UPDATE: The City Council on Tuesday gave City Attorney Rick Doyle the go-ahead to pursue lawsuits against people illegally taking advantage of flood victims.
While many people stepped up to help victims of the Coyote Creek flood that swept through San Jose last month, others have reportedly tried to take advantage. Complaints of price-gouging contractors and negligent landlords have prompted city officials to consider legal action on behalf of residents.
Under state law, San Jose is one of only four cities in California that can bring lawsuits of unfair business practices against private parties. The City Council on Tuesday will decide whether to pursue that course of action.
“We have an opportunity today to put this law to good use,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a memo co-signed by Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and council members Raul Peralez, Lan Diep and Tam Nguyen. “[A]s we hear reports of contractors charging four times their proffered estimates for performing work such as pumping water from inundated basements on South 19th Street, while desperate homeowners have little time to explore.”
According to California’s Business and Professions Code, City Attorney Rick Doyle could file suit by himself or with legal nonprofits to bring private actions. Liccardo wants Doyle to identify how much money the city would have to allocate to pursue either option and then report back to the council at a later date.
“In the wake of the devastating floods in our Coyote Creek neighborhoods, we know too well that where disasters occur, scam-artists soon follow,” the memo states. “While many of our local businesses and property owners have stepped up in community-minded spirit, providing vacant apartments for displaced families, and donating $6.3 million to our flood relief fund, we have heard too many complaints about price-gauging contractors, unresponsive landlords and contractors promising to do repairs and then failing to do so.”
In some cases, landlords have refused to get rid of fast-growing mold and make critical repairs, forcing flood victims to leave without any relief from their rent obligations, according to the memo.
“Many of the flood survivors, struggling to get back on their feet, lack the resources, access to counsel, or time to bring private litigation of their own,” Liccardo wrote. “Having the city bring actions on their behalf can send a clear message to those looking to take advantage of vulnerable residents.”
The city could team up with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley or Santa Clara University Law School’s Alexander Law Clinic.
In the month since the flood, the city has cleared about 4,000 homes and apartments for re-entry. But many families remain displaced. Last week, city leaders put out a call for help, asking landlords to house some 500 or so flood victims who haven’t been able to return home since the late February floods and 70 more who are still staying in shelters.
While flood victims qualify for rental subsidies and security deposits from a relief fund, Silicon Valley’s competitive rental market has made it tough to find landlords willing to accommodate them.
“While many residents may be able to eventually return to their homes, families need housing solutions right now to help bridge that gap,” San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand said in a press release last week. “Finding immediate housing opportunities for our displaced neighbors is a critical part of helping our community continue to recover from this disaster.”
Property owners interesting in offering short- or intermediate-term housing for flood victims can visit www.SCCHousingSearch.org or call 877.428.8844 for information on how to list their units. Click here for the latest updates on flood recovery efforts.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for March 28, 2017:
- In his preliminary spending plan, which projects a $47 million shortfall over the next two fiscal years, Liccardo calls for a targeted approach that focuses on the city’s most pressing challenges. In the wake of last month’s devastating flood, the mayor proposes investing in recovery efforts and upgrading emergency alert technologies. He also suggests bringing back volunteer disaster preparedness training through the Community Emergency Response Team, which the city suspended last year because of staffing constraints. Liccardo also wants to increase street pavement allocations to $50 million, which would save money in the long run by preventing future repairs. While the city worked out a deal with its unions to save nearly $3 billion in pension costs over the next three decades, rising retirement costs will continue to eat away at city services. Some of that will be offset by two tax measures voters approved last fall—a quarter-cent sales tax and a business licensing tax hike. Click here to read the entirety of the mayor’s March budget message.
- Once again, San Jose failed to build enough affordable housing to meet state-set targets. In 2016, the city issued building permits for 2,088 units of new residential construction, but only 314 of those were pegged as below market-rate. According to a new report, the city met just 13 percent of its annual affordable housing goal. It exceeded its yearly target for market-rate units, however, building 110 percent of its goal of 1,617 units. Meanwhile, though the cost of rent has begun to even out, housing costs in the South Bay remain at an all-time high. About half of all renters in San Jose spend at least a third of their income to keep a roof over their heads. While the vast majority of new housing in the region is market rate, the overwhelming need is for affordable units. Nearly 60 percent of all workers in Santa Clara County are classified as low income, according to the California Employment Development Department.
- The city will consider joining lawsuits brought by other cities and states against President Donald Trump’s immigration orders. “Due to the fluid nature of the current litigation challenging the executive orders … the authorization being sought should allow the city attorney to respond to the quickly changing administrative and litigation landscape without having to return repeatedly to council for further authorization for San Jose to join as an amicus,” City Attorney Rick Doyle wrote.
- Councilman Lan Diep took a trip to New York City this past weekend, courtesy of nonprofit advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy, to talk about how to deal with potential loss of federal funding due to local immigration policies.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260