Accountability and Enforcement


California’s housing crisis has reached historic proportions despite the passage of numerous laws intended to increase the supply of housing affordable to Californians at all income levels. The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) enforces state housing laws to meaningfully and positively impact the provision of housing in all communities across the state.

As part of the 2021-2022 state budget, HCD received additional staff to grow its accountability efforts and formed the Housing Accountability Unit (HAU). While education and technical assistance is always the first step in HCD’s accountability efforts, the HAU holds jurisdictions accountable for meeting their housing element commitments and complying with state housing laws. Violations of these state laws may lead to consequences including revocation of housing element certification and/or referral to the California Office of the Attorney General.

Actions and Results

The Housing Accountability Dashboard below reflects the actions the HAU has taken to date (updated weekly) and includes HCD’s accountability and enforcement work starting on January 1, 2020.

Included are the number of housing units that the HAU’s involvement has potentially “unlocked” – new homes local jurisdictions approved for development after HCD provided technical assistance or took enforcement actions related to specific projects.

Many of HCD’s other actions, such as a response to potentially unlawful local ordinances not tied to a specific housing project, are not as easily quantifiable, though they also have an important impact on housing production. Click on the “term definitions” to learn more about what each metric means.

Transparency

HCD makes enforcement letters and actions available to the public. A report of all letters issued is organized by jurisdiction, date, and subject matter (e.g., housing element, fair housing, Housing Accountability Act, etc.).

Technical Assistance and Enforcement Letters

For more information, please contact us at ComplianceReview@hcd.ca.gov.

Submit Technical Assistance Requests and Potential Violations to HCD for Review

HCD accepts requests for technical assistance from local jurisdictions and requests for review of potential violations from any party. All comments submitted to HCD are subject to the California Public Records Act.

For more information, or to send email requests, please contact us at ComplianceReview@hcd.ca.gov.

Send U.S. postal mail requests to:


Department of Housing and Community Development
Division of Housing Policy Development
Attn: David Zisser, Assistant Deputy Director
2020 W. El Camino Avenue, Suite 500
Sacramento, CA 95833

Enforcement Process

HCD may initiate review of an issue based on information contained within a housing element, annual progress report, stakeholder comment letter, phone call, email, news article, or additional source. During its review, HCD may consult with any local government, agency, group, or person.

HCD evaluates each issue on a case-by-case basis. Generally, the first step involves conversations with the local government to define the circumstances surrounding the issue and gain understanding of the local government’s perspective. Based upon information received, HCD may choose to monitor a situation prior to taking additional action.

If the circumstances warrant additional action, HCD may issue a letter of inquiry, a letter of technical assistance, or a letter requesting corrective action. Local governments are generally provided 30 days to respond before HCD takes further action. However, this timeframe may be adjusted on a case-by-case basis.

Based upon the response received, HCD may issue a letter acknowledging the local government’s response or corrective action taken. HCD may also issue a notice of decertification of housing element compliance and/or provide notice to the local government that the California Office of the Attorney General has been notified of a violation.

Each issue is unique; therefore, the process is not necessarily linear and may include multiple instances of correspondence between HCD and local governments. Local governments have the opportunity to respond to HCD each time a letter of inquiry, technical assistance, or correction is issued. However, the image below shows HCD's general approach to enforcement.

General Approach to Enforcement

Enforcement Authority

In 2017, several bills were signed to strengthen and clarify existing laws, and to increase accountability and enforcement to better address the housing needs of Californians. Assembly Bill (AB) 72 was one of those bills. In 2021, AB 215 provided additional authority. As a result, enforcement authority under Government Code section 65585 includes:

  • Housing Element Law
  • Housing Accountability Act
  • No Net Loss Law
  • Density Bonus Law
  • Anti-Discrimination in Land Use Law
  • Portions of the Permit Streamlining Act
  • Housing Crisis Act of 2019
  • Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
  • Streamlined Ministerial Approval Processes
  • By-Right Supportive Housing Provisions
  • By-Right Low Barrier Navigation Centers

In addition, HCD has authority to enforce:

  • Accessory Dwelling Unit Law
  • Affordable Housing Preservation Noticing Law
  • Surplus Land Act
  • Rental Inclusionary Housing
  • Limitations on Development Standards

See below for high level descriptions for each authority.

