San Jose City Council Adopts Stronger Protections for Tenants

San Jose renters ended a five-day hunger strike Tuesday with a landmark political victory and the biggest expansion of tenant rights in decades.

Under one of the new rules approved by the city’s elected leaders, landlords can no longer oust tenants without citing a “just cause.” A second ordinance tentatively approved will require property owners who want to raze rent-controlled buildings to foot the bill for relocating displaced tenants.

Until this week, San Jose was the last major Bay Area city to allow landlords to kick out tenants without having to explain why. Activists lauded the reforms, citing them as proof that the South Bay’s renter rights movement has become a force to be reckoned with.

The policy changes followed hours of impassioned testimony from tenants pleading for stronger protections in one of the nation’s most competitive housing markets. Property owners, on the other hand, defended the status quo, arguing that stricter rent controls could have a chilling effect and drive mom-and-pop landlords out of business.

The debate split the council along ideological lines, with the same majority behind two 6-5 votes and Mayor Sam Liccardo and his centrist-to-conservative colleagues opposed. Supporters of stronger tenant protections called housing a human right, one that preserves the city’s diversity and keeps families together. They described how less restriction on landlords effectively puts more restriction on tenants.

“I think it’s clear as day, what we need to do,” said Councilman Sergio Jimenez, who introduced the prevailing motion for just-cause protections. He added: “We heard about the plight of the landlords, and, to be frank, cry me a river.”

The other votes in favor of new renter protections came from Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and council members Sylvia Arenas, Tam Nguyen, Don Rocha and Raul Peralez.

“I feel a moral obligation to represent my residents, not just those who live outside San Jose,” she said, referencing a Working Partnerships study showing that the vast majority of landlords are based outside the city.

Rocha said the packed council chambers prove that housing issues have reached a boiling point in San Jose that he could no longer ignore.

“This does not happen every gosh darn Tuesday,” he told the freshmen council cohorts before casting his two “yes” votes in favor of tenants. Responding to concerns that the new rules would undermine landlord rights, Rocha said: “This is more than just a contract for services, this is somebody’s home.”

Conservatives on the council saw the issue in terms of economics, public safety and property rights. Councilman Johnny Khamis, who owns rental property in San Jose, said the city already over-regulates landlords—or as he euphemistically calls them, “housing providers.” Instead of creating new laws, he said, the city should enact existing ones. He also warned that taking power away from landlords could trigger dire consequences.

“For every reaction there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” Khamis said, rattling off housing new regulations the city imposed in the past year. Hisses and jeers from the audience forced him to pause a beat before continuing. “What’s really clear to me is that there’s going to be reactions to what we’re going to get done tonight. Are we willing to live with those reactions?”

The city’s housing staff said San Jose has seen more than 2,400 evictions without cause since 2010—a 270 percent increase. That only accounts for apartments covered by the city’s rent control laws, which are limited to a small fraction of the overall housing supply. Tenant advocates say the actual number is far higher.

“I have seen these unfair evictions result in homelessness, anguish and disruption in people’s lives,” said Kenia Vega, a renter who said she received an eviction notice in February after reporting mold and termites.

Ruby Dominguez tearfully told the council about the 30-day eviction notice she got from her landlord, who cited no cause for ending the lease. The most affordable place she found that was close enough to her children’s school was a rundown motel, where she stays with her son while her daughter lives with a relative.

“I didn’t want to uproot my kids when I had already uprooted them from their home,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.

Landlords argued that the new regulations will leave them stuck with bad tenants. Carlos Padilla, a property owner who lives in San Jose, said he has had to deal with gang problems, prostitution and drug dealing at his apartment.

“Boom!” he said. “A few years ago, a gun went off in my apartments. The bullet went through the floor and into one of my other apartments.”

Padilla said he worries about being unable to do anything about a bad tenant if one of the good ones calls for help.

“Some of these examples are easy to prove,” he said, “but some are not.”

Several landlords expressed that same fear despite assurances from Jacky Morales-Ferrand, who leads the city’s housing division. She explained at the outset of the meeting that the new policy enumerates a dozen “just causes” to evict a tenant.

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Source: City of San Jose

Another landlord, Bill Wu, pointed to San Francisco’s affordability crisis as proof that stricter rent control doesn’t solve the problem.

Instead of imposing more regulations on existing affordable housing, he said, the city should promote policies that stimulate new development.

