Frequently Asked Questions About the Moratorium on Small Business Evictions Due to COVID-19 Impacts

What does the City’s emergency ordinance on small business evictions do?

The City passed an emergency ordinance banning commercial evictions for rent non-payment between the months of April 2020-September 2020. On September 30, 2020, the commercial eviction protection for non-payment ended. While tenants are obligated to pay for any unpaid rent from April – September 2020, the City has provided an extended period of time for repayment. 

It temporarily prohibited landlords from evicting nonprofit and small business tenants when:

  • The tenant is unable to pay their rent because they have been impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; or
  • Where the landlord seeks to terminate the tenancy for “no fault” causes, unless the eviction is necessary to preserve the health and safety of tenants, neighbors, or the landlord.

Repayment period: Starting the month when the City’s State of Emergency is lifted, tenants will have a 12-month period to pay rent arrears culminated between April – September 2020. On the 7th month of the 12-month repayment period, tenants must start paying a minimum of 50% percent of the unpaid balance. Landlords are not allowed to charge late fees or surcharges to the outstanding balance.

What is a “small business” for the purposes of the emergency ordinance?

A “small business” is one with gross receipts of less than $25 million per year.

Where does the emergency regulation apply?

The emergency ordinance applies to small business and nonprofit tenants located within the City of San Mateo.

How long will the emergency ordinance be in effect?

The emergency ordinance was in effect until Sept. 30, 2020. Tenants are still required to pay back rent, and may have up to 12 months after the emergency is lifted, it is not yet known when the City's State of Emergency will be lifted. 

May a tenant be evicted for reasons other than nonpayment of rent while the ordinance is in effect?

Yes, a tenant may be evicted for other lease violations where they are alleged to be at fault, such as materially breaching other terms of the lease, intentionally damaging the rental unit or using the rental unit to engage in criminal activity. However, no-fault evictions are not permitted, unless necessary to protect the health and safety of other tenants, neighbors, or the landlord.

What can a tenant do to enforce the emergency ordinance if the tenant believes their landlord is violating the ordinance?

The best first step would be to provide the landlord with a copy of the ordinance and informing the landlord of the tenant’s intention to delay payment of their rent under its terms. (City of San Mateo Ordinance No. 2020-3)

If the landlord takes steps to evict the tenant in a manner prohibited by the ordinance, the tenant may file a lawsuit against the landlord to stop the landlord from continuing to violate the ordinance any further and to recover money damages, including damages for mental or emotional distress. If the tenant prevails in such a lawsuit, the tenant can recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs with a court order. If the landlord prevails, the landlord can recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs with a court order.

Alternatively, a tenant may do nothing and assert the ordinance as a defense to a lawsuit brought by the landlord to evict the tenant from the premises.

In cases of bad faith violations of the ordinance, the San Mateo City Attorneys office may file a civil or criminal action against the landlord to enforce the ordinance.

Does the city’s ordinance apply now that the Governor has issued a more limited order on evictions?

Yes, the city’s emergency ordinance compliments the Governor’s order to provide additional eviction protection to small business and nonprofit entity tenants.

Does the San Mateo County moratorium on commercial tenant evictions apply to businesses located within the City of San Mateo?

No, the commercial eviction moratorium enacted by the Board of Supervisors only applies to business tenants located within the unincorporated area of San Mateo County.

What happens if a tenant misses a rent payment that becomes due while the emergency ordinance is in effect?

If a tenant misses a rent payment that becomes due while the emergency ordinance is in effect, and the tenant’s landlord seeks to evict the tenant for a failure to pay that rent, the emergency ordinance will temporarily suspend a landlord’s right to evict for that missed payment if the tenant takes certain actions. Here’s how it would work:

If a tenant misses a rent payment and the landlord wants to move forward with an eviction for non-payment of rent, the landlord must first send the tenant a copy of a form entitled “Notice of City of San Mateo Emergency Ordinance Limiting Evictions of Small Business Tenants.”  In completing the Notice, the landlord provides the tenant with all applicable contact information (i.e. telephone and email, if available), as a tenant’s access to certain methods of communication could be disrupted or unavailable during the time the emergency ordinance remains in place. After the landlord provides the tenant with a copy of this Notice, the tenant has 14 days to do each of the following:

Notify the landlord in writing that the tenant cannot pay the rent on time if the tenant’s ability to timely pay the rent has been directly impacted by COVID-19 or the government’s response to COVID-19, and

Provide the landlord with written proof showing that the tenant’s inability to pay is due to COVID-19 or the government’s response to COVID-19.

View the “Notice” which includes a link to the emergency ordinance

Is the Notice to Tenants required by the emergency ordinance available in languages other than English?

The City and County ordinances require landlords to notify tenants of the moratorium before attempting to take any action to evict a tenant. If a tenant or landlord would like to receive a copy of the Notice in a language other than English, please call (650) 522-7020.

What are examples of “financial impacts related to COVID-19”?

Loss of income due to:

  • Being sick with COVID-19, or caring for a household member who is sick with COVID-19;
  • Layoff, loss of hours, or other income reduction from business closure due to COVID-19;
  • Compliance with a government health authority’s recommendation to self-quarantine during the state of emergency;
  • Extraordinary out of pocket medical expenses:
  • Child care needs arising out of school closures due to COVID-19.

Is a tenant who has missed a rent payment or payments during the emergency still responsible for the past due rent?

Yes. However, the tenant has up to 12 months after the local emergency has been lifted to pay the full amount of rent payments missed as a result of COVID-19.

Once the emergency ordinance expires will the tenant have to pay full rent on time?

Yes, the emergency ordinance does not apply to rent payments due after the ordinance expires and a landlord may evict a tenant for failure to timely pay rent that comes due after the emergency ordinance expires.

Who can I contact for more information about the city’s emergency ordinance?

For questions about these FAQS or the emergency ordinance please contact the San Mateo City Attorney’s Office at or (650) 522-7020.