California Renters Could Get a Tax Break--And New Protections From Eviction

Thursday, February 15, 2018
Katy Murphy
San Jose Mercury News

California renters would gain new legal protections — and a doubled state tax credit — if lawmakers pass a package of bills announced Thursday amid pressure to help millions of people coping with the threat of eviction and lack of available rental housing.

The proposals aim to make it harder for landlords to evict tenants, give renters more time to respond to eviction notices, and bar landlords from evicting all of their tenants while remaining in the rental business.

“We have an imminent crisis today,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, in an interview Thursday. “We’re in a time when tenants are facing unprecedented hardships and constantly living under the threat of eviction.”

Lawmakers unveiled the details just weeks after an attempt to lift statewide restrictions on rent control died in its first committee hearing. Renters groups now are gathering signatures to place a repeal of the state’s rent control restrictions, a law known as Costa Hawkins, on the November ballot.

Rents in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco rose by 40 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Also announced Thursday was a bill to raise the state tax credit to $120 for renters filing their taxes as individuals and $240 for joint filers. It would be the first increase in the credit since 1979, according to its author, Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda.

“This increase is long overdue,” Glazer said in a statement Thursday. “The last time renters got a break, Jimmy Carter was president and Jerry Brown was 41 years old. Rents have skyrocketed since then, but the renter’s tax credit has remained frozen in time.”

Chiu’s Assembly Bill 2343 would give tenants more time to challenge evictions and to comply with the terms of their leases. They currently have just five calendar days to respond, he said, even if they are served an eviction notice on the Friday before a long weekend.

A bill from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, the Santa Monica Democrat who carried the ill-fated rent control bill, would tighten landlord restrictions and expand renter protections in a landmark housing law known as the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict all of their tenants in order to withdraw from the rental market.

Under Bloom’s Assembly Bill 2364, landlords who use the Ellis Act for mass evictions would be unable to later put any of the properties back on the market. The bill would also require landlords to give all tenants one year’s notice of such an eviction, rather than 120 days.

A proposal expected this week from Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, would create a statewide law that establishes a set of valid reasons that can be used to evict a tenant. Similar policies are already in place in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and — as of last year — San Jose, some of the most expensive rental markets in the nation.

The rules, known as “just cause,” allow landlords to evict a renter only for specific reasons, such as failing to pay rent.

It’s encouraging that Sacramento has turned its attention to the plight of renters, said Dean Preston, executive director of the San Francisco-based advocacy group Tenants Together, who said he is still studying the legislation.

“There was a lot of attention in the last session around development,” Preston said, “and we supported bills to support construction of affordable housing. But in last year’s session there was virtually nothing to address rising rents and displacement, immediately.”

Chiu said he hoped the bills, which do not touch on the polarizing rent control debate, might have more success than the effort to repeal California’s rent-control limits. But the California Apartment Association, which represents landlords and developers, aleady has taken an opposing stance.

“We certainly hope this will be a package we can get through the Legislature,” Chiu said, “but tenant bills are not easy in Sacramento.”

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