San Jose Renters Applaud Newly Passed ‘Just Cause’ Protections, Call for Faster Implementation

Eunice Hernandez has spent the past two years rallying low-income renters in a campaign to bolster tenant protections and stem the tide of displacement in San Jose. With her colleagues at the nonprofit Sacred Heart Community Service, the 32-year-old organizer urged residents to share their personal stories at protests and public hearings, putting a face on what advocates call an epidemic of evictions.

Those efforts culminated in a historic win last week when a divided City Council voted to outlaw no-cause evictions. San Jose—one of the few major California cities to let landlords oust tenants without telling them why—will now require landlords to cite one of a dozen approved reasons before refusing to renew a lease. Those causes include non-payment, property damage or crime.

But until the so-called “just cause” ordinance takes effect, which could be months from now, the measure designed to protect renters puts them at greater risk of retaliation.

“We are keeping an eye out and warning tenants, especially the ones who spoke out,” Hernandez says. “We’re handing out fliers with a hotline number that people can call for help if they need it.”

Come May 9, the council will vote on whether to roll out the ban immediately or by the end of summer. Applying it right away would require a supermajority, which is unlikely from a council that narrowly banned no-cause evictions in the first place. The city’s decision in 2016 to lower the cap on yearly rent hikes from 8 percent to 5 percent prompted similar fallout, Hernandez says. With a few months before the new policy was enacted, landlords took advantage of the delay to raise rents to the legal limit. Others simply evicted tenants so they could charge the next occupants market rates.

“That’s one of the lessons we learned from last year,” Hernandez says. “We can approve a new policy, but people aren’t safe until it’s active. Families have been living in fear. We needed just cause a long time ago, and we definitely need it now—as soon as possible.”

Also delayed until final council approval are new requirements under the Ellis Act, a 1985 state law that allows landlords to clear a rent-controlled building if they move in or tear it down. San Jose will soon take the lead of San Francisco by requiring landlords to cover some of the moving costs for tenants displaced by Ellis Act evictions.

The policy changes split San Jose’s elected leaders along ideological lines, with supporters calling housing a basic need and opponents framing it in terms of property rights. It also signaled how Mayor Sam Liccardo, who opposed the new eviction rules, can no longer count on a working majority on the council to advance his agenda.

Councilman Johnny Khamis, a landlord who voted against the new policy, notes that it does nothing to fix an affordability crisis caused by an intractable shortage of housing. Council members Chappie Jones, Dev Davis and Lan Diep joined his opposing vote. Freshmen council members Sergio Jimenez and Sylvia Arenas drafted the winning ordinance, which called for stricter controls than those prescribed by city housing staff.

Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco, who was appointed by Mayor Liccardo and considered the swing vote going into the April 18 meeting, backed the newcomers’ proposal along with council members Don Rocha, Raul Peralez and Tam Nguyen.

“The new composition of the council was really put to the test by this vote,” Nguyen told San Jose Inside. “It shows how when it comes down to a very important and difficult situation like this, people come back to their principles.”

As someone who once owned a home and now rents a shared space in the district he represents, Nguyen says he sees both sides of the discussion. But tenants made a more convincing case, he adds, while landlords presented little in the way of solutions.

“I understand that landlords want to get a fair return on investment,” says Nguyen, who lost his house in a divorce just before getting elected to the council in 2014. “I can live with that. But I thought they should have come up with a better story. For me, I thought the vote was a show of people standing firm on their core values and their constituents.”

For decades, San Jose had some of the weakest tenant protections of any big city in California—especially for the progressive-leaning Bay Area. But as the population of renters began to grow in the wake of the Great Recession and the average asking price for rentals in the nine-county region rose by 66 percent from 2010 to 2016, tenant protections once again entered the local political debate.

Peralez spearheaded San Jose’s rent-control revisions last year, which marked the first significant change to the policy since its adoption nearly four decades prior. Tenants continued that momentum through grassroots organizing and by calling attention to mass evictions, unscrupulous landlords and the link between the region’s widespread displacement and immense homeless population.

Despite fears of retaliation while the no-cause eviction policy remains in limbo, activists cite the reforms as proof that renters have come into their own as a political force in Silicon Valley. It also came on the heels of another victory for tenants in nearby Mountain View, where a voter-approved rent control measure survived a legal challenge from the California Apartment Association, a coalition of property owners that lobbies against rent regulations throughout the state.

“What we’re seeing, I think, is a growing awareness that rent control is the most realistic, effective tools that we have to deal with in this housing crisis,” says Daniel DeBolt, one of the chief organizers behind the rent control campaign in Mountain View. “Business as usual isn’t going to cut it.”