Housing Element Law

Government Code sections 65580-65589.11

HCD has authority to review any action or failure to act by a local government that it determines is inconsistent with an adopted housing element or Housing Element Law. This includes failure to implement program actions included in the housing element.

As part of its review of housing elements, HCD must consider any written comments. Written comments can be emailed to HousingElements@hcd.ca.gov. Learn more on HCD’s Housing Elements webpage.

Housing Accountability Act (HAA)

Government Code section 65589.5

The HAA limits local government’s ability to deny, reduce the density of, or make infeasible housing development projects, emergency shelters, or farmworker housing that are consistent with objective local development standards and contribute to meeting housing need.

Read HCD’s Housing Accountability Act Technical Assistance Advisory (PDF) for more information.

No Net Loss Law

Government Code section 65863

No Net Loss Law imposes requirements on local jurisdictions to ensure development opportunities remain available throughout the planning period to accommodate their regional housing needs allocations (RHNA), especially for lower- and moderate-income households.

Read HCD's memorandum on No Net Loss Law (PDF) for more information.

Density Bonus Law

Government Code sections 65915-65918

Density Bonus Law incentivizes the construction of affordable housing by allowing a developer to add additional housing units to a project beyond the zoned capacity and secure other “incentives” in exchange for a commitment from the developer to include deed-restricted affordable units in the project. When a developer meets the requirements of the Density Bonus Law, a local government is obligated to permit increased building density, grant incentives, and waive any conflicting local development standards (e.g., height, parking requirements) unless certain limited exceptions apply.

Jurisdictions must adopt an ordinance that specifies how the Density Bonus Law will be implemented locally. This ordinance may comprehensively address all parts of the law (e.g., eligibility, bonus percentages, etc.) or simply indicate that the Density Bonus Law will be implemented directly from State statute.

Anti-Discrimination in Land Use Law

Government Code section 65008

An action by a local jurisdiction is null and void if it denies any individual or group of individuals residence, land ownership, tenancy, or any other land use in the state based on the following: lawful occupation, age, or protected characteristic of any individual or groups of individuals; the method of financing of any residential development (including affordable housing); and the intended occupancy of any residential development by persons or families of very low, low, moderate, or middle income.

Portions of the Permit Streamlining Act (PSA)

Government Code section 65943

Local jurisdictions must process and make decisions on housing projects within clearly defined time limits and provides for remedies such as the project being deemed approved if the timelines are not met.

Government Code section 65941.1

To accelerate housing production, the PSA also provides a developer with the option of submitting a “preliminary application” for any housing development project, allowing a developer to “freeze” the applicable fees and development standards that apply to the project while the developer assembles the full application. Learn more on HCD’s Preliminary Application for Development webpage and in Appendix C of HCD’s Housing Accountability Act Technical Assistance Advisory (PDF).

Housing Crisis Act (HCA) of 2019

Government Code section 66300

The HCA limits the ability of cities and counties to, among other things: change the general plan land use designation, specific plan land use designation, or zoning to a less intensive use or reduce the intensity of land use within an existing general plan land use designation, specific plan land use designation, or zoning district below that was in effect on January 1, 2018; impose a moratorium or similar restriction or limitation on housing development; or cap the number of housing units that can be approved or constructed.

The HCA also imposes requirements on housing developments that demolish housing units, such as: replacing protected units, including at least as many units as the greatest number of units that existed on the site within the last five years, and providing relocation benefits and right of first refusal to occupants of protected units that are lower income households.

Learn more about Designated Jurisdictions Prohibited from Certain Zoning-Related Actions on HCD’s website.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)

Government Code section 8899.50

AFFH requires that local jurisdictions take meaningful actions not only, to combating discrimination, but also to overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics. Specifically, AFFH means taking meaningful actions that address significant disparities in housing needs and in access to opportunity, replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws. AFFH duties extend to all of a public agency’s activities and programs relating to housing and community development.

See HCD’s AFFH webpage, and learn more from HCD’s AFFH Guidance Memo (PDF).

