Statewide Efforts to Protect Tenants

Surveys show that nearly one-third of us live paycheck-to-paycheck. Some of us pay over half of our household income in rent. The most effective way to keep precariously-housed tenants stable is up for debate, but numerous bills making their way though the California legislature offer some hope.

Our current crisis in rental housing is a scary prospect for tenants: the rent has climbed at a rate faster than household incomes have increased. Asking rents are climbing even more steeply, putting replacement housing farther out of reach. What can be done to take the pressure off of tenants?

Several efforts are underway in Sacramento to relieve the pressure on households that rent. These include an initiative to return control over rent control policy to local governments as well as several bills in the legislature that would increase tenant protections. All are worthy of our support. Let’s take a look!

Affordable Housing Act Initiative

A petition is circulating that would qualify for the November ballot an initiative to repeal the state’s Costa Hawkins law. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s ‘housing is a human right’ campaign is the most promising broadside against the rising cost of rental housing. It would repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act to allow localities to enact stronger forms of rent control. (Read about it.)

Assembly Bill 2343: More Time on Non-Payment and Corrections

California State Assembly Bill 2343 Chu Unlawful detainer bill 2017-18 session introduced by Assembly Member Chiu (a reliable tenant advocate) buys a tenant a few more days to catch up on the rent: 10 days to pay instead of 3 days before a notice is posted. To correct a violation the tenant would also have more time: 5 days up from the 3 days today once a correct-or-quit notice is posted.

Most significantly, the bill would allow tenants throughout California 14 days to respond to an unlawful detainer eviction action where tenants today must respond in 5 days or see a default judgement.

AB-2343 includes one more very important provision: the bill would expand the current 180-day anti-retaliation protection for those who organize, or participate in, a demonstration on behalf of tenants. As tenants are protesting the state’s lax tenancy laws and demanding local rent control, this is a key provision to protect those who advocate.

California State Assembly Bill 2364: Ellis Act Protections

California State Assembly Bill 2364 was introduced by our own Assembly Member Bloom to amend the state’s Ellis Act. It would make landlords liable for “actual and exemplary damages” should any tenant be displaced under the Ellis Act if the property is removed from the market and, in bad faith, reintroduced back to the rental housing market.

The Ellis Act allows for a property (all of the units, not individual units) to be removed from the market but it does not oblige the owner to follow-through on whatever course of action was announced. So we’ve seen Ellis abused to empty buildings to allow the owner to remodel and then put the units back on the rental market at a higher rent. That’s contrary to the intent of Ellis: to prevent a local government from compelling an owner to keep his property in the rental housing market.

The “actual and exemplary damages” would discourage that kind of conduct because it opens the door to legal action.

Because Beverly Hills has not enacted a prohibition against no-just-cause eviction for 97% (Chapter 6) of renting households, Ellis doesn’t even come into play most often. The landlord simply tells the tenant to go with 60 days notice. We want to see Ellis invoked whenever a property is taken off the market, and we want to see tighter protections when it happens.

AB-2364 would extend the required notice for all Ellis Act evictions to a year for any tenant. That is worth supporting!

California State Assembly Bill 2413: Expanded Protections for Assault Victim Tenants

California State Assembly Bill 2413 introduced by Assembly Members Chiu, Bonta, Friedman, and Reyes would prevent a landlord from penalizing, or even threatening to impose some kind of penalty, like a tenancy termination, in documented cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, or elder abuse.

State law requires landlords to take special actions to protect tenants in documented cases of abuse. He must change the locks and can easily evict an assailant (it is one of the for-cause eviction provisions). But some victims of assault found that landlords were retaliating against them for calling the police, or else taking action against a co-tenant only under certain narrowly- documented instances.

AB-2413 would allow a tenant to introduce a ‘third party’ statement to support his or her claim of abuse, assault or harassment. And it and would prevent a landlord from terminating a tenancy (or not renewing a lease) as a result of, say, calls to the police. Incredibly the bill also prohibits a landlord from interfering with calls to the police (by intimidation or threats perhaps) which, I guess, is really a thing.

California State Assembly Bill 2219: Third-party Payments

California State Assembly Bill 2219 introduced by Assembly Member Ting would prohibit a landlord or agent from refusing to accept a rent payment from a third party chosen by a tenant. Here the landlord is concerned about establishing a landlord-tenant relationship with the third party, and so may choose not to accept payment. But there are times when a tenant needs a quick payment (like under a 3-day notice) and this bill would mandate the acceptance of the payment if the landlord is provided with a signed assurance that the payer would not be party to the primary landlord-tenant relationship. It thus expands by the current law’s provision for a means of payment other than cash or electronic transfer: a third-party payment.

California State Assembly Bill 2925: Just Cause Eviction

California State Assembly Bill 2925 introduced by Assembly Member Bonta would put an end to no-just-cause evictions in California by allowing only for-cause actions according to such provisions in state law.

Today state law allows for the involuntary termination of a month-to-month tenancy with for any reason or no reason at all. This is known as no-just-cause eviction and it is the sword that hangs over every tenant’s neck should they live in a city like Beverly Hills, which has enacted no prohibition on the practice for the 97% of tenants under Chapter 5 rent stabilization.

AB-2925, introduced in March, simply says, “This bill would prohibit a landlord from terminating a tenancy except upon good cause, as set forth with particularity in the notice.” We tenants believe it is time to end no-just-cause evictions and last year the tenants committee took such a position. Why? Even city staff acknowledge that the fear of eviction inhibits tenants and issues of health and safety, harassment and retaliation – and even unlawful landlord activities – go unreported. Not much more needs to be said about the need for a change in state law…. except that it’s time Beverly Hills better protected its residents who rent.

Accomplishment: California State Assembly Bill 291 Anti-Harassment and Anti-Retaliation

Pro-tenant bills often languish in a legislature committee (as do so many bills). They may not find a friendly reception in the Governor’s office. One notable accomplishment this session is AB-291 to outlaw discrimination and harassment and dislocation of tenants based on immigration status.

California State Assembly Bill 291 introduced by Assembly Member Chiu amended the Business and Professions Code to prohibit a landlord from disclosing a tenant’s immigration or citizenship status to federal immigration authorities for the purposes of harassment, retaliation, or discrimination. (Evidently this is a thing too: the landlord who would call, or threaten to call, ICE simply to force a tenant from an apartment or to pressure her to relinquish the apartment.)

Moreover, the code amendments protect not only the primary tenant but “other occupants” and “any other person known to the landlord to be associated with a tenant or occupant” from the threat of immigration or citizenship status reporting. Even better, the law is explicit about barring retaliation for the filing of a habitability-related complaint and for a tenant or occupant’s participation in a tenants’ rights organization or demonstration. Best of all it introduces a new affirmative defense against eviction that could be raised by the occupant should the landlord bring an unlawful detainer action. Imagine such a bill in Arizona!