The wave of renter rights campaigns sweeping the Bay Area has galvanized a longstanding push for statewide reforms to bolster rent control by expanding the pool of eligible housing. A bill introduced by Assembly members Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) aims to overturn a state law called the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which undermines local rent regulations by allowing landlords to reset vacant rent-controlled units to market rate. It also exempts all single-family homes, condos and apartments built after 1995 from rent caps, although San Jose set 1979 as the cutoff.

Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, an attorney specializing in real estate law, says the debate over rent control misses the point entirely. Economists largely view rent control and other price controls as ineffective, or a way to push costs to other people. To fix the affordability crisis, Reed says, Californians must building more housing. But incentivizing new development would require sweeping reforms that have failed time and again for decades.

Source: San Jose Councilman Don Rocha

Source: San Jose Councilman Don Rocha

“The market is already totally distorted in San Jose because we haven’t built sufficient housing to meet the demand created by jobs for the past 40 years,” Reed says. “San Jose has made a huge effort to create jobs, but is much less successful at getting housing. I don’t think there should be rent control at all.”

Price controls are hardly the only distortion at play, according to University of California, Berkeley, professor emeritus Richard Walker, an outspoken critic of market fundamentalism. In a column for the East Bay Express, he noted how income inequality, speculation, tax havens and tax cuts all drive the affordability crisis. Take Proposition 13 as a case in point. The 1978 law keeps property taxes far lower than the rest of the country and discourages local governments from investing in housing because it generates less tax revenue than commercial development.

Even proponents of rent control concede that it’s merely a stopgap. But absent a statewide fix, local governments have no choice but to act, tenant advocates say. In a memo issued before the just cause vote last week, Councilman Rocha presented rent caps and eviction protections as one part of a whole suite of solutions that includes construction fees for affordable housing, local funding—such as a billion-dollar bond measure Santa Clara County voters approved last fall—and protecting existing rentals such as mobile homes and older apartments.

“I agree that rent control isn’t a full solution,” DeBolt says, “but it does protect people from needless rent increases and evictions.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to jenniferw@metronews.com or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

44 Comments

  1. > With a few months before the new policy was enacted, landlords took advantage of the delay to raise rents to the legal limit.

    Well, it looks like the “tenant activists” succeeded in screwing tenants by getting their rents raised prematurely.

    The reason that the tribalist underclass is PERMANENTLY poor is that they will believe any charlatan who promises them free stuff paid for by mythical “rich people”.

    • As long as the self-styled progressives control California politics, all we’ll get is programs for the self-entitled losers and excuses as to why they have failed, all of which is paid for by saps like us who work and pay the taxes levied by the progressives to support the losers. Yes, some of the losers have jobs, but they never make enough to pay any taxes. Leeches all, who the progressive politicians have convinced that they are entitled to lives financed by others, particularly by rich people.

  2. My wife and I were discussing what to do with this house after we move, she laughingly suggested we rent it out for a few years and then buy in our new location after we settle in. Is she kidding? There is no F…ing way I would rent a house out in a rent control city like San Jose.

    Let them eat cake!

    Put up tents in the park next to the guillotine.

    • 1981.
      Remodeling cost tens of thousands after a tenant trashed a friend’s house, every piece of sheetrock was kicked in.
      Toilets and sinks smashed appliances stollen, water left running. Another had their house set on fire by a teen that was smoking pot, he then ran outside turned a hose on broke the window out where the fire was put it inside and left.
      What wasn’t burned was flooded. Single family homes don’t count they are owned by rich people that should be screwed. Right?

  3. I see a lot of people here commenting based on personal ideology, not on the data. Those of us who have worked with tenants, know that there is an immediate need to provide this protection to responsible tenants. Affordable housing will take time to build and will hopefully lessen the cost of housing by increasing the supply. The new ordinance does NOT protect bad tenants NOR make it difficult to evict them. However, tenants will be protected from unscrupulous landlords who skirt the law by using the loop hole provided no cause eviction. P.S. I am one of those mom-and-pop landlords.

    • Ms Price,

      The great thing about America is that as the owner of your property you can make any concession you like to your tenant. You can promise them low rent, you can offer a lease that never ends, you can even add them to the title if you like. However, I would thank you for allowing me the same right to come to agreement with the tenants that reside in out properties. The “reasons” given by the advocates for this encroachment on our property rights, that is the skirting of the law by using the loophole or discriminatory retaliation, are in fact already against the law. This is a new law on top of the existing law enforcing the same thing. If the city does not like the incentive they put in for subsidized housing, they can remove it.

