San Jose decided last month to ban no-cause evictions, but the rule didn’t go into effect until this week. The City Council on Tuesday voted 9-2 to enact the new law right away. The decision came after four hours of emotional testimony marked by jeers from landlords who called city officials thieves and communists.
From now on, landlords must cite one of a dozen “just causes” for refusing to renew a lease. Those causes include skipping out on rent, damaging the property, causing a nuisance, committing a crime and a number of other eviction-worthy offenses.
Had the council failed to muster a supermajority, the ordinance wouldn’t have been active for another month at least. That would have left renters at the mercy of landlords tempted to pre-empt the law by issuing no-cause evictions while they still could.
The city’s housing division already saw an uptick in no-cause evictions. From the April 18 just cause vote to Tuesday’s on its implementation, city officials tallied nine of them—six from the same building. That only counts what landlords self-reported, as the city has no way of knowing otherwise. Jacky Morales-Ferrand, the city’s housing chief, called it “an abnormally high number of notices for such a short period of time.”
Landlords had a more visible presence this week than they did at last month’s hearing. Dozens of property owners from the Cupertino-based Bay Area Homeowners Network showed up Tuesday with a banner that read, “Mom and Pop Owners are Abused and Powerless.” Several held up signs comparing eviction controls to property theft and price caps to communism.
Renters and their allies, however, maintained that sensible laws curb baseless evictions and prevent people from becoming homeless.
“We support just cause because it’s morally right and it’s clearly the will of the people of San Jose,” said Sandy Perry, head of the Affordable Housing Network of Silicon Valley.
During the public comment period, some tenants told the council that they recently received no-cause orders to vacate. Annette Jones, a disabled woman in a wheelchair, said she’s looking for a new place to stay after being told to leave her apartment of nearly a decade so the owner can move in.
“I don’t have anywhere to go after nine years, almost,” Jones said. “I don’t want to move.”
Even council members who first opposed the ban on no-cause evictions supported its immediate implementation. Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilman Chappie Jones, who voted against “just cause” last month, urged the city to consider even stronger protections moving forward. They cited a state bill authored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) that would make it illegal for landlords to disclose a renter’s immigration status, saying the city should adopt that provision if the state doesn’t.
Councilman Lan Diep, who also opposed just cause, voted in favor of enacting it as soon as possible. It wouldn’t be fair to leave tenants in limbo, he said.
Council members Dev Davis and Johnny Khamis—who’s a landlord—cast the opposing votes. Khamis, who rents a single-family home to one tenant, said he’d support enacting just cause right away on condition that renters only become eligible for protection after a year of tenancy.
“It took me a year to get married to my wife,” Khamis said, “but we’re asking landlords to make this commitment on the first date.”
Councilman Sergio Jimenez scoffed at the analogy. Just cause won’t prevent landlords from making a fair return on investment, he argued. Regulations aren’t theft, he replied to landlords yelling about people taking what’s rightfully theirs.
“I don’t see this as stealing,” he said.
Jimenez and Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas led the charge last month for full just cause protections. Their colleagues Don Rocha, Raul Peralez, Tam Nguyen and Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco tagged along, advancing the motion and raising the possibility of pursuing additional renter protections in the near future.
The just cause policy is expected to apply to about 450,000 renters—a little less than half the city’s overall population.