resulting from a change in ownership or completion of new construction on or after January 1, provided:

  • The owner occupies the property as his or her principal place of residence within 90 days after the change in ownership or completion of construction; and
  • The property is not already receiving the Homeowners’ Exemption or another property tax exemption of greater value. If the property received an exemption of lesser value on the current roll, the difference in the amount between the two exemptions shall be applied to the Supplemental Assessment.

To help you determine your principal residence, consider

  1.  where you are registered to vote,
  2.  the home address on your automobile registration, and
  3.  where you normally return after work.

If after considering these criteria you are still uncertain, choose the place at which you have spent the major portion of your time this year.

Filing for exemption under Alternative 2 will apply to the supplemental assessment(s), if any, and serve as filing for the exemption for the following fiscal year(s).

houseboat-1648529__340To obtain the exemption, the claimant must be an owner or co-owner or a purchaser named in a contract of sale. The dwelling may be any place of residence subject to property tax; a single-family residence, a structure containing more than one dwelling unit, a condominium or unit in a cooperative housing project, a houseboat, a manufactured home (mobile home), land you own on which you live in a state-licensed trailer or manufactured home (mobile home), and the cabana for such a trailer or manufactured home (mobile home) are examples. A dwelling does not qualify for the exemption if it is or is intended to be, rented, vacant and unoccupied, or the vacation or secondary home of the claimant.

If the Homeowners’ Exemption is granted and the property later becomes ineligible for the exemption, you are responsible for notifying the Assessor of that fact immediately. Section 531.6 of the Revenue and Taxation Code provides for a penalty of 25 percent of the escape assessment added for failure to notify the Assessor of the county where the property is located in a timely manner when property is no longer eligible for the exemption.

As a reminder, your tax bill, or copy, mailed by November 1each year should be accompanied by a notice concerning ineligibility for the exemption. Once granted, the exemption remains in effect until terminated. Once terminated, a new claim form must be obtained from and filed with the Assessor to regain eligibility.

Calendar2Time For Filing

Alternative 1: The full exemption is available if the filing is made by 5 p.m. on February 15. If a claim is filed between February 16 and 5 p.m. on December 10,80 percent of the exemption is available.

Alternative 2: The full exemption (up to the amount of the supplemental assessment), if any, is available providing the full exemption has not already been applied to the property on the regular roll or on a prior supplemental assessment for the same year. To be applied, the filing must be made by 5 p.m. on the 30th day following the Notice of Supplemental Assessment issued as a result of a change in ownership or completed new construction. If a claim is filed after the 30th day following the date of the Notice of Supplemental Assessment, but on or before the date on which the first installment of taxes on the supplemental tax bill becomes delinquent, 80 percent of the exemption available may be allowed. Thereafter, no exemption is available on the supplemental assessment

Who Pays What at Closing in California

We’re all familiar with the customary practices for closing costs in LA County. But if your client is dealing with a property outside of LA County you need to forearm them with local knowledge of customary practices and fees in that city or county.

The following table details customary local practices as to who pays for:

  • Escrow Charges
  • Title Fees
  • Transfer taxes

Also, since many cities and counties have their own transfer taxes, we also provide calculations for those entities.

Download a pdf version of this flyer:  Who Pays What pdf

Who Pays What in CA 1

Who Pays What in CA 2

Download a pdf version of this flyer:  Who Pays What pdf

Why it’s a Bad Idea to Use Credit Cards for Closing Funds

Some title companies (such as those specializing in timeshare closings) accept credit card payments. Their closings are performed remotely, meaning the principals do not appear at the title company in person and the amount due at closing does not exceed most credit card limits. Then why do title companies not regularly accept credit cards as a form of payment at closing? Credit cards are not accepted in a real estate transaction for many reasons.

Here are just a few:

  • Lenders typically do not allow borrowers to extend their debt ratio during the home loan process since extending debt lowers the borrower’s credit score. The home loan approval process requires the borrower to have the down payment and closing costs in hand. Lenders do not want the borrower to have to also borrow the funds needed to close. If the borrowers are not using their own out-of-pocket funds as down payment, they are more likely to default on the loan.
  • Cardholders retain the right to claw back their payment for 90 days. Credit card companies are consumer friendly and allow the cardholder to dispute payments for up to 90 days. This presents a problem because title companies would have to open an account with the credit card company- the credit card company can withdraw any payments transmitted to the title company that their cardholder disputes. That means the title company has to hire and train staff to reconcile the separate account and respond to any disputed payments quickly in order to retain payments.
  • Costly secure software is required to process a credit card payment. In order to process a credit card, the title company would need to subscribe to credit card processing software. The software would have to be maintained on secure workstations and the staff trained to process credit card payments.
  • Funds can take up to four days before they are received. Credit card companies do not remit funds immediately upon charging a cardholder’s card. The funds can take up to four business banking days to show on the payee’s account. Therefore, disbursements would not be able to be made immediately at or after closing.
  • The credit card company deducts their fee from the payment. When the payment is credited to the designated bank account, it is not for the full amount of the charge. The credit card company retains its percentage fee from each transaction. The title company would have to move money from their operating account to the designated bank account in order to make the deposit whole.
  • Down payment and closing costs usually exceed the credit card limit. The average credit card limit is $5,000 while the average down payment and closing costs far exceed the limit, making the use of a credit card to remit payment not feasible.