      The question you must ask yourself is why not just remove the incentive and enforce the current laws better. I think I may know why. Please direct your attention to the attached article for some insight and entertainment.

      http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/nevius/article/S-F-rent-wars-When-the-tenant-is-the-bully-6582895.php

      One side effect of the JCE is that the tenant essentially gets attached to the title. The true goal here is not to protect tenants from unscrupulous property owners, but to redistribute wealth presumably to the poor by making them an encumbrance on the title. It is a way to extort money. Just it usually doesn’t make its way to poor tenants, just ones like Mr. Brenkus.

      “The new owners have offered him $80,000 to vacate (plus $50,000 for his roommate), but he’s turned it down. He’s hinting he’d listen to a higher offer.”

      … a bit later in the article…

      The Ellis eviction takes a year, and since it was filed in February, Brenkus will be in his apartment until then.

      “And then,” he [Brenkus] said, “we go to court.”

      “The fact of the matter is, when you buy a house the tenants come with it,” Brenkus said. “They got what they paid for.”

      And if you think that San Francisco’s JCE ordinances are so socially just, consider this article.

      http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Eviction-Notices-San-Francisco-Residents-Drop-418409993.html

      Notice that in 2015 there were 2376 evictions in San Francisco, a city of 870,000. Compare that to San Jose, a city of over 1M, which had 2200 evictions in 7 years. Considering that it would roughly 900% more likely to be evicted in San Francisco over San Jose. According to the SF Eviction Tracker, roughy 40000 people were evicted between 1997 and 2016.

      This will not turn out well for the people that need it, but the Mr Brenkus’s may be able to get a little more than $80000.

    • > see a lot of people here commenting based on personal ideology, not on the data.

      Susie:

      Since you seem to have your finger on “the data”, could you please provide the following “data”:

      1. How many BAD TENANTS are there?
      2. How many UNSCRUPULOUS landlords are there?

      This data will help us understand the real problems faced by tenants and get beyond personal ideologies.

  4. Susie sez:

    I see a lot of people here commenting based on personal ideology, not on the data.

    So far I have seen no “data” by advocates of rent control, only their personal ideology: “You’ve got it, and I want it. Gimme! And we’ve got more votes than the rental property owners.” Can you say, “Pandering”?

    Next, t the author of this article claims says that “economists largely view rent control and other price controls as ineffective”. But that is simply not true. The link given in the article explains what most people regard as basic economics: When you cap the price of something, it becomes more scarce.

    As the Economist link explains, rent control simply does not work. Economists agree on that, saying:

    …rent control is “among the best-understood issues in all of economics, and—among economists, anyway—one of the least controversial”. Economists reckon a restrictive price ceiling reduces the supply of property to the market. When prices are capped, people have less incentive to fix up and rent out their basement flat, or to build rental property. Slower supply growth exacerbates the price crunch. And those landlords who do rent out their properties might not bother to maintain them, because when supply and turnover in the market are limited by rent caps, landlords have little incentive to compete to attract tenants. Rent controls also mean that landlords may also become choosier, and tenants may stay in properties longer than makes sense. And some evidence shows that those living in rent-controlled flats in New York tend to have higher median incomes than those who rent market-rate apartments. That may be because wealthier households may be in a better position to track down and secure rent-stabilised properties.

    That link is well worth reading, as are the comments. In every case surveyed, rent control has made the situation worse for tenants.

    So what’s the best remedy? That’s in the link, too:

    In places where demand for urban housing is rising, a more effective policy is simply to build more housing.

    • Lot’s of cargo containers can be converted to cheap housing and placed in underdeveloped area like the airport approch and Moffett field. Of course that would not be good enough I suppose.

      • > Lot’s of cargo containers can be converted to cheap housing . . .

        Then what would people use for containing cargo? Motels?

        I think your proposal is unnecessarily complex.

        • There seems to be an over abundance of the damn things coming in from China and you can apparently by one for not much more than a campaign tent. On top of that you can load them up and drive them back to say Detroit or Mexico.
          Complex maybe but as devious as anything Obama can come up with to get rid of Republicans.

  5. I’m a mom and pop landlord and rented to a section 8 person plus her grandmother. We had repainted the outside and inside, new carpet, etc. The stipulation was that no one else would be allowed. So what happened? Every room (4 bedroom home) was rented to other Mexican families, the interior locks were all changed to fit each room. The storage shed used by the supplied gardener was rented also with an electric wire going to the garage. The garage was also a living quarters. The original renters were not to be found and their phone numbers were disconnected. No one could speak english or conveniently no comprendo. So we took license plate numbers of the myriad number of cars and took them to INS, most of the plates were from other cars as we took ID#as well. (who says these Mexicans don’t know how to work the system) The long and short of it, they could deport the illegal ones but we would have to take care of all the kids until someone was found to care for them. In the meantime the Mexicans (I’m politically correct because they were Mexicans) were cooking what appeared to be 5 gallon pot beans on the stove which was not equipped to handle a large pot such as that, and it caught fire. So the fire department came, put the fire out, found all the different locks, electrical wires not to code and pieces of beef hanging over a wire and stretched from fence to fence. So got a person to speak spanish, offered them three thousand dollars to get out and would not report them to INS, plus leave immediately. I had another section 8 on a different property (by the way our properties are our retirement) where we had to evict them too. Renters do not have to pay property tax as a little side not.

