Rents Blog: Just cause eviction

Rents Blog: Just cause eviction

Michele Ellson

A perceived increase in the number of eviction notices being handed out by property owners in Alameda has prompted some tenants to ask city leaders to consider a new tool to protect renters: just cause eviction rules that restrict landlords’ ability to make tenants move.

The “just cause” rules restrict landlords’ ability to evict tenants to a list laid out in a local ordinance, and they require landlords to tell tenants why they’re being asked to leave.

Some 15 California cities have enacted just cause eviction rules, a list that includes San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, East Palo Alto and Richmond, according to Tenants Together, a statewide tenant advocacy group. Some cities’ rules are paired with rent control ordinances (and are effective on units covered by those ordinances), like those in Oakland and San Francisco, while others – like Richmond’s ordinance, which restricts evictions from homes in foreclosure – stand alone.

Just cause eviction advocates in these other cities have backed the rules, saying they promote stability and protect long-term tenants – and particularly, vulnerable residents like seniors, disabled people and low-income residents. But landlords have complained that the rules impose unfair burdens on them. The Oakland rules, which voters narrowly approved in 2002, were trimmed back as the result of a court challenge.

Some renters here asked the City Council to consider them at a recent hearing on proposed changes intended to strengthen the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee, which mediates rent disputes. The call comes in the midst of some high-profile cases of tenants who received notices that they needed to move within 60 days, which has raised concerns that the notices are being used to raise rents.

State law permits landlords to terminate tenancy without providing a reason, as long as tenants have been given proper notice that they’re being told to move. Landlords must give tenants who have lived someplace for a year or more 60 days’ notice to move out, while tenants who have lived somewhere for less than a year must receive at least 30 days’ notice.

State law also prohibits evictions put in motion in retaliation for a tenant’s lawful activities.

Landlords who have a reason to evict a tenant – non-payment of rent, a material breach of a lease, illegal activity in a unit – can ask them to leave with just three days’ notice, and can file a court action to force them to leave if they don’t go voluntarily. (While many cities’ just cause rules use the term “eviction” to include evictions and terminations, landlords and their advocates draw a distinction between the two.)

Just cause rules, which have been approved by both voter and local legislative actions, extend those protections to tenants whose rights to an apartment or home are terminated through a 30-day or 60-day notice.

Under some local cities’ rules, a landlord can terminate a tenancy only if it’s for one of a dozen reasons. The list includes the same reasons a landlord might seek to evict a tenant – like nonpayment of rent – and also, reasons that landlords often issue termination notices, including an owner move-in, renovations, and removal of the unit from the rental market (also known as an Ellis Act termination).

While some cities’ rules are limited – like Richmond’s 2009 ordinance, which applies only to homes in foreclosure – others are more expansive. San Francisco’s just cause eviction rules, for example, require landlords who evict certain tenants to pay up to $16,653 per unit in relocation fees – and more if the people being kicked out are seniors, disabled people or children. San Francisco also collects data on evictions and terminations; the city requires landlords who give termination notices to file with its Rent Board.

Alameda’s City Council has proven reluctant to move forward with new protections for renters. The former council opted last year to hold off a city-sponsored task force that would formally explore rents issues, deciding instead to allow a community process proposed by former Councilman Stewart Chen to take its place.

The community group came up with a list of ways the city’s nonbinding mediation process could be strengthened, but the council held off on approving them until a legal question raised by Mayor Trish Spencer – who is both a renter and an opponent of more regulation – could be resolved. The council could consider the changes again in July.

Advocates for local renters, who make up about half the Island’s population, have pressed for rent control and other protections. But at least three members of the council have questioned whether rent control would be an effective solution to renters’ woes, or whether the city should get involved in rents issues at all.

Local landlords have sought to downplay the concerns, saying that rising rents, rent disputes and the use of the termination notices are the fault of a handful of bad landlords who aren’t representative of the majority. Some have tried to solve the disputes personally, and to help tenants who have lost their homes find new ones on the Island.

