S.D. approves new renter protections Council votes in support of proposals after hearing advocates for tenants, landlords
People crowd Tuesday night’s San Diego City Council meeting to discuss new protections for renters. Landlord groups and individual landlords spoke at the meeting as did renters and advocacy groups supporting renters’ rights. (Alejandro Tamayo U-T)
By Phillip MolnarThe San Diego City Council approved on Tuesday night a host of new protections for renters that faced heavy opposition from landlords, and even some renter advocates.
The City Council approved the legislation 8-1, with some changes. The legislation will need a second vote on May 16 before final approval.
The biggest part of the new law would require a landlord to give a tenant two months’ rent if they evict them for no reason. These “no-fault” evictions include a renter being asked to move for a significant remodel of the property, if the owner decides to take the unit off the rental market, or, simply, a landlord deciding after a lease term not to renew a particular tenant.
“Renters in San Diego deserve more protections in the face of rising housing costs,” said Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, “and the existing power imbalance between landlords and tenants. This is a significant step toward preventing displacement and homelessness.”
Renters could still be legally evicted for violating lease agreements, such as not paying rent. City planners said the law was aimed at bad landlords who use “no-fault” lease terminations as a way to remove renters without doing a legal eviction.
Landlord groups, and individual landlords, who spoke at the meeting said the two-month payment — or three months for a senior or disabled person — was unfair because it added to costs. It said it gave them an incentive to not make apartment repairs and would likely lead to fewer rentals as potential landlords give up on the idea of renting altogether.
Still, renters who spoke at the more than six-hour meeting argued they lacked protections in the competitive and expensive San Diego rental market. Rent has increased 19.8 percent in two years in the city, for an average monthly cost of around $2,552, said data from real estate tracker CoStar. The current vacancy rate is around 4.2 percent, making the process of finding a new unit difficult for many.
Some advocates for the legislation said they felt sympathy for the landlords speaking at the meeting, but said it’s the bad landlords not at the meeting they were trying to keep in check.
“We need to remember not all landlords are ethical,” supporter Dan Castillo said. “We need to provide a floor of standards so folks in our community do not fall through the cracks.”
Renter advocacy group San Diego Tenants Union called the renter protections “watered down” and the two or three months of rent payments to people removed in no-fault evictions was too low.
Some council members proposed changes, but only one said she would vote against. Councilmember Jennifer Campbell said she voted against because so many of her constituents told her of their opposition to the law.
Councilmember Marni von Wilpert pushed for an amendment that would give landlords more time to comply, which would delay the implementation of the law for some landlords until Jan.1, 2024. More clarification on the amendment is expected before the second reading of the law in May.
Elo-Rivera, who was wearing a “Housing is a Human Right” shirt, added an amendment that the landlord would have to alert the San Diego Housing Commission for any at-fault evictions and provide reasons for it. He said it would allow the city to collect data on its policies and review their effectiveness. The commission estimated the cost to be around $200,000 for the new program, including the likely additional cost of new staff to maintain it.
Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe said she understood the challenges of landlords but argued the law was an example of doing something that, in the long run, will keep people off the streets.
“We have to continue to make (San Diego) better for everyone,” she said.
At least 65 percent of landlords in San Diego are noncorporate, or “mom and pop” landlords, estimated the Southern California Rental Housing Association. Many landlords complained they were tiny operations with a few units and already struggled with costs, making more regulations an added difficulty.
“That is who is going to be hurt, the small guy,” said Dan Feder, owner of North Park-based F&F Property Management.
Some landlords wore green badges that said “ethical housing provider” and told stories of how they took good care of their units and had seen their own costs increase for insurance and other items.
San Diego would go beyond state law that requires one month of rent for relocation assistance. Right now, the city has no relocation assistance because it is exempt from new state laws because it already had a limited tenant protection law on the books.
Melanie Woods, a representative of the California Apartment Association, said the extra months of added rent relocation should be limited to people that really needed it, such as low- to moderate-income renters. She said the organization also opposed another stipulation that many renter rights would start immediately, instead of 12 months as in the state law.
San Diego relied on data from the Legal Aid Society, which provides free civil legal aid to low-income San Diegans. The organization said from April 1 to Jan. 21, it helped 184 renters who it said were being evicted at no fault of their own.
Legal Aid said 88 tenants were facing eviction for a significant remodel, 56 households where the landlord decided to take the unit off the rental market, and 40 whose landlords decided to move into the properties themselves.
Another part of the law hotly debated was a stipulation that after some no-fault evictions, renters will be given a chance to renew their tenancy if the property is back on the rental market within five years. This was a point of contention with some advocacy groups that said there should be a guarantee the person gets to return with the same rent as before.
Rick Bates, policy director at Local 30 Unite Here, said the reason the City Council seemed to be overwhelmed with landlords at the meeting was that most of its 6,000 hospitality members were busy working.
“Of those 6,000 workers an overwhelming number of them are part of the rental community,” he said. “Local 30 urges you to support this ordinance so that San Diego can be as impactful as possible and demonstrate real leadership with keeping our families housed.”
Other protections in the law are mainly aimed at providing paperwork to tenants informing them of their rights. The ordinance said landlords must give notice of a lease violation (such as not paying rent), and give time to fix the problem. Today, a landlord could just begin the eviction process immediately.
A landlord must still give 30 days’ notice before a no-fault eviction but now must also provide the renter with an explanation of their rights to receive relocation assistance.
The legislation also attempts to define what is a substantial remodel. It says that before removing tenants, landlords must take steps that include: disclosing to residents they’re applying for permits, obtaining construction permits and showing a copy of the permits to the tenant, and disclosing under penalty of perjury the reason why construction is needed.
There are exemptions for the type of units the ordinance covers, such as accessory dwelling units, Section 8 housing, vacation rentals, hotels and residential care facilities.
With rising rents across the nation, many cities have been considering stronger protections for renters.
Los Angeles is being sued over its renter protection law , which said a landlord cannot evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent if it didn’t reach a threshold of $1,747 for a one-bedroom and $2,222 for a two-bedroom.
Critics argued bad renters could just shortchange their rents for months and not face eviction.
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