Wu also had concerns that the policy requiring tenants to report safety and habitability violations to qualify for just-cause protections would sour relationships between landlords and their lessees.

“This policy divides people,” he said. “It turns people against each other.”

The city’s housing officials proposed a policy to protect renters from eviction if they report needed repairs or substandard building conditions. But council members Rocha and Peralez wanted to make that protection automatic for all tenants, not just the ones who make noise.

Arenas and Jimenez took it a step further, insisting that protections should kick in right away instead of after 12 months, as suggested in a compromise measure by Councilman Chappie Jones. With those changes adopted, the new policy extends to all of the city’s renters, an estimated 450,000 people, from the first day they move in.

“Landlords have all the power and tenants have none,” said Jimenez, who stressed the importance of stability for low-income families, having been raised by a single mom in a rent-restricted apartment in San Jose’s East Side.

Arenas agreed that stable housing can alter the course of a person’s life. Children who grow up in cramped quarters, where many families find themselves after being forced out of their homes, can cause developmental delays in young children, she said.

Council members Lan Diep and Dev Davis wanted the protections to apply only to tenants who reported problems at their unit. They also wanted to nix the requirement for landlords of rent-stabilized buildings to offer tenants a year lease.

“The bad news is that housing is not a right,” said Diep, who noted that he spends 40 percent of his $92,000 annual salary on a one-bedroom apartment. “The good news is that it can be in San Jose if we decide.”

Requiring landlords to offer renewed leases against their will borders on government overreach, he suggested.

“Mainly what I’ve been hearing tonight is the advocacy rights for tenants, while not hearing the contract rights or the property rights of the landlords,” he said.

Davis echoed concerns raised by landlords that giving tenants recourse through the city could sow distrust and incentivize litigation.

“We’re giving a tool that could be used as a bludgeon, as a weapon,” she said, “so I am concerned about that.”

Diep’s and Davis’ proposals failed.

One of the ordinances approved Tuesday bolsters protections under the Ellis Act, a state law that lets landlords “quit” the rental business if they demolish rent-controlled housing. Under the fortified local policy, landlords will have to give tenants four months to a year’s notice about their intent to remodel a building. Landlords will also have to chip in for moving costs, and if they put units back on the market within five years, they have to place them all under rent control.

The Ellis Act proposal stemmed from a mass eviction last year of 672 residents at The Reserve, a 216-unit rent-controlled apartment in West Valley. With no requirement to compensate displaced tenants, the landlords negotiated a settlement with only a fraction of tenants for only a fraction of the cost of finding a new place to live.

At the behest of Rocha and Peralez, the city will also study the option of linking annual rent control to inflation instead of the fixed 5-percent cap. The city will also revisit the idea of placing 11,000 duplexes under rent control, which is limited now to 43,000 apartment units built before 1979.

Robert Aguirre, who found an apartment in 2014 after living for years in a homeless encampment, was served a no-cause eviction notice last month.

“There was no cause, but I understand why,” he said. “My landlord has been asking for more money, but because I’m in a subsidized program, she cannot raise [the rent] any more than 5 percent.”

With a little more than 50 days to find a new place, Aguirre said, tensions are mounting.

“The next time I come before you, I hopefully won’t be saying … I am homeless.”

Anil Babbar, a landlord lobbyist for the California Apartment Association, said legislation should not be base anecdotes, however heartfelt.

“Good public policy isn’t based on stories, but on good data,” he said.

Before casting her swing vote, Carrasco referenced that point to counter it.

“I agree there’s a different between the stories and the data,” she said, “but I believe it’s in the stories that you find the data.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

29 Comments

  1. What a great Idea! Let’s do the same thing for property owners/taxpayer verse the bad old landlord the tax collector of Santa Clara County.

    We shouldn’t be thrown out of our home just because politicians want more money, and we can’t afford it.

    How about the unjust increase in the price of gas after all transportation is a right! San Jose increased the price we pay for water, should that be a right also? Let’s have taxpayer revolt. I call for a 5 day hunger strike for tax relief.

    Come on people the government is feeling generous today. Let’s go get our share of other people’s money.

    • Do you seriously not know that the government already does deeply subsidize and price regulate your gas and water?

      • > Do you seriously not know that the government already does deeply subsidize and price regulate your gas and water?

        Well, then, it should stop.

        It is not subsidizing it with “free” money. It is subsidizing it with money that it took from somewhere else and which makes something else MORE expensive or more extinct.