Streamlined Ministerial Approval Process (SB 35)

Government Code section 65913.4

SB 35 requires a streamlined ministerial approval process for development in localities that have not yet made sufficient progress towards their allocation of the regional housing need. Eligible developments must include a specified level of affordability, be on an infill site, comply with existing residential and mixed-use general plan or zoning provisions, and comply with other requirements such as locational and demolition restrictions.

See HCD’s Statutory Determinations for Limiting Jurisdictions’ Abilities to Restrict Development page, and learn more from HCD’s Streamlined Ministerial Approval Process Guidelines (PDF).

By-Right Supportive Housing Provisions

Government Code sections 65650-65656

Supportive housing must be allowed as a use by right in zones where multifamily and mixed uses are permitted, including nonresidential zones permitting multifamily uses, if the proposed housing development satisfies specific requirements. The local government must complete its review of the application within 60 days after the application is complete for a project with 50 or fewer units, or within 120 days after the application is complete for a project with more than 50 units. The local government may require a supportive housing development to comply with written, objective development standards and policies that apply to other multifamily development within the same zone.

By-Right Low Barrier Navigation Centers

Government Code sections 65660-65668

A lower barrier navigation center (LBNC) must be allowed as a use by right in areas zoned for mixed use and nonresidential zones permitting multifamily uses if it meets specified requirements, including access to permanent housing and use of a coordinated entry system. The local government must act upon its review of the application within 60 days after the application is complete. An LBNC is defined as a Housing First, low barrier, temporary, service-enriched shelter focused on helping homeless individuals and families to quickly obtain permanent housing. LBNCs include best practices to reduce barriers to entry, such as allowing partners, pets, storage of personal items, and privacy.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Law

Government Code section 65852.2

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and junior ADUs (JADUs) are a flexible form of housing that is “affordable by design” and that can provide additional income to homeowners. ADU law addresses barriers, streamlines approval, and expands potential capacity for ADUs, recognizing their unique importance in addressing California’s housing needs. While not required, jurisdictions may adopt an ordinance to outline standards for permitting ADUs and JADUs. HCD must review ADU ordinances for compliance with state law.

See HCD’s ADU webpage, and learn more from HCD’s ADU Handbook (PDF).

Affordable Housing Preservation Noticing Law

Government Code sections 65863.10-65863.13

Owners of government-assisted housing projects must provide tenants, local public agencies, and community partners interested in these properties notice when subsidies or rental restrictions expire or are terminated, or when owners opt out, unless specifically exempted. Additionally, owners must send a Notice of Opportunity to Submit an Offer to Purchase to all qualified entities (as certified by HCD) at least 12 months prior to expiration, unless an exemption applies. The owner has an obligation to entertain such offers.

Learn more on HCD's Preserving Existing Affordable Housing webpage.

Surplus Land Act

Government Code sections 54220-54234

The purpose of the Surplus Land Act is to connect local agencies with developers who are interested in building more affordable homes on surplus local public land that is both available and suitable for housing development. Local agencies must send notices about available, surplus local public land to 1) HCD, 2) any local public entity within the jurisdiction where the surplus local land is located, and 3) developers who have notified HCD of their interest in developing affordable housing on surplus local public land. Prior to agreeing to terms to dispose of surplus property, local agencies must send a description of notices of availability sent and negotiations conducted, in addition to a copy of any restrictions to be recorded against the property, to HCD for review.

See HCD’s Public Lands for Affordable Housing Development webpage, and learn more from the Surplus Land Act Guidelines (PDF).

Rental Inclusionary Housing

Government Code section 65850(g)

Any city or county may adopt an inclusionary housing ordinance that includes residential rental units affordable to lower- and moderate-income households. The law also includes requirements for alternative means of compliance for inclusionary ordinances, parameters for HCD to review inclusionary housing ordinances, under limited circumstances, by requesting the submittal of an economic feasibility study to ensure the ordinance does not unduly constrain the production of housing, and criterial for HCD to review economic feasibility studies.

Read HCD’s Rental Inclusionary Housing memorandum (PDF) for more information.

Limitations on Development Standards

Government Code section 65913.11

This section sets limitations on floor area ratio (FAR) and lot coverage standards that can be imposed on housing projects of 3-10 units within multifamily or mixed-use zones in jurisdictions within an urbanized area or cluster.