Enforcement Must Be Top Priority
AB 1482 gives an estimate eight million California tenants new rent cap and eviction protections. The challenge now shifts to enforcement.
While tenant education is essential statewide, rent control jurisdictions have agencies in place to enforce rent cap and eviction laws. Other cities do not. This means tenants subjected to illegal rent hikes or eviction lack places to turn for enforcing their AB 1482 rights. Addressing this lack of an enforcement mechanism must be a priority.
Enforcing California tenants rights has long been a challenge. Many tenants have language and educational barriers to understanding and asserting their rights. Absent tenant groups doing outreach, the laws passed to protect tenants are often not enforced. This lack of outreach and/or enforcement infrastructure results in tenants living in substandard housing, being victimized by racial discrimination, and not getting security deposits returned.
We cannot encourage landlords to give illegal rent hikes because they know tenants lack the ability to contest them. Or to initiate evictions without cause because they know tenants cannot afford an attorney to defend them.
ACCE, which played a key role in passing AB 1482, has set up a Tenant Hotline (1-888-428-7615) and website to answer questions about the new law. But enforcement involves more than educating tenants about their rights; it means giving tenants the ability to assert them.
Here’s what must be done for enforcement in the near term. Los Angeles tenant and social justice groups are holding a media event this morning calling on the City Council to pass a moratorium on retaliatory evictions until January when AB 1482 takes effect. So enforcement is already a top priority.
Pro Bono Legal Clinics
Under San Francisco’s original 1979 rent control law illegal rent hikes took effect unless the tenant filed a petition with the Rent Board. As I describe in Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, such a system encouraged illegal landlord conduct. The original ordinance had other provisions that also encouraged displacement and gentrification.
Tenants need access to free legal counsel to protect them against rent hikes and evictions that violate AB 1482. Tenants eligible for free legal services can get this protection. But most beneficiaries are unlikely to meet the very low income requirements for federally-funded free legal services (such programs also do not serve undocumented immigrants, a big service gap in California).
This representation gap requires bar associations, corporate law firms, law schools and non-federally funded legal service groups to collaborate on setting up pro bono legal clinics to serve tenants.
AB 1482 enforcement is a perfect match for pro bono legal assistance because the cases can be quickly resolved. An attorney’s informing a landlord that their rent increase exceeds state law or their eviction notice lacks a legal just cause will end cases right then. A landlord has no incentive to litigate a case where the law is indisputably against them.
This enforcement challenges offers a great opportunity for law students eager to get experience helping tenants. A letter on a tenants’ behalf from a law student (perhaps copying an attorney) is also likely to stop illegal evictions and rent increase. The Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I co-founded in 1980 and still head, opened because Hastings law students wanted to provide tenant advice to residents of the surrounding Tenderloin neighborhood. Perhaps AB 1482 will encourage today’s law students to launch similar projects.
The enactment of statewide protections creates a representation need in cities with no track record of offering free legal representation to tenants. State legislators representing these cities need to play a role in ensuring such representation emerges. Groups like ACCE that have chapters in under-served cities can push for legal representation, as can religious and broader social justice groups.
Foundations may need to fund groups in such cities to provide representation and education. Foundations tend to offer short-term support; getting law firms and schools to set up clinics could become a permanent response.
California has never faced a bigger tenant education and enforcement challenge because it has never previously passed such sweeping statewide pro-tenant legislation. Enforcement is now needed to cement this historic victory.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron
Filed under: Bay Area / California