Comments

Submitted by Kyle Hansen (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

A little too late for us....

Submitted by C. (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

First of all - I don't know why the mayor being a renter is relevant to this discussion. You write the article as if because she is a renter and is against rent protections that her opinion carries more weight. Maybe she's against protections for tenants because she fears reprisals from her own landlord (or potential future landlords) if she speaks in favor of tenant protections. Also we don't know who her landlord is. Perhaps it is a sympathetic personal friend or relative and she isn't facing the same kind of fear of losing her rental because her landlord desires to sell or garner more rent by kicking her out and finding new tenants who will pay much more. What we do know is that it is a very tight rental market right now. I read one article that said it is 97 percent occupied. Many of us used to assume if we lost our rental for whatever reason caused by our landlord that we would at least be able to stay in Alameda in a subsequent rental. Now that very well may not be the case. Even if we have the money we may not be able to find something suitable. To those who don't "get" why renters are so worried... that is it folks. For we who have rented here all our lives (and our parents' lives in our case) this is our community. It is where we worship, get our medical care, where our children attend schools, where we volunteer, what we know and where we are known. If we lose our rentals and are shut out of Alameda due to rising prices we will be losing a lot more than just a roof over our heads. We will be losing our sense of place, our history, and our comfort and security we've known all our lives. We aren't attending city council meetings because we do not want to be branded trouble maker tenants, perhaps angering our own landlords or potential future landlords by highlighting this issue. But we live with it daily. Wondering when we will have to scramble to find someplace else to live we can afford, thinking about having to pull our children out of school and creating a whole other existence for ourselves in another community. The idea of landlords having to provide hefty relocation fees to tenants they uproot seems fair to me. After all, they stand to gain a lot if they sell or rent out at a much higher rate. Why not help displaced tenants who through no fault of their own are faced with suddenly finding and obtaining replacement rental housing in this very competitive market? Sixty days is not a lot of time to find another place (especially if you have children and/or pets to factor in). Senior renters may not have adequate reserves either to scrape together first/last/security deposit for a new place. Even a 90 or 120 day notice for long-term tenants would help. Anything that can be done to take some of this unrelenting fear out of the background of our lives would be welcome.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

What would be an example of rent control that has broadly and fairly succeeded? San Francisco? Berkeley? NYC?

San Francisco's excludes new construction. It then limits mom and pop landlords with smaller/older property, who often choose to remove their property from rental. This then creates tight supply. Tight supply drives up rents that new construction mega developers cash in on with higher density projects.

Mission accomplished!

It's easy to be socially generous with someone else's property and income - All of the good feeling of giving, but without personally losing anything.

Think about all of the effects and what success we're trying to emulate. It's all been tried before elsewhere and not without some nasty side effects.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, May 21, 2015

Hey MJ: That story is coming. Stay tuned. And C: Only noted the mayor is a renter for the sake of reference (Councilman Jim Oddie has mentioned that he is a renter as well).

Submitted by Mark Irons on Thu, May 21, 2015

A friend of mine who was having physical manifestations like dizziness and passing out, which could not be contributed to any specific health problem, ended up consulting a therapist. The therapist told him the 3 most stressful situations are losing a child, losing a parent, followed by moving. My friend was moving his shop of twenty years accumulated building materials plus his residence at the same time. Berkeley and NYC rent controls may not be fair to property owners, but the owners at least maintain equity. Without some controls the landlords have all the power and if they are not benevolent or are greedy tenants are reduced to chattel. Owning a corner market entails risk. Being a landlord entail risk also, but mostly starting out. Once a building is maintained and rents are producing positive cash flow property owners are sitting in the catbird seat.

