Eviction Notices Are Surging As Landlords Take Advantage Of A Loophole. Here's How Cities Are Responding

Tenants and organizers rally in front of L.A. City Hall on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

When California lawmakers passed legislation to protect tenants from excessive rent increases and no-fault evictions, it came with one big loophole.

The bill, AB 1482, was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom 85 days before it goes into effect; but tenants can be evicted with just 30 to 60 days notice.

In the interim — in fact, since Newsom announced plans for the bill in September — news began to trickle out from across the state about a surge in evictions and dizzying rent hikes. In some cases, these moves appear to be designed to clear out low-rent or unwanted tenants and reset rents at higher rates in advance of new regulations.

Some of this may have been averted if AB 1482 had garnered the requisite ⅔ supermajority vote in the state legislature needed to become effective immediately. But it didn't, leaving municipalities scrambling to stave off a sudden wave of evictions that could leave thousands of renters without a home. Their answer? Temporary eviction moratoriums.

Francisco Dueñas, housing justice campaign director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), estimates that roughly two dozen cities around California have passed temporary eviction moratoriums as a stopgap until AB 1482 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. And he says these rules were urgently needed.

In the days after Newsom signed AB 1482, Dueñas said his organization's weekly tenant assistance clinics in Los Angeles saw a profound uptick in attendees.

"Normally we get around 15 to 20 tenants [in our weekly clinic]. And then we started seeing [up to] 80 tenants coming to the clinics," Dueñas said. "What was really striking is sometimes they would tell us that 'our whole building is getting evicted.'"

Within days, ACCE and other tenant organizing groups began rallying in front of elected officials in the city of Los Angeles. On Oct. 22, Los Angeles became one of the first cities in California to pass a temporary eviction moratorium.

"We really feel like, if our state elected officials have already endorsed this bill and this idea, that our local representative should be also supporting tenants, especially as you have landlords trying to get around it," Dueñas said.

Other cities that have passed similar rules include Alhambra, Bell Gardens, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Pomona, Long Beach, Torrance, Daly City, Santa Cruz, Milpitas and Redwood City. Southern California cities still working to pass rules of their own include Redondo Beach and Downey.

A few jurisdictions, including the cities of Burbank and Santa Ana, and Sacramento County, declined to pass eviction moratoriums, saying such rules wouldn't be fair for landlords.

In any case, at least in L.A., the new rules appear to be having the intended effect. Linda Rijel is a renter in East Hollywood who's been fighting an eviction lawsuit since May. She said her case was dismissed after the judge cited L.A.'s new ordinance as a valid defense.

"It's a huge win. We're [one of] the first ones in the city to use the moratorium as a defense in an [eviction] case," Rijel said.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Joel Lofton confirmed that he cited L.A.'s emergency moratorium on no-fault evictions as grounds to dismiss Rijel's case.

L.A.'s ordinance goes beyond the new state law in protecting renters who are served eviction notices even before AB 1482 was signed as long as the person is still living in their home.

Los Angeles also developed a temporary "Emergency Renters Relief" program intended to subsidize rent for low-income tenants until the rent cap takes effect in January.

PREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCE

AB 1482 was passed to stem the number of low-income renters losing their homes. California's ballooning homelessness crisis is partially driven by evictions and unaffordable rents, and losing an affordable apartment often means leaving California for a less expensive state.

Most renters in California lacked legal protections from rent gouging and no-fault evictions, when a property owner simply terminates a month-to-month lease despite no fault on the part of the tenant. The law limits annual rent increases to 5% plus the consumer price index annually, and codifies that evictions can only take place "for cause," like not paying rent, engaging in criminal behavior, or damaging the property.

Lawmakers estimate that 8 million California renters will gain protection under AB 1482. It only applies to tenants living in apartment buildings that are more than 15 years old.

AB 1482 also covers tenants leasing single-family homes from corporate and institutional landlords, but exempts mom-and-pop property owners.

The law's author, Assemblymember David Chiu, from San Francisco, acknowledged that he considered the possibility that landlords might try to evict tenants in the time between the law's passage and when it becomes effective.

Chiu said he was "grateful" for the growing number of local jurisdictions that are moving quickly to support and defend their tenants. He also had strong words for landlords who have moved to evict tenants before January.

"Our laws have not forced them to be greedy. They were always greedy, and now they're showing their true colors," Chiu said. He added that most landlords are not behaving like this.

In October, the Los Angeles Times reported that attorneys for landlords were advising building owners to evict as many people as possible before AB 1482 takes effect.

Mike Nemeth, spokesperson for the California Apartment Association (CAA), wrote in a statement that the CAA does not condone issuing mass eviction notices, and "would never advise any owner to evict tenants to circumvent provisions of upcoming state law."

"If city councils insist on passing these stopgap measures, we urge the adoption of ordinances that mirror the just-cause provisions in AB 1482, which landlords statewide are already preparing to follow," Nemeth wrote.

Landlords filed 505,924 eviction proceedings in L.A. County Superior Court between 2010 and 2018, according to a report published this June by UCLA law school.