Senator Wiener, Attorney General Bonta Announce Legislation Authorizing New Civil Penalties for Flagrant State Housing Law Violations

March 20, 2024

SACRAMENTO — Today Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced new legislation (Senate Bill 1037), sponsored by Attorney General Rob Bonta, to enhance the Attorney General’s ability to seek civil penalties in court against local governments that violate state housing law. Currently, when a court finds a locality in violation of state housing law, monetary penalties can only be imposed 60 days, or in some cases up to a year, after a court has ordered compliance. Local governments thus have no real incentive to follow the law since they can wait for the state to sue, lose in court, and only then remedy their violation to avoid penalties. This is a huge waste of taxpayer resources and undermines California’s housing goals.

Local governments thus have no real incentive to follow the law since they can force the state to sue, lose, and then simply remedy the violation at that point and avoid penalties. This is a huge was of taxpayer resources and undermines California’s housing goals.

Under SB 1037, the Attorney General can instead seek penalties that are assessed from the date that the housing law violation began. Those penalties would be earmarked for affordable housing in the same jurisdiction.

“In recent years, California has passed numerous laws to speed up the construction of affordable housing. Unfortunately, some local governments have flouted those laws because they know that monetary penalties only kick in weeks or even months after a court order is issued, if ever,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “We are in a housing crisis and cannot afford to waste any more time. Senator Wiener and I are announcing SB 1037 to ensure that we can quickly hold accountable those who refuse to follow the law and act in good faith.”

“In a housing crisis as severe as California’s, cities that violate state law to avoid doing their share should not skate by scot-free,” said Senator Wiener. “The state housing laws we’ve passed in recent years rely on swift and effective enforcement from officials such as the Attorney General. I’m happy to be working with Attorney General Bonta to provide a new tool to allow more housing to be built in California.”

SB 1037 applies to local governments that refuse to adopt a compliant housing element and/or violate a ministerial approval law. If enacted, SB 1037 will subject violators to a minimum civil penalty of $10,000 per month, and not to exceed $50,000 per month, for each violation calculated from the date the violation started. The penalty money would be earmarked to support the development of affordable housing located in the affected jurisdiction.

Under the state’s Housing Element Law, every city and county in California must periodically update its housing plan to meet its share of the regional and statewide housing needs. Laws requiring “ministerial,” or streamlined, approval include Government Code sections 65852.2 and 65852.22, which allow homeowners to add accessory dwelling units, as well as Assembly Bill (AB) 2011 concerning affordable housing projects located in commercial zones. Ministerial review is where public officials, such as local planning staff, ensure that a proposed development meets all applicable objective standards for a proposed action.

A copy of the legislation can be found here.