        Paleolithic tribalists believe there is an unlimited supply of free things in their “ancestral hunting grounds”: whales, buffaloes, elephants, rich people.

        If you keep killing elephants for their ivory, pretty soon you won’t have any elephants.

      • The government subsidizes neither, Dahlia. It does regulate, in a manner of speaking, by guaranteeing a minimum rate of return to the suppliers. In terms you might better understand, Dahlia, the CPUC guarantees a minimum profit (8%, I believe). If, due to inefficiency or other factors, the guaranteed rate of return is not met, the government allows the price to rise. For example, PG&E under The Raker Act, and San Jose Water, which was recently granted a rate increase by the CPUC because many of us heeded the call and reduced water usage during the drought, thus reducing the profit of that private company.

        • PG&E would have plenty of profits if it didn’t pay it’s felonious managers obscene bonuses!

          • Kate: You got the truth. Upper level executives paid themselves a big bonus using money that was supposed to have been spent on maintenance.

      • Oh Dahlia,
        Yes as others here have pointed out the government subsidizes those commodities with “our tax dollars”. Just like perpetual motion those subsidies can’t exist without taking the energy from someplace else. The government is just like friction with its taxes and regulation and soon grind that machine to a halt.
        There is no such thing as a free ride, some one has to get out and push, In the case of renters and landlords it is a symbiotic relationship neither can exist without the cooperation of the other. I’m afraid what has been created in San Jose like other socialist sanctuaries is a parasitic relationship and the landlords get to do most of the pushing!

  2. I believe there is a causal relationship between homelessness and property rights. Not too long ago (2008-2013) we had a disproportionate amount of new renters due to foreclosure on homeowners. The national banks that sold subpar loans to our poor communities wound up foreclosing on those same targeted communities. Then the new owners of these foreclosed properties, largely from New York Stock Market enterprises bought up the properties on the cheap. The home market came back and those Investment firms have been rewarded dearly. But now their stockholders are demanding higher and higher returns on their investments and rents are being pressured to increase. Hence the tactics of ejecting the current renters in a ploy called “remodeling the premises.” Once remodeled, the investment firms can extract even higher rents and maintain their ever increasing equity in the property due to supply and demand in the market place adding value to their properties. New York investment firms have actually taken most of the mom and pop housing away from mom and pop property owners. Some control needs to be afforded the Tenant. A happy customer is a good customer. Property owners need to know that tenants as customers, are not just numbers on a spread sheet, they are people too. Homelessness and the social propblems along with blight will ruin your equity stake. Strike the balance now.

    • > Homelessness and the social propblems along with blight will ruin your equity stake. Strike the balance now.

      Successful property owners know this better than you do. That’s why successful property owners despise politicians who create blight and social problems by overpromising goods and services to populations who consume more food, water, space, housing, cars, roads, transportation, etc, etc, than they add to the community.

      When a political party bases its electoral success on sustaining the unsustainable lifestyles of a vast underclass, it’s basically practicing scorched earth politics.

      • To SJOUTSIDETHE BUBBLE,
        On both of your replies I have the same question. I will spell it phonetically due to obvious language barriers.

        EEE KAY?!

  3. Maybe the San Jose City Council could adopt stronger protections for free speech.

    “Mamas, don’t let your babies go to UC Berkeley”.

    “The letter said the UC Police Department determined that because of “currently active security threats,” it was not possible to assure the event could be held successfully of that the safety of Coulter, sponsors, and attendees could be adequately protected at any of the campus venues available.”

    This why a U.C. campus in San Jose is NOT a good idea.

  4. It would be nice if just one of the dozen or so articles regarding “Just Cause” (between here and Murky Gnus) included more facts rather than a bunch of hurt feelings.

    It seems, from reading the San Jose Housing webpages that the Rent Control ordinances only apply to Apartments constructed before 1979. Ellis Act applies only to Rent Control buildings. All duplexes and single family homes, plus anything (including apartments) build after 1979 do not apply. All this hullabaloo is exaggerated and appears to be more of the usual Bay Area media propping up activists.

    From the article, there are an estimated 43,000 apartments that these rules and changes apply to, of which there 2,700 “no-cause evictions” in 7 years (385/year). Worth noting, just because there was a no-cause eviction does not mean it was unfair, that the tenant was bad or that the owner was greedy. Even with the incorrect assumption that each eviction is inherently evil for a tenant, there does not seem to be a widespread problem. The number of such evictions is quite low- slightly over one a day in a City of 450,000 renters (per the article).

