The California Assembly Just Took A Major Test on Tenants’ Rights. They Failed Miserably.

Monday, June 4, 2018
It was a bloodbath on the Assembly floor last week. The victims: California’s poor and working class. The winners: big corporate interests — banks, landlords, and polluters. For those who are quick to criticize the US Congress but think California’s Democrat-controlled supermajority legislature is much better, think again: when it comes to corporate control, Sacramento is caught in the tight grip of corporate lobbyists.
 
A trio of tenant bills on the floor last week paints quite the picture:
 
Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s AB 2925 could only get the support of 16 of 78 legislators. The bill would have required a landlord to have a reason, any reason, to evict a tenant, and to state that reason in the eviction notice. Seriously, that’s it. Yet 62 legislators — all Assembly Republicans and most of the Democrats — could not stomach that requirement. Why? They won’t say. They don’t need to. The reason is clear. The California Apartment Association and the California Association of Realtors oppose the bill. They know who funds their campaigns.
 
Same story for Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s modest tweaks to the Ellis Act in AB 2364. The bill died with only 27 votes. 51 refused to support, in another bipartisan nod to the real estate industry.
 
AB 2343, David Chiu’s bill to expand tenants’ time to cure eviction notices, was headed to the same fate, but Chiu gutted his own bill to appease the industry and secure passage. Thanks to the power of the real estate industry and the cowardice of California legislators, evictions will continue of struggling tenants who can’t come up with rent money or fix alleged breaches in 3 days. Even deep-red Alabama gives tenants at least 7 days to address alleged problems and stay in their homes.
 
The vast majority of our state representatives will only vote for regulations on corporate interests that are approved by those corporate interests. The problem is particularly acute with tenants’ rights bills, but corporate Democrats (charitably called the Mods) in Sacramento regularly join with Republicans to sink other legislation that challenges corporate interests and protects consumers. Take a look at AB 2500, Assemblymember Ash Kalra’s bill to address abusive payday lending practices: it was crushed on the floor this week, receiving only 25 votes. Individual legislators are of course responsible for their votes, but the Speaker of the Assembly also has some serious explaining to do.
 
Tenant advocates have long known of this dynamic in the Capitol. When you go to a legislators’ office and they have “concerns” about any bill that helps tenants, but can’t actually articulate the concerns, you know this isn’t about policy; it’s about power.
 
What has changed is that thanks to an increasingly organized and strategic tenants’ rights movement, “controversial” bills have been forced to a vote, rather than being watered down until they satisfy the industry. Last year, Assemblymember Bloom and his co-authors Chiu and Bonta forced their colleagues to vote on complete repeal of Costa Hawkins: the last thing Assemblymembers wanted to have to do. This year, Assemblymember Bonta shocked insiders by winning a committee vote on a statewide “just-cause” eviction bill. He refused to gut or pull the bill even as votes lined up against him, forcing a floor vote. These efforts help shine a public spotlight on legislators and allow them to be held accountable. (To find out how your Assemblymember voted on this bill, click here, and to give them a piece of your mind, find their contact info here.)
 
Something is rotten in the California Assembly, and it’s time to clean house. Fortunately, thanks to the strategic work of Tenants Together and our allies in this legislative session, we know exactly where to start.
 
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Dean Preston is the founder & Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. For more information, visit www.TenantsTogether.org

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