San Jose City Council to Consider 'Just Cause' Renter Eviction Rule

Sunday, April 16, 2017
Ramona Giwargis
San Jose Mercury News

Despite ranking as one of the costliest rental markets in the nation, San Jose is the last major Bay Area city that lets landlords evict renters without citing a reason — but that could change under sweeping new tenant protections city leaders will consider Tuesday.

Amid mounting pressure from renters, tenant groups and housing activists — including stories of hundreds of renters being kicked out of The Reserve apartments and dozens more evicted at the hands of one landlord — elected leaders are expected to approve some changes.

But while city housing officials are calling for eviction protections for tenants who complain about unsafe conditions in their apartments, at least four council members want to go farther. Council members Raul Peralez, Donald Rocha, Sylvia Arenas and Sergio Jimenez propose a law requiring landlords to cite a “just cause” before evicting anyone.

Under the proposal from Peralez and Rocha, all renters would be protected after six months of tenancy. Arenas and Jimenez suggest automatically extending protections against no-cause evictions to renters without waiting six months.

San Jose has had more than 2,200 no-cause evictions since 2010, and the council members said renters often live in fear of being evicted for no reason, creating an “unbearable and unnecessary hardship” for families.

“It’s no secret that the cost of housing has driven people to becoming homeless or out of the area,” Peralez said at a rally where advocates unveiled a new report from Working Partnerships USA and Silicon Valley Rising that showed 70 percent of San Jose’s apartment stock is owned by out-of-town landlords. “We have the opportunity to offer up more protections. Personally, I don’t think we are going far enough.”

Landlords have vigorously opposed just-cause eviction laws, arguing it makes it too difficult to evict problem tenants.

“It requires a burden of proof for people to get rid of bad tenants — which is a very small percentage – but it makes it much harder to prove in court,” said Tom Scott, president of Cambridge Management Company who owns and manages 800 units in San Jose.

Mindful of those concerns, San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand is proposing a policy in which tenants who file a complaint about property conditions can enroll in a program that would protect them from being evicted in retaliation.

Morales-Ferrand says her office heard from 111 residents last year who expressed fears of being evicted for complaining about a repair or code enforcement issue.

Tenants in the one out of three San Jose apartments under rent control would get additional protections under her proposal: Landlords would have to offer them a written, 12-month lease, and they could no longer evict a tenant without cause and then re-rent the place to those, including veterans, able to pay more because of public assistance.

That so-called loophole in the city’s current rent control law allowed San Jose landlord Peggy DeMaio to evict at least 35 tenants, including 92-year-old Paul Mayer, and receive a higher market rate by renting to veterans aided by a city-county program to end homelessness among veterans.

Morales-Ferrand also recommends San Jose create an “Ellis Act” policy, which other major cities have, that would protect renters who are displaced when an owner demolishes or redevelops property, which happened at The Reserve.

“The demand for housing continues to exceed the supply,” Morales-Ferrand said. “As land prices rise in San Jose, market pressures to redevelop older housing into a higher density product is expected to escalate.”

Her recommendations include offering advance notice and relocation benefits to displaced residents. Implementing the new programs would require adding five City Hall jobs, Morales-Ferrand said, costing $1.1 million.

Councilman Peralez, who two years ago spurred the city to increase renter protections, is pushing for more, as are council members Tam Nguyen, who’s a renter, and Jimenez, who grew up in affordable housing. The city’s advisory Housing and Community Development Commission also recommended just-cause protections for all in a meeting Thursday.

They note that San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego all have “just cause” eviction rules that aren’t limited to tenants who file complaints, though San Diego’s only applies to those who have rented for two or more years.

Peralez and Rocha’s proposal also includes tying annual rent increases in the city’s 43,814 rent-controlled units — currently capped at five percent a year — to the area’s inflation rate.

But Councilman Johnny Khamis, a rental property owner himself, said the proposal is overly restrictive and puts unnecessary burdens on landlords.

Private polling funded by the South Bay Labor Council, Affordable Housing Network, Sacred Heart and Working Partnerships USA suggests 62 percent of 911 likely voters would support just-cause protections for all if the council doesn’t approve it.

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