New California Real Estate Laws for 2019

Our legislators passed a raft of laws affecting the real estate industry last year. Following is a summary of the most significant changes affecting you. For the full text of a California law visit – or – for federal laws. A legislative bill may be referenced in more than one section.

Building Permits Expiration Period Extended (AB 2913) – Effective 1/1/19 A building permit remains valid despite changes in the building code as long as work is commenced within 12 months after issuance.

Sexual Harassment Liability Expanded for Real Estate Agents (SB 224) – Effective 1/1/19 Even if a business, service, or professional “relationship” does not presently exist, a real estate agent (and “investor” among other persons) may be liable for sexual harassment when he or she holds himself or herself out as being able to help the plaintiff establish a business, service, or professional relationship with the defendant or a third party. This law eliminates the element that the plaintiff prove there is an inability by the plaintiff to easily terminate the relationship.

hoaHOA Board Financial Review Requirement and Anti-Fraud Precautions (AB 2912) – Effective 1/1/19 The bill requires a managing agent of a common interest development who accepts or receives funds belonging to the association to, upon written request by the board, deposit those funds into an interest-bearing account in a bank, savings association, or credit union in this state, provided certain requirements are met. This bill would prohibit transfers greater than $10,000 or 5% of an association’s total combined reserve and operating account deposits, whichever is lower, without prior written approval from the board. This bill would further require the HOA board to review its financials on a monthly basis.

Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds (AB 1739) – Retroactively to 1/1/2016 The Revocable Transfer on Death Deed would no longer require the statutory FAQ to be recorded as part of the deed.

Home Inspections Requirement – Irrigation System (AB 2371) – Effective 1/1/19 Authorizes a home inspection report on an in-ground landscape irrigation system to include information regarding the operation and observation of the irrigation system.

Applicant for Real Estate License Not Required to Disclose Citizenship or Immigration Status (SB 695) – Effective 1/1/19 Prohibits the DRE from requiring a real estate license applicant to disclose either citizenship status or immigration status for purposes of licensure, or from denying licensure to an otherwise qualified and eligible individual based solely on his or her citizenship status or immigration status.

Criminal Conviction (AB 2138) – Effective 7/1/2020 This law institutes a seven year look back period for a board, including the DRE, to consider a criminal conviction in denying a license, and only if the crime is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the application is made. However, there are exceptions such as convictions for serious crimes and sex offenders, and a specific exception for the DRE, among other boards, in regard to financially related crimes. In any case, a board may not deny a license to a rehabilitated applicant or one whose criminal record has been expunged.

Private Transfer Fee Prohibited (AB 3041) – Effective 1/1/19 This bill prohibits various private transfer fee by developers imposing new property covenants, conditions, or restrictions that force subsequent owners to pay specially designated fees every time the property is transferred, unless the fee provides a “direct benefit” to the property. This bill would provide that any transfer fee created in violation of this prohibition is void against public policy.

3 Days’ Notice Excludes Holidays and Weekends – Effective 9/1/19 In counting a three days’ notice to pay rent or quit or a three days’ notice to perform covenant or quit, or in responding to a complaint for unlawful detainer, Saturdays, Sundays and judicial holidays are excluded.

ev charging stationElectric Vehicle Charging Stations (AB 1796) – Effective 1/1/19 Eliminates the rent control exemption for the requirement that a landlord permit installation of an Electric Vehicle Charging Station.

Commercial Property Abandonment (AB 2847) – Effective 1/1/19 Allows a commercial landlord to serve Notice of Belief of Abandonment after the rent is unpaid for three days (at a minimum, depending on the number of days the lease requires before a landlord may declare a default), and allows delivery of that notice by overnight courier. This notice will expire after 15 days regardless of the form of delivery.

Commercial Property Disposal of Tenant’s Personal Property (AB 2173) – Effective 1/1/19 Increases the calculation of the total resale value of the personal property from $750 (or $1 per square foot, whichever is lesser) to either $2,500 or an amount equal to one month’s rent for the premises the tenant occupied, whichever is greater.

Inspection of Decks, Balconies, Stairways and Walkways (SB 721) – Effective 1/1/19 This law requires that buildings with 3 or more multi-family dwelling units with decks, balconies, stairways, and walkways must be inspected by a properly licensed person by 2025, and a subsequent inspection must be done every 6 years. The owner would have to make repairs if the inspector found that the decks or balconies were in need of repair.

Requires Landlord to Accept Rent from Third Parties (AB 2219) – Effective 1/1/19 Requires landlord to accept rent tendered by a third party. But no right of tenancy is created by acceptance, nor is a landlord required to accept housing assistance programs such as section 8. To ensure that no right of tenancy is created, the landlord may condition acceptance of rent from a third party on a signed acknowledgment to that effect.