Submitted by Elena (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

Third year in a row my family and I have received a substantial rent increase with no upgrades or perks that the new tenants moving in our building receive. All in all we have been increased $625 dollars and by the looks of the situation, NOTHING is going to change. Our apartment is NOT worth what we are forced to pay, however there is no such thing as a lateral move in Alameda that would not cost us MORE. As mentioned above, our kids are situated here in school, our church, our jobs our life! We will have to leave eventually if this does NOT stop! Greed, there is NO other word for what is going on here.. Pure and utter GREED!!! Disgusting!

Submitted by Kristen (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

I like what Mark states above: "Owning a corner market entails risk. Being a landlord entail risk also, but mostly starting out. Once a building is maintained and rents are producing positive cash flow property owners are sitting in the catbird seat." And then there's equity, tax write-offs, etc., also. Plus, this must be one of the easiest towns to recoup wear-and-tear costs--the kind a landlord is supposed to front-- when a tenant moves out, simply by deducting them from the security deposit (and if you, the former tenant, object, too bad, not much you can do unless you want a long, drawn-out headache). As a former Alameda renter who now has a mortgage, I'm fully aware of the costs involved with owning property, but also aware of the privilege. Not buying the attitudes of some of the landlords in this town *at all*.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

Neither owning nor renting is risk free. Life itself is not free from risk. Earthquakes, financial panics, longterm bad economies, fires, lawsuits, government action and regulation, bad schools, debilitating illness, uninsured losses, run-away taxation, having bad neighbors, toxic waste exposure, anxiety over that and more... you name it.

All people live with risk and the risks change as time passes. At some point, we'll have another economic flame-out and some landlords go broke. Unless you think the economic cycle has been legislated out of existence.

To think that landlords don't have risk and stress is naive thinking by folks who have never been a landlord. I happen to own my own home and I can assure you that is not risk free either. You're not going to legislate a risk free environment where everyone can live where they want forever. Things happen. They have for thousands of years.

Again, to my original question, where is this ideal landlord/tenant legislated model in action and what are the unintended consequences? The best you'll find is where one group engineered taking something from another and members of the receiving group are happier about it.

Wow, noble breakthrough!

On the fellow who was feeling dizzy and went to his therapist who told him about stress, that's a little like getting your plumbing checked by an electrician. I suggest going to youtube and looking up "Epley Maneuver." That actually works.

Submitted by c in sf (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

First I think you broach the topic in a fair way...even as a property owner in SF, I see some protection to renters would be reasonable - to restrict unacceptable actions from landlords. That said, there is a lot of unintended consequences of rent ordinances, too. Just need to be careful.
For example: Rent control is often pair with eviction ordinances so landlords cannot just raise the rent to in effect evict a tenant. That can lead to substantially below market rent situations and property owners cannot financially maintain or improve property and then the property deteriorates.
Secondly, the rent ordinance, because of controversy is not a single document. In SF, it evolves to a bureaucracy, a biased rent board to settle disputes and regulate, legal challenges, lawsuits, federal/state court resolution ... not that it is not worth attempting, but there is a cost, and it can go wrong and easily get out of hand. The attempt is to be fair but it can become less fair.

Submitted by Leila (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

I just hope Alameda landlords and property managers are ready for the fall out of what they have created. All of these long-term families that were vested in this community that have been displaced, were the tenants that were loyal! I know people who have had to leave after living in Alameda for over 20 years. When this new tech boom is over and all these people crazy enough to pay your substantial rents leave.. what are you going to be left with? Empty apartments! The majority of the "new" renters are not interested in staying in Alameda to raise their families. In our building alone, the apartment next door has been turned over 4 times due to people moving on to the next best thing. Alameda is just a transition for them, not a home! Forget family community.. it will be lost!

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

The difference between the terms "eviction" and "termination" is not just a PR effort by landlords - they are legal terms.

A lease is a binding contract between two parties - tenant and landlord. The lease, and the law spells out the rules for terminating a lease - 60 days notice, whatever. Either party, landlord or tenant, can move to terminate the lease.

