San Jose City Council Approves Immediate Protections Against No-Cause Evictions

Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Ramona Giwargis
San Jose Mercury News

In a resounding victory to renters struggling to survive in Silicon Valley, elected leaders Tuesday agreed to immediately enact protections approved last month that limit landlords’ ability to evict tenants.

That means as of 9:05 p.m. Tuesday, renters in San Jose cannot be evicted unless it’s for one of twelve acceptable reasons, including nonpayment of rent, property damage or criminal activity. The policy is expected to cover 450,000 renters.

The 9-2 vote at the City Council meeting Tuesday came after four hours of emotional testimony, cheers, boos and heckling from the audience mostly dominated by landlords and property owners. A handful of landlords were removed by security for yelling out from their seats. Some called Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand a “communist” and demanded she be fired.

The dissenters were council members Johnny Khamis and Dev Davis.

“They’re taking away capitalism from property owners,” said Maxine Lubow, 60, who owns 35 units in San Jose and held a sign that compared rent control to communism. “You might have a bad tenant who’s a drug dealer and you you can’t do anything about it.”

The contentious meeting Tuesday was a stark distinction from last month’s council meeting that turned out hundreds of frustrated renters. The council on April 18 narrowly voted to adopt a “just-cause” ordinance requiring landlords to cite a reason for refusing to renew a lease. Housing advocates said landlords are unjustly evicting tenants so they can raise rents in Silicon Valley’s soaring housing market.

Other big cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland have similar eviction protections.

“These landlords have imagined figures of tenants who they want to evict but supposedly can’t under this ordinance — criminals, sex offenders, gang members,” said renter Natalie Tran on Tuesday. “I think the real criminals are people who own properties and put their own profits over tenants. (Renters) are criminalized here in this City Council meeting, but they’re more than happy to take their rent money every first day of the month.”

The protections adopted last month, which cover all apartments from the day a renter moves in, were set to take effect in about 45 days, after a routine second reading and adoption of the ordinance. But in a memorandum to the council, Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilman Chappie Jones, both of whom had voted against the new rules, urged the council to consider immediate enforcement.

“Considerable risk arises for existing tenants that less savory landlords might seek eviction prior to the effective date of any new ordinance,” the mayor and Jones said in the memo. City officials said 30 families received no-cause eviction notices after the City Council approved the policy on April 18.

“This family didn’t do anything wrong or violate the terms of their lease but they are being forced to move,” Morales-Ferrand told the council as a photo of a family was displayed.

Landlords — who outnumbered housing advocates on Tuesday — said the policy hurts mom-and-pop property owners by preventing them from evicting problematic tenants. A group organized by the Bay Area Homeowners Network held signs, chanted and marched outside City Hall ahead of the vote.

But officials from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley said existing laws give property owners the authority to evict tenants for criminal conduct. The policy against no-cause evictions doesn’t increase crime, added attorney Nadia Aziz, and only one city of the 30 with the rules has a high-crime rate — Oakland.

The City Council asked housing officials Tuesday to report back on the policy’s outcome in a year. They also agreed to review amending the law to allow landlords to evict tenants for criminal conduct without having to prove that activity was a nuisance to others. This eliminates the need for neighbors to testify against one another.

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