    • Question for Susie Price:

      Do the tenants described meet your criteria for “bad tenants?

      What would be the “by the book” resolution to the situation described that would protect the rights, liberties, and pursuit of happiness of the American citizens involved?

      What is your level of confidence that the local government authorities would competently and expeditiously address the situation and affirmatively assert and protect the rights and interests of landlords and property owners?

    • I never want to be a landlord but if I was I would never go with Section 8. I’ve heard too many horror stories about Section 8 tenants. A former co-worker once had a job as a property manager and she would entertain us at lunch every day with a DIFFERENT horror story about a section 8 tenant.

  6. Single family houses are not covered under rent control in San Jose.–> Single Family is covered by Just Cause Eviction, which means once you rent the house out, it’s an endless Lease. If you want to sell the house, you can NOT ask your tenant to leave and have to sell as a tenant-occupied house.

    Every home owners must wake up and understand the terrible fact of Just Cause Eviction Law.

    • Thats a real eye opener JZ and explains why my neighbors have had so many problems with with renters.
      Thanks,
      MT Gunn

      • Just Cause Eviction not only covers single family home, but also applies if you rent a room out, or rent out a granny unit. Once you rent, it becomes endless Lease.

        Just Cause Eviction also require the owner to proof a criminal or nuisance activities if you have a trouble tenant. Think about that you don’t live there how can you proof? Do you think the next door good tenant/neighbor will go to court to testify? No, they rather move to somewhere else!

        • I suppose a written and signed contract contract with the tenant is not valid either. There was something about renting for a period of less than thirty days or 90 days that hotels use for evicting customers not tenants, do you know anything about that ?

          • A written contract (Lease) is only valid to the extension of the law, meaning Just Cause Eviction Law makes any type of Lease Agreement an ENDLESS contract. However the ENDLESS part only restrict the owner, because renter still have the freedom to leave with a notice.

            I am not sure about the <30 day short term rental, sorry…

        • JZ, if single-family homes are not under rent control but only Cause Eviction, then it is not an endless least. All the Landlord has to do is to increase the least amount upon least expiration.

          • for someone who knows how to abuse the system, you are still going to suffer a lot.

            Divorce is a lot easier than Just Cause Eviction, at lease you can do it with no cause.

  7. It’s wrong to think that JCE is good for the City or renters. JCE would inevitably reduce housing inventory. The renters would be the first ones to suffer from the unintended adverse consequences.

    • The top bay area cities with high crime, all have Just Cause, this is not a coincidence. Just Cause puts the entire community in danger, the residents, renters, owners all are going to suffer.

      Just imagine how can an owner let go a drug dealer by prove the case in court? Owner doesn’t live on-site in many cases. Will the drug dealer’s neighbor going to testify?

  8. Where is landlord’s property rights? What if my daughter need a big sum of money to undergo a major surgery and I have to sell my property to pay for her operation?

    • Maduro hands out free homes and wage hikes, You have to be a good party member to receive those.
      You must also be willing to wash the blood off the floor of the previous owner.

      We are more civilized here, we have floods instead of blood baths!

  9. Just saw a flyer critical of the “Just Cause Eviction” issue.

    Clearly, the dumb clods drooling over the prospect of being the boss over their rental unit have yet to grasp of the law of unintended consequences and the principle of “action and reaction”.

    The proposed law might well be called “The Perfect Tenant Law” because landlords will have a strong incentive to ensure that tenants comply with every period and comma of their rental agreement or they’re OUT.

    The intent of the law is to force landlords to carry loser tenants, but the effect of the law will be to jack up the vigilance of landlords to get rid of less than perfect tenants at the first hint of “loserness”.

    Rent a day late, or a dollar short? You’re outta here!

    Abusing the landscaping or violating the parking rules? You’re outta here!

    No grace periods. No slack. Not gonna take ANY chances on any tenant who is gonna substitute John Law for common sense.

    • Hmmmm.

      The difference between $395K and $341K is $54K. That will pay the rent on a few modest rental units for a year.

      And the difference between $395K and what she should REALLY be paid would pay for ten or twenty rental units.

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