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California's renters are one step closer to gaining a "right to redemption." A new bill, AB 265, would provide tenants being evicted for nonpayment the right to pay the rent due and specified costs during eviction proceedings in order to "redeem" the tenancy and prevent eviction. Similar rights exist in over a dozen states, but not in California. The bill, AB 265, cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee last week, despite an intensive lobbying effort by landlord groups.
A right to redemption already exists under California law for property owners (including landlords) who default on mortgage payments. Proponents of the new bill argue that tenants deserve a right to redemption as well.
This would be a significant change in California law. In contrast to many other states, California provides a mere 3-day pay or quit period and no right to redemption after that period expires. Tenants who are just four days late on rent can be thrown out of their homes notwithstanding their willingness to pay rent, even if they have lived there for years. Landlords are under no legal obligation to accept the rent after the 3-day notice expires and can move forward with eviction even if tenants are willing and able to pay the rent and any costs incurred by the landlord.
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D - San Francisco), the author of the bill, noted that many states already have a right to redemption for tenants. "Why should tenants in Mississippi, Arizona, North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Washington D.C. have a right to redemption, but not California tenants?" asked Ammiano. "With the second highest rents in the nation, California tenants are suffering in the current economy. Despite their best efforts, some tenants cannot pay the rent on time, but with the help of family, friends or nonprofit rental assistance programs are able to come up with the money soon after it is due. These tenants should be protected from eviction."
Desiree Zavala, Staff Attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, testified at the committee hearing about a recent case showing the need for the law. "My client, Jorge, is a former Marine and automotive tech who lived in his rent-controlled apartment for thirteen years with his wife and three children paying rent timely each month." In February, the family was not able to pay the rent until the 10th of the month, and so advised the landlord. The landlord served a 3-day notice to pay or quit and immediately filed an eviction action, refusing to accept this one-time late payment of rent. The tenants now have an eviction on their record and will likely become homeless. When the judge at trial noted that the landlord's actions were extremely harsh, the landlord's lawyer replied, "that is what the law permits."
Landlord lobbyists turned out in force to oppose the bill. One lobbyist characterized the Los Angeles case as "unfortunate," but still opposed the bill arguing that it unfairly burdened landlords. Bill proponents maintain that landlords get the rent and reasonable costs if tenants exercise the right to redeem, so there would be no harm to landlords from passage of the bill.
The Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 to move the matter to the full Assembly for a vote. Assemblymember Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) broke with her fellow Democrats on the Committee to oppose the bill.
"The time for a right to redemption for California tenants has arrived," commented Dean Preston of Tenants Together. "We are pleased with the Judiciary Committee's vote of confidence on this important bill."