    If Mayor Lie-hard-oh and his Council majority continues to waste time and effort on the bleating of 0.0004% rental sheep, then this City is in for some very tough times indeed. Sham seems intent on attacking the taxpayers (property owners) with these ordinances that have unintended consequences, while not addressing the truly massive problems with our streets, infrastructure and public safety (most of which, of course, he also created).

    For some people, I’m sure it’s devastating to have to pay more in rent or have to move… but this is without question one of the most expensive places on the planet to live. There is no right to live or work in a particular place, and if you can’t afford it here then adjust your lifestyle or simply move away.

    How many tears do I have to shed for Wadsworth to write an article about unfair housing costs in San Carlos or along 17-Mile Drive?

  5. “We heard about the plight of the landlords, and, to be frank, cry me a river.” — Sergio Jimenez (who SJI reports was raised by a single mom in a rent-restricted apartment in San Jose’s East Side)

    Mr. Jimenez has apparently identified landlords as the enemy, this despite the fact that had private citizens not invested (and put to risk) their financial assets and labor he would’ve spent his youth living with his mother on the streets. Hard to understand his enmity, unless he is under the impression that a community’s rental inventory is a privately-supported public asset (like San Jose’s sidewalks and curbs), or that landlords are an anointed class, and didn’t have to work and save to buy their properties but were instead granted them as members of a privileged class. Could it be that he doesn’t understand that the decision to own rental properties — even if done solely for financial gain, is a unique form of investment, one that exposes the investor to the unpredictable and sometimes nightmarish behaviors of apartment renters?

    Growing up in a rent-restricted apartment one wonders if Mr. Jimenez ever questioned what it was that qualified his family for relief from the free market? Was it greedy landlords? No. Was it white privilege? No. Was it a man also named Mr. Jimenez? Hmm, assuming his father was still living, the answer is yes, for had his father been responsible for the wife he married and the child (or children) he fathered the Jimenez family would likely have been able to afford to pay the going rate for rent or, perhaps, a mortgage. Had his father been there for his family Mr. Jimenez might have grown up respecting both self-iniative and the free market, and loathing government hegemony. Hell, had his father been hard working and frugal he might have purchased some rental property of his own, as so many hard-working, blue-collar Mexican-American fathers have done.

  6. Jenn wrote: “San Jose has tallied more than 2,400 no-cause evictions since 2010—a 270 percent increase.” 270% as compared to when? How many total evictions were there in that same time period? What percentage of the total evictions were no-cause evictions? How many apartments are there in San Jose? A bunch of mushy “statistics” put forth by a group with an agenda to pander to a muddled-thinking Mayor and City Council. We can all agree that the SF Bay Area is one of the most competitive rental housing and purchased housing areas in the entire world. So? San Jose’s official government answer to that is to put the entire burden of that fact on rental property owners. SERIOUSLY? Such a government policy is confiscatory and amounts to a taking without just compensation, which is unconstitutional. No-one advocates government control on the purchase price of a home. Why should rental housing be any different?
    California has an employment at will law, which allows no-cause firing of every person who works in the state who doesn’t have a written employment contract. Why should rental housing be any different?

  7. “Instead of creating new laws, he [Councilman Khamis] said, the city should enact existing ones.” Enact existing ones? Really? Did Mr. Khamis really say that, or is this just another case of bad proofreading @ SJI?
    On a more serious note, how on earth can forcing a landlord to pay moving and relocation expenses for an evicted tenant be anything but theft of a property owner’s money by the Mayor and Council?

  8. All renters have a written contract, just like an employment contract. It spells out in detail what the property can be used for, and what it cant be used for. This contract is to protect both parties. I don’t see a problem evicting someone if they went against the terms of the contract. So, why is this a propblem for landlords or property owners?

    • Contracts can’t cover every eventuality and proving violations can be daunting. Excessive occupancy (6 adults in a 1BR) can be difficult to prove. “They don’t live here, they’re just visiting”. Or the grandmother that takes in her gangbanger grandchild after his parents kicked him out. And he turns granny’s apartment into a gang hangout.

      Or the patient landlord that fails to promptly act on arrears. Tenants skip owing 3 months rent and leave the apartment in shambles. Not much point in pursuing them as courts rarely enforce debt recovery. Most tenants are fine. But the few that aren’t can make hell for a mom and pop property owner.

