Little-Noticed AB 1513 Puts CA Tenants at Risk

by Andrew Szeto on April 24, 2014

Under the radar of heightened attention on Ellis Act reform, a bill is making its way through the State legislature that could seriously weaken tenant’s rights.

AB 1513, described as an anti-squatter law and introduced by Assemblymember Steve Fox, would grant property owners extra-judicial rights to evict tenants without due process.

The bill was first introduced on January 15th, and has seen letters of opposition from groups like Tenants Together and the Berkeley Tenants Union. The bill is primarily targeted as an anti-squatter law, but has raised concerns over possible misuse to Ellis Act abuses. AB 1513 changes the basic nature of owner-tenant law by denying judicial process in the case eviction, denying the opportunity of proper legal procedures.

The bill was written to address concerns regarding illegal occupancy of vacant homes in the rural Antelope Valley region north of Los Angeles, where homeowners in Fox’s 36th Assembly District are finding it increasingly difficult to evict “unauthorized occupants” squatting in vacant homes. The legislation would grant authority to property owners to evict current occupants if, at the time of purchase, the building was not occupied.

Assemblymember Fox told Beyond Chron that owners are having trouble selling their homes because people are unlawfully occupying them, and that the costs of undergoing legal procedures of evictions is too high for many. The closest courthouse where eviction cases take place, Fox said, is over a hundred miles away in the city of Los Angeles. The cost to pay an attorney to travel that distance would be enormous he says. His proposed AB 1513 would address this concern by creating local ordinances that would allow evictions to occur without such juridical burdens.

The bill, however, would affect the entire state, which has raised concerns for tenants here in the Bay Area.

Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, in a letter submitted in opposition to the bill, raised concerns that the bill would be harmful for addressing the foreclosure crisis. Many tenants currently occupy foreclosed homes without lease or rental agreements, thus leaving them vulnerable to eviction. But even tenants with legal agreements are being threatened.

“We regularly receive calls from legitimate tenants being falsely accused of being unauthorized occupants,” the letter said.

“Whether because of ignorance or bad faith, many owners, particularly after foreclosure, treat tenants as if they are trespassers despite the fact that rental agreements run with the land and verbal rental agreements are fully enforceable and legitimate in California. These new owners threaten to call, and in some cases call, the police or sheriff to have tenants arrested or otherwise removed as trespassers.”

Additionally, the bill shifts the burden of proof of tenancy to the tenant, which Preston said, “would allow a mere declaration by the owner to result in removal by law enforcement.”

Fox said that the bill was not intended to address the concerns of occupancy of foreclosed homes, and that the bill was primarily an attempt to prevent squatting in vacant homes.

The proposed law would allow a property owner to file either a “Declaration of Ownership” or an “Unauthorized Occupant Declaration” with the local district attorney and law enforcement agencies to remove occupants from their property. A sheriff would then be required to post the declaration on the property, where local authorities could begin removing tenants without due process for the occupants.

Gabrielle Silverman, an Oakland resident and organizer with the Kill At-Will Eviction Bill Coalition, told Beyond Chron that this legislation is harmful to all those not directly named on a lease such as subletters, those in rent-controlled apartments, and squatters.

The legislation raised concerns similar to those of Ellis Act abuses. The granting of property owners rights to bypass judicial process could possibly lead to unlawful of evictions of those not able to comprehend the language of the law.

“The people who are going to be the most vulnerable are going to be people with limited English language, people who can’t navigate the legal language, and who don’t their rights,” Silverman said. “No one should be subject to this strong-arm eviction.”

The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hear the bill next Tuesday, April 29 in Sacramento. Fox said that additional amendments are being drafted that may possibly address these concerns.

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