Law Enforcement and Emergency Assistance (AB 2413) – Effective 1/1/19 Expands protections for victims of domestic violence and other types of abuse to not face eviction or other penalties on the basis of having summoned law enforcement or 9-1-1 emergency assistance on their own behalf, or on behalf of another, to respond to incidents of violence or abuse.

Price Gouging and Eviction During a Declared Emergency (AB 1919) – Effective 1/1/19Retains the 10% maximum rental price increase during a declared state of emergencies, and additionally:

  • Expands the scope of criminal price gouging by including rental housing that was not on the market at the time of the proclamation or declaration of emergency.
  • Clarifies that the cap on rent increases will remain in effect during an extension of a declared emergency.
  • Makes it illegal to evict a tenant without cause during a state of emergency except for specified reasons if the property is then offered at a higher rent.
  • Allows a greater than 10% rental price increase if directly attributable to additional costs for repairs or additions beyond normal maintenance that were amortized over the rental term.

soldier-salutes-flag-2100Military Services Member Protections (AB 3212) – Effective 1/1/19 Existing law allows a service member to terminate a lease of premises occupied when that person entered a period of military service or receives deployment or change of status orders. This law additionally requires “any person,” such as a landlord, who receives a good faith request from a service member and who believes the request is incomplete, not legally sufficient or that the service member is not entitled to the relief requested, to, within 30 days of the request, provide the service member with a written response acknowledging the request and setting forth the objections. If the person fails to make such a response the person waives any objection to the request, and the service member shall be entitled to the relief requested.

Pest Reports – Certification and Warranty (SB 1481) – Effective 1/1/19 This law requires a specified certification when the property is free of evidence of active infestation and requires all certifications to be included on the complete, limited, supplemental, or reinspection reports. Additionally, where a consumer has directly contracted for the fumigation, this law requires a Branch 1 registered company to also provide the certification of completion.

Property Taxes: Understanding Escrow

Perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of dealing with real estate is the taxes. Taxes can be addressed in several ways in your escrow. If you are obtaining a new loan, the lender may require tax impounds and tax service. If you are involved in a purchase, the seller may require a tax proration. There may be taxes to be paid based on delinquent or current tax bills. Your escrow instructions may contain a disclosure and release regarding future supplemental taxes. Below is a review of each of these aspects of taxes

Taxes to Be Paid

The fiscal tax year commences on July 1st of each year, BUT liens for that tax year begin on the preceding March 1st. This means that every property in the state subject to taxes automatically has a tax lien on it commencing March 1st of each year for the coming fiscal year. The end of each fiscal year is the following  June 30th. Taxes are payable in two installments (although you have the option to pay them in full when you pay the first installment,) with the first installment due on November 1stand delinquent after December 10th; the second installment is due and payable on February 1st of each year and delinquent after April10th of each year. NOTE: If the tenth falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the delinquent date is extended until 5:00 p.m. of the next business day.

Tax Impounds

The lender may collect taxes monthly with the loan payment. The amount is equivalent to 1/12th of the projected tax payment due annually. At closing, the lender calculates the number of payments that they need to be in receipt of at the time the next tax installment is due. Then, at closing, they collect the necessary monthly taxes to ensure that when the taxes become due they are in receipt of a minimum of six months of tax payments.  Each lender differs slightly on their calculation; therefore, it is important to check with your lender regarding the formula they use.

Tax Service Fee

Since in the majority of cases the tax bill is mailed to the taxpayer and not the lender, the lender will secure the help of a tax service company. The tax service company notifies the lender if borrowers do not keep their property taxes current. This helps lenders protect their access to collateral if a borrower defaults.

Tax Prorations

At closing, if required, the escrow agent will determine what portion of the next tax installment is the seller’s responsibility; they will then charge the seller and credit the buyer with said amount. When the next installment is due, the buyer will pay the total amount since the buyer was reimbursed the seller’s portion at closing. Likewise, if the seller has prepaid his taxes, then the portion that he has prepaid will be charged to the buyer and credited to the seller.

Supplemental Taxes

Due to “Proposition 13” after a property has been assessed(as of March 1st of each year) and a property transfers, the law provides for an increase of the tax basis of the property based upon the sales price. The difference between that year’s tax base and the increase caused by the sale, if any, is charged to the buyer. For instance, if a property is valued at $275,000 on March 1st of the taxable year and is sold during the year for $327,000, the increase in the tax bill as a result of the sale and subsequent reevaluation will be separately billed to the new buyer for that portion of the fiscal tax year that they owned the property. If the property transfers more than once during the tax year there may be multiple supplemental tax bills to each new owner if the sales represent increases in value.

If taxes are impounded, the buyer is advised to notify his loan servicer of the supplemental tax bill. The servicer will then advise the borrower whether he is responsible for the payment of that bill or alternatively if the servicer will pay that bill.