San Jose: Protesters call for stronger renter protections against no-cause evictions

Ramona Giwargis | San Jose Mercury News | Link to Article

SAN JOSE — Holding powerful signs and photos of displaced renters, dozens of angry tenants and housing advocates took to the streets Thursday to send a powerful message to City Hall — stop letting landlords evict people for no reason.

“If we don’t get no ‘just-cause,’ they don’t get no peace,” they chanted, walking from Shasta Avenue to the local offices of the California Apartment Association, which has opposed policies that require landlords to provide a legitimate reason for evictions.

“They are the biggest opponent,” Liz Gonzalez, an editor with Silicon Valley De-Bug, told the crowd as they knocked on the office door to no response. “But they are not unbeatable.”

Housing advocates and city leaders call it every renter’s greatest fear: You paid rent on time, followed the rules and kept a tidy apartment — yet you come home to find an eviction notice on the door.

It might seem unfair, but in San Jose, it’s perfectly legal to evict a renter for no reason, leading some landlords to only offer month-to-month leases and to kick out longtime tenants to raise rents in Silicon Valley’s exorbitant housing market.

Now, a coalition of housing groups are pressuring San Jose leaders to adopt a “just-cause” ordinance — similar to San Francisco and other major cities — to stop landlords from evicting people without reason.

“People are living in a state of fear because they know if they get a notice to leave, there is literally no place to go,” said Carol Stephenson, a leader with People Acting in Community Together. “We talk with hundreds of renters and we hear these stories over and over again.”

 

One of the marchers Thursday was Yolanda Chavez, 52, a child care worker. She’s been living in her rent-controlled apartment in the Santee neighborhood for four years, but she fears being kicked out any day now.

The manager claimed her son was causing trouble and gave her two warnings, she said through a Spanish interpreter, but there was no proof.

“I’m unable to sleep because of the worry,” she said. “I would be homeless if I got evicted. I’d be living under the bridge.”

According to city records, San Jose had more than 2,000 no-cause evictions between 2010 and 2016. But that figure is considered an underestimate — it only accounts for one-third of apartments under rent control and the landlords who actually notified City Hall about the eviction, as required by the city. But it’s a policy rarely enforced.

“A just-cause ordinance allows a tenant to feel secure living in their place — knowing that as long as they abide by the rules, they can stay in their apartments,” said city housing director Jacky Morales-Ferrand. “That’s the type of stability most residents want to have in a high-cost area like San Jose.”

The push for stronger tenant protections was renewed after a Mercury News story about Paul Mayer, a 92-year-old World War II veteran being evicted from his apartment of 44 years. The march comes a day after a report about Peggy DeMaio, Mayer’s landlord, evicting him and 34 others to raise rents by housing veterans with subsidies.

Landlord groups, including the California Apartment Association, have rallied against just-cause protections, saying the rules create unnecessary red tape, burden property owners and strip their ability to evict problem tenants.

“We certainly appreciate and value everyone’s right to free speech and demonstration, however, solving San Jose’s housing challenges won’t be done by banging on doors and screaming outside our offices,” said Joshua Howard, the group’s local representative. “When the renters’ coalition has consistently demanded stricter rent control or bust, it makes compromise on real solutions difficult.”

Morales-Ferrand on April 18 is proposing a scaled-back version of a just-cause ordinance. The policy would protect renters from no-cause evictions after they report a code violation, unfinished repairs or file a complaint against their landlord for discrimination.

A tenant would submit a form to City Hall to receive those protections, she said, most of which would only last six months. Morales-Ferrand’s other recommendations include eliminating a policy that allowed DeMaio to raise rent for veterans with vouchers after evicting her existing renters.

She also recommends requiring landlords in certain units to offer one-year written leases and relocation benefits when a property owner empties out the entire building.

The protections aren’t as strong as advocates want because they only apply to some renters.

“It puts all kinds of limitations on who gets those good-cause protections, and we believe all tenants should be protected,” said Sandy Perry, president of the Santa Clara County Affordable Housing Network. “If someone isn’t violating their lease, selling drugs, committing crimes or being a nuisance to others, they should not be subject to eviction for no reason.”

Morales-Ferrand agreed that her recommendations would not “provide protection for everyone and won’t solve everyone’s problems or concerns,” but San Jose council members can propose a full just-cause ordinance for all renters. None have done so.

Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office said Thursday he’s weighing his options and hasn’t decided whether he’ll support a full just-cause policy or support staff’s recommendations.

“We need to give our residents the legal tools to protect themselves from exploitation, but we also need to ensure that neighbors can reasonably expect that drug dealers, active gang members, and other problem tenants can be evicted from their neighborhoods without enduring years of bureaucratic process and delay,” the mayor said in a statement.