As a legal term, an "eviction" is a legal process that the landlord must follow when they move to terminate the lease - for non-payment, or whatever - and want to force the tenant to move out.

If anyone is playing word games, it is tenant activists who use the term "eviction" instead of "termination" in the effort to paint the landlords as bad guys/gals.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

Thank you for highlighting this issue, Michelle! I am a disabled Mom, and if/when we are handed a 60 day notice to move, there will be no place that we can afford here on the Island. We would be unable to pay for moving fees as well and this would leave us homeless. We are living (and have been for 4 years now) in a small basement apartment with moisture/mold issues, where things are continuously replaced with used/ill fitting replacements or duct tape. We fear outing our landlord for getting a notice to move because he would like to raise the rent by $200/mo, when no real efforts or repairs are ever made to this property and it desperately needs some. We haven't gotten a 60 day notice to vacate, but we are stuck in a big, big way, and it is to the detriment of our health. A bad, scary situation, indeed.

Submitted by JB (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

You know when you're doing something right when members of the privileged classes rail against it. Alameda landlords have had it way too good for too long at the expense of the renters to the point where even very modest tenant rights get them all up in arms. Just cause eviction needs to happen yesterday.

Submitted by JUDY (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

I WOULD LIKE THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL TO PUT THEMSELF IN THE SHOES OF A SENIOR OR FAM ON A $1000 OR OR SO INCOME A MONTH AND TRY TO RELOCATE AND MOVING EXSPENCES AND NOT ABLE TO SLEEP DO TO STRESS WHEN YOU GET THAT NOTICE BECAUSE NO HELP FROM OUR MAYOR OR SOME OF THE COUNCIL MEMBERS

Submitted by Neil (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

Markets are pretty good at setting prices and providing incentives. Maybe I'm biased because I'm an economist. But in any case, when the supply of housing is restricted via planning restrictions, the rents will higher than at market equilibrium. This penalizes the renter and benefits the existing landlord. The economics of this are really rather simple; it's actually an example the Econ 1 text I used many years ago.

Rent control is not an ideal solution, but it is understandable that tenants will call for it. The game is rigged in favor of landlords in the Bay Area. This doesn't mean being a landlord is risk-free, just that the dice are loaded.

Submitted by R. Miranda (not verified) on Thu, May 21, 2015

Excellent comments! To those substandard property owners: "Once a building is maintained...", is something you need to look at very carefully. If you "stay the course" with excessively increasing profits at the expense of REAL people and offer below board products, you better make darn sure your products are up to par before seeking your above board rents!

Submitted by Kyle Hansen (not verified) on Fri, May 22, 2015

I am intrigued and delighted to see such a large thread of supportive (for the most part) comments after my 1 line missive. More and more people are starting to see the trend. It is a scary one if you really pay attention.

Bad things are happening here in Alameda. It is going downhill fast. Soon all the people that work hard for a living will be driven out. My family makes over 6 figures and we are STILL struggling. We were a day or 2 away from moving back to the midwest... Literally. We got lucky. We found a place here by luck, and the grace of dear friends. I work LOCALLY as an IT professional (not for Google). I am top rated on Yelp, but we were an inch away from leaving Alameda. Is that what this city, which I have come to love over the last 17 years should become? Soon, all of the culture, artists, musicians and working class people who make Alameda what it is will be driven away. This bubble will pop soon. Unfortunately, my family was caught up in the greed before that happened.

People please, take notice! Be a part of your community. Be active. Things could go very badly here very soon. WAKE UP! Please, I IMPLORE you. This could happen to you.

For those of you who don't know what happened to my family, it is in quotes below. No names are named....although I would like to name them very, very badly. That would be in bad form. I have honor, they do not.

I will preface this with the fact that not all "Property Owners" are evil. In my mind there is no such term as a "Land Lord." No one will ever be a "Lord" over me. We are all just people. I COMPLETELY understand that a rental property is an income source, but this current local trend? This has GOT TO STOP NOW!

