In late April, the San Jose City Council passed the “Tenant Protection Ordinance,” a broad range of tenant protections that includes requiring landlords to have “good cause” before evicting someone and requires San Jose landlords to pay relocation assistance if evicting tenants for no fault of their own. The new law took effect immediately.
Despite the breadth of protections covered by the new ordinance, some City Councilors were concerned the policy didn’t go far enough. The council asked the city’s housing officials to continue investigating other tenant protection measures, including a policy that would tie San Jose’s 43,000 rent-controlled units’ rental increases to inflation, as is the case in many other Bay Area cities, instead of the current cap of 5% annually.
While housing officials have not reached a conclusion yet about the latter policy, it seems they have other recommendations for the council to consider.
This coming Tuesday, the City Council will vote on three new tenant-protection measures.
Series of Rent & Eviction Control Measures
The first, an ordinance adding Part 12 to Chapter 17.23 of the San Jose Municipal Code, is a modified version of the Tenant Protection Ordinance passed last month. The previous version of the ordinance established an enrollment-based program of protections for tenants. Certain actions, such as reporting a code violation to the city, would automatically “trigger” enrollment into the Tenant Protection program. On Tuesday, the City Council will consider a revised Tenant protection Ordinance that grants protections against no-cause evictions to all tenants without requiring an event to trigger enrollment into the program. Under the current ordinance, safeguards against no-fault evictions last for one year after the tenant enrolls in the program. The new ordinance would remove that end date; the protections would last until the tenant voluntarily vacates the apartment.
As a result of these changes, and in making the Tenant Protection Ordinance more comprehensive, the new ordinance will eliminate the need for no-cause notices. However, the new ordinance would require property owners to provide a notice to vacate under the Ellis Act provisions. “Without just cause protections, owners could have potentially evades the Ellis Act provisions and payment of benefits by serving no-cause notices for termination prior to filing a Notice to Withdraw under the Ellis Act Ordinance,” city staff wrote in a memo to the City Council.
The new ordinance also requires landlords to pay relocation benefits for all tenants displaced by substantial rehabilitation, something that previously would have been required only when tenants were enrolled in the Tenant Protection Ordinance.
The council is also being asked to vote on a second measure, an “Urgency Ordinance” which will make all of the protections outlined in the amended Tenant Protection Ordinance effective immediately. Under San Jose law, urgency ordinances are allowed when a measure is “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”
Housing officials point to the recent Coyote Creek flood as case in point for why the Urgency Ordinance is needed. The Coyote Creek flood displaced several low-income families in the rent-stabilized Rock Springs neighborhood. Most tenants had been living in their units for several years and were paying below-market rents. Some were paying just $900 for a one-bedroom unit; $1,100 for a two-bedroom.
City officials sprang into action after the flood to try and provide residents with relocation assistance. Still, replacement housing has been hard to come by. Of the 170 households in case management after 60 days, only 17 households had moved into permanent housing. Most families are still living in temporary housing, often with friends and family. Two households had received no-fault eviction notices in the weeks following the flood. Had It not been for the San Jose Flood Relief Fund, several Rock Springs residents would be facing homelessness, city staff say, hence the need for the Urgency Ordinance. The Urgency Ordinance would close the window where no-fault evictions could take place before the ordinance goes into effect.
The third and final tenant-protection measure before the council on Tuesday is an extension of the interim amendment to the Apartment Rent Ordinance and removal of the exemption for apartments with government rent subsidies.
The interim Apartment Rent Ordinance (ARO) passed in May of last year reduced the annual allowable rent increase on tenants from 8% to 5%, eliminated rent increases available through the pass-through provisions, and implemented a fair return petition process. The interim ARO was to be effective until January 1, 2017. In October of last year, the City Council extended the termination date to June 30, 2017. In the meantime, the City Council directed city staff to draft a permanent ordinance. City staff explains that they have been distracted by the Coyote Creek floods, which impacted the staff’s ability to work on the new ARO.
In lieu of crafting a permanent ARO, the city’s housing department is asking the council to extend the interim ARO to December 31, 2017. This measure also contemplates removing the ARO exemption for rental properties with tenants whose rent is subsidized by any government agency.
Despite opposition from San Jose landlords, property management companies and homeowners, it appears as though there’s growing momentum for passing these more stringent tenant-protection measures. Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco, and Councilmembers Arenas, Jiminez, Jones, Peralez and Rocha have all filed memos to the City Council expressing support for the approval of changes to the Tenant Protection Ordinance and adoption of the Urgency Ordinance. The former requires a majority vote to move forward; the latter requires an 8-person majority.
As several letters in opposition to the measures indicate, these new laws will cause San Jose property owners undue hardship. These just cause eviction protections shift the burden of proof to landlords when trying to evict problem tenants. As one resident points out, an owner is not going to “risk our own life to collect criminal evidence and most owners don’t live in the rental properties. Will any neighbors or renters dare to be the witness in court? No. So think about who going to suffer.”
Others take issue with the fact that a $2 million+ program is being created to deal with no-fault evictions when the city’s eviction rate is only around 0.86% in any given year.
Another wrote a letter in opposition saying that landlords will start to withdraw apartments from the rental market because they’re afraid of becoming entangled in a lawsuit or losing their property. “San Jose needs more rental property, not less,” he says. The news laws will lower supply and result in higher rents. “The other 99% of tenants deserve a healthy rental market.”
San Jose property management companies, landlords, and property owners are being urged to speak out in opposition of these stricter rent and eviction controls. Councilmembers need to understand how these laws will affect the rental market, and they need to hear it directly from those on the front lines.
Please join us in OPPOSING these policies!