The Truth About AB 934 – Restoring Tenant Protections Across the State

When tenants violate the law, they get evicted. When landlords violate the law, they get immunity. At least that has been the situation in California since 2007 when California courts began improperly extending the so-called “litigation privilege” to protect landlords who illegally evict tenants.

AB 934, authored by Assemblymember Mike Feuer (D – Los Angeles), would put an end to this judicially-created immunity for landlords. This common sense bill would allow landlords to be held accountable for violating tenant protection laws. Landlord lobbyists are ramping up their attacks on AB 934, spreading misinformation about the bill in a desperate attempt to preserve immunity for California’s worst landlords. Click here to send a letter to your representatives in Sacramento to support this important bill.

State and local laws ban certain improper eviction activity, such as retaliatory evictions. These laws provide tenants and cities the right to sue to hold landlords accountable for violations. For decades, California tenants and enforcement agencies have successfully applied these laws to deter improper behavior by landlords and to compensate tenants who were illegally evicted. Landlords who complied with these laws had nothing to fear, but those who violated tenant protection laws knew that they would face consequences.

All of that changed in 2007. California courts upended decades of precedent to erect a new, judicially-created barrier to lawsuits over illegal eviction activity. In Action Apartments v. City of Santa Monica, and cases that have followed, the courts extended unprecedented protection to bad landlords. (Anyone interested in more details regarding these cases should review the thorough analysis of the bill prepared for the Assembly Judiciary Committee.) These court decisions have undermined California’s tenant protection laws, with devastating results.

The judicial expansion of the litigation privilege could not have happened at a worse time. With thousands of renter-occupied homes being acquired across the state by banks and investors after foreclosure, illegal evictions have become increasingly common. Yet few tenants have been able to sue these post-foreclosure landlords, or any other landlords who evict in violation of tenant protection laws, in the years since the Action Apartments decision.

It is not surprising that landlords like their de facto immunity from suit. Most industries would fight to preserve protections of this type. However, as AB 934 gains traction, the tactics utilized by the opposition are increasingly deceptive.

For example, the California Apartment Association continues to perpetuate the myth that AB 934 would make landlords susceptible to suits by tenants alleging that the landlord’s statements in court were defamatory. CAA continues to make this assertion more than a month after the bill author added a specific exception to the law to satisfy their concern and clarify that a landlord can assert the litigation privilege against causes of action for defamation based on in-court statements. Even that amendment has not stopped CAA and other landlord groups from continuing to spread misinformation about the bill.

Why would CAA and other landlord lobbying groups stoop to this level in opposing this bill? The answer is that challenging the bill on its merits would not sit well with legislators. Imagine a landlord lobbyist making the following pitch: “AB 934 is unfair because it allows landlords to be held liable for violating the law.” That would be a tough sell. Legislators at the state and local levels have already made certain eviction activity illegal and granted tenants the right to sue for violations, so why would they not want to restore these rights that were effectively repealed by the courts starting in 2007?

The problem for the landlord lobby in opposing AB 934 is that if they are honest about it, they must recognize that AB 934 does not create a single new obligation for landlords. It simply allows unscrupulous landlords to be held accountable for illegal eviction activity, as was the law for decades before a misguided court decision.

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