I sent this to the Alameda Parent's Network as a call for help, nothing more (abridged and corrected due to the circumstances that followed):

"I know of no other way to put this other than that our family has been “Landlorded” and we are looking for help. We have been given a 60-day notice and need to find a new place to live. We are a family of 3. We are also one of the 10 families that were impacted by the sudden and tragic death last year of our daycare provider, Roberta Meno (Valentine’s Day 2014). This has been a brutal 13 months for us.

My wife and I moved to Alameda in 1998, shortly after our marriage and our daughter is 4 years old now. We have no pets (although my daughter would like a small aquarium in the future) and are non-smokers. We are both honorably discharged US Army veterans and could use a lead on a new place to live. We are not asking for a handout. We are hard working and honest people. We are open minded, and educated. We need help. If Alameda is the community that it was a few years ago, it is possible that one of you who takes the time to read this may know someone who can help. We are looking for a 2br/1ba in the $2000 range. Please don’t send me Craigslist links. We are already all over them.

On Feb. 27th (2015) we were informed that our property management company (a small one) wanted to access our unit to do a routine termite inspection on March 4th. I took that morning off to meet with them and to help in any way possible. This was partially necessary due to the fact that the rental company was never provided a copy of the keys to our unit by the owners. I have no idea why that didn’t happen.

I was a bit surprised to see that the actual owners of the house had come down from Seattle for such a routine inspection. Now I know why.

Last Thursday (3/19/15) I received a call from my Mother in northern Minnesota, informing me that my father had suffered a massive stroke and was not expected to survive for more than a week. My Father passed away 5 days later.

Then came the double whammy. When I returned home that same afternoon there was a 60-day Termination of Tenancy notice (NOT an eviction notice) taped to our door. I had to go inside and sit down for a few minutes to collect myself. This made no sense to me. We have lived in this house for the past 11 years. It is the upper unit in a Victorian with an in-law. The in-law was just recently rented. The new tenants are acquaintances of mine, purely by chance. They have a 1-year lease, and the in-law that they are renting was completely renovated back in August of 2005.

I sat back and thought about this tonight. I see a pattern here. We rented this unit in March of 2004 and as soon as the renters of the in-law moved out, the owners renovated that unit underneath us. It is beautiful now. It has new tile, a bathtub, all new everything. For us, it was a nonstop smash and bang experience for months. It took from August to November to renovate it and paint, but that’s reasonable right? 4 months of disturbances to the residing tenants is completely reasonable... right (sarcasm). Then the owners sold their home in Antioch and moved into the in-law. We know them well. They renovated that lower unit to their tastes and lived in it for years.

To further put this in perspective, our rent has increased multiple times over the years and we have never complained. No improvements were made besides a small electrical fix to stop constantly blowing circuit breakers.

We understand that a rental property is an investment. We get it. Rent increases are to be expected. They make money on the rental of this property. We completely understand that it is an income source, but these owners have multiple rental properties including another one in Alameda. Renovating this property is not a necessity. They don’t even live here anymore. They live in WA state. That bothers me a lot. Owners that don’t even live in California anymore, much less Alameda, are doing things like this to loyal local residents?

We have never paid our rent late in 11 years! 11 years of solid tenancy without ever being late on rent and without a single noise complaint. Shouldn’t that count for something? What is becoming of the Alameda that I knew?

What I truly don’t understand is the part where our family, with a beautiful 4 year old girl, is forced to find a new place to live within 60 days during a crisis period in their lives after showing 11 years of good tenancy. This makes no sense to me. I am removing the landlord/tenant relationship here. This is a simple observation about how far down we have come as a community in Alameda. This is not the way that humans should treat each other, regardless if who owns the house. This is subhuman behavior. This is reprehensible behavior.

