Merced Passes Tenant Protection Law to Stop Arbitrary Evictions after Foreclosure

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Tenants Together

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The Merced City Council has passed the Central Valley’s first anti-eviction law. The ordinance seeks to stop evictions of innocent tenants after foreclosure. Members of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights, successfully advocated for passage of the law.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Blake and Council Members John Carlisle, Mary-Michal Rawling and Noah Lor voted to pass the law. Blake, an early proponent of the law, called it “the moral and right thing to do.” Mayor Spriggs and Council Member Pedrozo had previously voiced support for the law at a city council hearing in August, but bowed to pressure from realtors and voted in opposition to the new tenant protections. Council Member Michele Gabriault-Acosta, herself a real estate agent, opposed the law at all times. The final vote was 4-3 to pass the law.

Tenea Wallace and her family rent a home in Merced that is scheduled for auction later this month. Under existing law, her family could face eviction after the foreclosure auction. Wallace welcomed the City Council vote: “Our communities are sick and tired of evictions by irresponsible banks that kick out good renters after foreclosure. With this new law, tenants like me will be able to stay in our homes.”

The law approved by the Council on Monday requires that banks and investors have “just cause” for evicting tenants after foreclosure. The law spells out the specific circumstances where eviction is permitted, such as where the tenant fails to pay rent or where the owner wants to move into the property. Foreclosure is not a recognized reason for evicting tenants under the law. Fifteen other California cities already have laws against eviction of tenants due to foreclosure.

“Mayor Pro Tem Blake and Councilmembers Carlisle, Rawling and Lor deserve enormous credit for listening to Merced’s residents and doing their part to stop the unfair evictions, vacancies, and blight that are plaguing this community,” commented Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. Preston urged other Central Valley cities to follow Merced’s lead, noting that this is a cost-free law that any California city can adopt to protect their residents from abuse by financial institutions.

Long overlooked by the media and policymakers, tenants are innocent victims when landlords stop paying the mortgage. Tenants Together issues an annual report detailing the impacts of foreclosure on tenants across California. The 2011 report found that at least 38% of residential units in foreclosure in California are rentals. Most tenants are displaced from their homes after foreclosure, except in cities with just cause for eviction laws.

“We look forward to working with renters who want to stay in their homes after foreclosure,” commented Pahoua Lor, staff attorney with Central California Legal Services, a nonprofit legal services organization in Merced that will assist eligible renters exercise their rights under the law. “This new law will enable many tenants to stay in their homes and keep paying rent, rather than being forced onto the streets when banks take over foreclosed properties.”

There will be a second reading of the ordinance. The law is expected to take effect before the new year.

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