      I’m expecting that landlords will become more selective and leases more restrictive. I’d be tempted to only offer month to month, switch to AirBnB, or pursue corporate / startup rentals. The net effect is that a tight housing market becomes even more so for those least able to adapt. Meanwhile, the City continues to impose costs and restrictions that severely limit the supply of new housing. Fast tracking granny units could significantly and quickly add to our housing stock.

      • Taxpayer,

        Every eventuality? The three examples you have given are major lease breakers in every standard California rental/lease agreement. No brainer. People not on lease living there over 72 hours easy to check with neighbors about cars parked there. Late payment penalties after five days. Three day pay or quit notice. Sheriff posts notice out in 30 days. Take out of security deposit for unpaid rents and damage. Renter applications, need to on their check references. Kinda simple really. Check up on renters occasionally to let them know your an interested property owner. Above all keep your investment maintained. Don’t be a slum lord. This will pay dividends.

        • Very Easy,
          I have one old friend that went bankrupt and crazy after successfully refurbishing 3 single family homes in Oakland. He bought a run down 4 plex in rent controlled Bezerkley with 2 section 8 tenants and squatters with a lawyer. Last I heard his wife had to divorce him to save her home and his kids wouldn’t talk to him.
          He owed the lawyers and squatters and tenants about 3/4 of a million dollars in judgment and fines. He couldn’t renovate the units until he evicted the tenants and squatters, and he would have to pay for their quarters while he was repairing the building and couldn’t raise the rent enough to cover cost when he was done.
          We thought he was crazy to buy the place, he was really ranting crazy two years later!

      • “Fast tracking granny units could significantly and quickly add to our housing stock.” San Jose’s constant adding to its housing stock instead of to its businesses stock is the major reason why SJ is in such a fiscal mess. All economic professionals agree that housing is a fiscal net negative for a city because the taxes provided by housing do not equal the cost of services provided to housing occupants. Yet SJ continues to add to the housing stock, often by rezoning commercial or industrial zoned land to residential. Add to that the monetary loss incurred by providing tens of millions to programs for the homeless and “affordable housing” that incurs an even larger net negative than market rate housing, and SJ has even less money for public safety and infrastructure maintenance and repair, like pothole repair as but one example. Yet, even though SJ finds itself in a fiscal hole, the Mayor and Council keep digging. You don’t see Los Gatos, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, or any of the other cities in the county digging themselves into this fiscal hole. Santa Clara County is almost as bad, perhaps because 3 of the 5 on the Board of Supes are City of SJ alums. The lefties are giving away the store to the non-producers. If you continue to build it, they will continue to come.

        • Totally agree. It’s like a class reunion everytime the County takes a vote then the City mirrors that vote in next session. Granny quarters or Ohanas as they are called in Hawaii make a huge difference and better use of the land.

        • Agree with your’s and Mr. Sullivan’s comments. As a former landlord, I well understand the landscape and how cunning tenants can easily delay eviction – took over a year and ultimately paid their moving expenses to get them out. Yet how things should work v. how they do work differ in practice.

          We absolutely need to add middle income jobs, though not clear that “all economic professionals agree that housing is a fiscal net negative”. I believe it’s more nuanced. Senior housing places vastly less demand on city services than some other types. The common element in both is government policy. Sad that many large companies have adopted a “Anywhere But California” when expanding.

          • “Senior housing places vastly less demand on city services than some other types.” Every senior housing place I’ve ever seen has a fire truck and an ambulance rolling up frequently. That ain’t free. How many times an ambulance roll up on your block?

  9. Yeah the system is broken. Sometimes you have to let it collapse and rebuild from the ruins. How unfortunate that politicians and lawyers were ever taken seriously. Everything is not yet lost.

  10. Jennifer/Josh:

    Can you send out a SJI search party for Rich Robinson? We need another infusion of sunny optimism to get our enthusiasm up for the bullet train.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-04-20/california-issues-125bn-bonds-bullet-train-despite-trump-threat-withhold-federal-fun#comment-9411741

    Frankly, I’m kind of bummed out.

    “The current crisis in California is that we have run out of hyperbolic metaphors for stupidity.

    I challenge someone to come up with a stupidity metaphor for a plan to build a $100 billion dollar 400 mile choo choo train with dozens of overpasses beneath which ISIS terrorists could park their bomb-filled U-Haul vans.”

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