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Opinion

Editorial: Keep tenant protections front and center of California’s housing debate

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2016: Hilda Deras, 76, a resident of her building on
Hilda Deras, a resident of her building on South Magnolia Avenue in Los Angeles since 1977, lives alone with her dog Bella. Like others, she complained in a declaration of receiving excessive rent raises, numerous notices to enter her apartment and eviction notices.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

It looks like 2019 could be the year California lawmakers finally pass sweeping changes designed to make it significantly easier to build much more badly needed housing. But if California officials are serious about easing the pain of the state’s housing crisis, they also have to enact strong tenant protections.

Last week, Assembly Bill 1482, which would establish a statewide rent control law designed to stop the most exorbitant rent increases, was approved by a key committee. The bill, by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), would set a statewide cap on annual rent hikes at 5% plus inflation. The proposal is similar to Oregon’s first-in-the-nation law that limits rent increases to 7% plus inflation.

But rent caps alone are not enough. On Tuesday, another committee will vote on a companion bill, AB 1481 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda). That bill would require landlords to show “just cause” — such as a failure to pay rent or a lease violation — before they could oust a renter.

California needs to build, build, build — and, in the meantime, protect tenants.
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Both are important bills to provide stability and security to tenants in times of skyrocketing rents. The first measure helps prevent the kind of excessive rent hikes that force people from their homes, and a just-cause eviction law prevents landlords from evicting tenants in order to get around the rent caps.

Both bills face an uphill battle in Sacramento, where tenant protection legislation has a history of failing. Real estate interests have long argued that rent control and tenant protection laws discourage housing production and tie landlords’ hands unfairly. Indeed, Bonta introduced a just-cause eviction bill last year but it died on the Assembly floor amid complaints from apartment owners that it would raise rents and make it hard to remove bad tenants engaged in illegal activity.

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But the purpose of the just-cause eviction law isn’t to shield bad tenants. A landlord could proceed with an eviction proceeding if a tenant failed to pay the rent, violated the terms of his or her rental agreement, caused a nuisance, or engaged in illegal activity. Landlords would still be allowed to evict a tenant if they wanted to get out of the rental business.

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The goal is to provide law-abiding tenants with some measure of due process and protection from arbitrary or discriminatory eviction. Seventeen cities already have just-cause eviction ordinances, including San Diego, San Jose, Santa Monica and Glendale. In most other jurisdictions, a property owner is allowed to oust a tenant for pretty much any reason (or no reason at all), with 30 to 60 days notice. That leaves renters vulnerable to landlord whims and market forces, with seniors, low-income and disabled tenants most likely to struggle for new housing.

Certainly, California’s decades-long failure to build enough housing to meet population and job growth is driving up rents. California needs to build, build, build — and, in the meantime, protect tenants.

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