Rents Blog: Just cause eviction
Rents Blog: Just cause eviction
A perceived increase in the number of eviction notices being handed out by property owners in Alameda has prompted some tenants to ask city leaders to consider a new tool to protect renters: just cause eviction rules that restrict landlords’ ability to make tenants move.
The “just cause” rules restrict landlords’ ability to evict tenants to a list laid out in a local ordinance, and they require landlords to tell tenants why they’re being asked to leave.
Some 15 California cities have enacted just cause eviction rules, a list that includes San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, East Palo Alto and Richmond, according to Tenants Together, a statewide tenant advocacy group. Some cities’ rules are paired with rent control ordinances (and are effective on units covered by those ordinances), like those in Oakland and San Francisco, while others – like Richmond’s ordinance, which restricts evictions from homes in foreclosure – stand alone.
Just cause eviction advocates in these other cities have backed the rules, saying they promote stability and protect long-term tenants – and particularly, vulnerable residents like seniors, disabled people and low-income residents. But landlords have complained that the rules impose unfair burdens on them. The Oakland rules, which voters narrowly approved in 2002, were trimmed back as the result of a court challenge.
Some renters here asked the City Council to consider them at a recent hearing on proposed changes intended to strengthen the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee, which mediates rent disputes. The call comes in the midst of some high-profile cases of tenants who received notices that they needed to move within 60 days, which has raised concerns that the notices are being used to raise rents.
State law permits landlords to terminate tenancy without providing a reason, as long as tenants have been given proper notice that they’re being told to move. Landlords must give tenants who have lived someplace for a year or more 60 days’ notice to move out, while tenants who have lived somewhere for less than a year must receive at least 30 days’ notice.
State law also prohibits evictions put in motion in retaliation for a tenant’s lawful activities.
Landlords who have a reason to evict a tenant – non-payment of rent, a material breach of a lease, illegal activity in a unit – can ask them to leave with just three days’ notice, and can file a court action to force them to leave if they don’t go voluntarily. (While many cities’ just cause rules use the term “eviction” to include evictions and terminations, landlords and their advocates draw a distinction between the two.)
Just cause rules, which have been approved by both voter and local legislative actions, extend those protections to tenants whose rights to an apartment or home are terminated through a 30-day or 60-day notice.
Under some local cities’ rules, a landlord can terminate a tenancy only if it’s for one of a dozen reasons. The list includes the same reasons a landlord might seek to evict a tenant – like nonpayment of rent – and also, reasons that landlords often issue termination notices, including an owner move-in, renovations, and removal of the unit from the rental market (also known as an Ellis Act termination).
While some cities’ rules are limited – like Richmond’s 2009 ordinance, which applies only to homes in foreclosure – others are more expansive. San Francisco’s just cause eviction rules, for example, require landlords who evict certain tenants to pay up to $16,653 per unit in relocation fees – and more if the people being kicked out are seniors, disabled people or children. San Francisco also collects data on evictions and terminations; the city requires landlords who give termination notices to file with its Rent Board.
Alameda’s City Council has proven reluctant to move forward with new protections for renters. The former council opted last year to hold off a city-sponsored task force that would formally explore rents issues, deciding instead to allow a community process proposed by former Councilman Stewart Chen to take its place.
The community group came up with a list of ways the city’s nonbinding mediation process could be strengthened, but the council held off on approving them until a legal question raised by Mayor Trish Spencer – who is both a renter and an opponent of more regulation – could be resolved. The council could consider the changes again in July.
Advocates for local renters, who make up about half the Island’s population, have pressed for rent control and other protections. But at least three members of the council have questioned whether rent control would be an effective solution to renters’ woes, or whether the city should get involved in rents issues at all.
Local landlords have sought to downplay the concerns, saying that rising rents, rent disputes and the use of the termination notices are the fault of a handful of bad landlords who aren’t representative of the majority. Some have tried to solve the disputes personally, and to help tenants who have lost their homes find new ones on the Island.