Theoretically speaking, If I owned this house and the owners were the renters, I would have explained to them that I had a plan to remodel and I would have offered them some financial help and more time in relocating. Then when the remodel was finished I would have offered them the first opportunity to re-rent the place. I have a soul. I have feelings. I could never do something like this to someone. That just seems like it would be the right thing to do....for my mindset. Maybe it's how I was raised? I don't know. But my word is my word and my handshake is a contract.

Submitted by Angela Hockabout (not verified) on Fri, May 22, 2015

For renters, when landlords implement actions that force them out of their homes, it feels like an eviction. We like to call them "economic evictions". While there are many great landlords in Alameda, the landlords who raise rents hundreds of dollars and push out families do so at the risk of looking bad and being thought of as greedy and uncaring. Whether it's called termination or economic eviction, it's still unkind to push a family out of a home even if it's perfectly legal, especially during a housing crisis.

If landlords do not want to be subject to the humane aspects of an investment they should consider investment tools that don't involve providing a very basic human right to people. There are plenty of landlords who are not squeezing every penny out of their property to the detriment of their tenants. These ethical landlords know what their tenants mean to the community and that their properties are more than just investments, they are human services.

Submitted by ray (not verified) on Sat, May 23, 2015

just got another 10% increase at South Shore Garden Apartments on Willow Street, the 4th year in a row. i've been here a dozen years but now i find it hard to imagine staying here long term. i'm a senior and will have to find another place to retire, unless the city of alameda can enact some protections for renters this island is about the get flipped!

Submitted by David (not verified) on Sat, May 23, 2015

Angela,

You've just proven my point.

It strikes me that a good many tenants don't understand the basic mechanics of leasing - that lack of understanding probably contributes to the feeling of "eviction" in many cases. Reading all the comments on these forums, I'm convinced that many of the most vocal tenants don't have a fundamental understanding of contracts, contract law and business operations. They also don't understand the tools they have today, like repair-and-deduct, and security deposit withholding.

At least one tenant here commented that it's a "headache" to take all the proper steps to make sure the landlord doesn't deduct anything they shouldn't from the security deposit on exit. So, apparently, we need more laws to prevent that "headache" too? Because someone doesn't want to do a walk-though with the landlord?

One may disagree with how it works today, but the reality is that is a lease is a contract between two parties. Either party can give notice of intent to terminate the contract, and without a "just cause termination" law or requirements in the contract, there's no need for an explanation. What difference would an explanation make anyway?

I also note that many, many, tenants, have now qualms about moving to exit their rental before their lease contract expires - "breaking the lease" - causing disruption and costs for the landlord. Why is this okay? A contract is a contract.

It seems to me what we really should do is have the City of Alameda eminent-domain all the rental property to provide these vital human services. The city can float bonds backed by the future rental income streams to buy all the rental property in Alameda at market rate, and operate the rentals. Set rent at 33% of gross monthly tenant income, adjusted monthly. Problem solved.

Submitted by Angela Hockabout (not verified) on Sun, May 24, 2015

Just because it's legal for a landlord to raise rents as high as he or she wants doesn't mean it's right. Many tenants understand their lease agreements. You talk about lease agreements as if we all have these alternatives to renting, or any power over landlords to create more equitable terms for renters in their lease agreements, or that they won't be thrown out of their homes for using repair and deduct.

As for breaking leases, landlords can be entitled to the amount of rent remaining on the lease if it's broken. That in itself is a huge deterrent for most renters and in this market, many landlords would be more than happy to have a tenant break a lease -it just means that they can charge the ever growing market rates for the new tenant.

My point isn't that private rentals should be publicly funded enterprises. It's that renting homes as a business is a choice to make money on housing people and that charging so much money in increased rents that families have to move is the hallmark of an unethical landlord. If landlords don't want to be seen as money hungry profiteers, then they should offer reasonable rent increases. It's not that hard, plenty of landlords treat their tenants well. Maybe it is time for just cause eviction because it seems to many renters that landlords are not using their powers responsibly and have too much power in displacing members of our community.