After hearing more than 25 impassioned pleas from renters, activists and landlords pushing for and against a proposed emergency ordinance to enact a statewide renter protection law early, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Nov. 19 to pass the ordinance and protect renters in unincorporated county areas.
The ordinance mirrors the one passed Nov. 12 in Menlo Park. A number of other jurisdictions in the county have passed such ordinances, including Redwood City and San Mateo. The intent of the urgency ordinances is to immediately put in place renter-protection provisions of AB 1482, which goes into effect on Jan. 1. This is needed, local lawmakers have said, because since the Legislature passed AB 1482 earlier this year, some landlords, in an attempt to avoid that law's provisions, have sent out eviction notices or raised rents above what the state law will allow.
At the Nov. 19 supervisors' meeting, a number of the speakers supporting the ordinance came from faith-based backgrounds, with representatives from Faith in Action, a network of people in faith organizations who organize around community needs such as housing, as well as the San Mateo County Faith Leaders’ Solidarity Cohort, a group of leaders from different faiths who advocate for justice.
The Rev. Penny Nixon of Congregational Church of San Mateo said that there are "3 Ps" of housing: protection, preservation and production. The protection element, she said, "has been woefully underrepresented and unaddressed," and added that she considered the ordinance to be a "moral decision." If passed, she said, it would send a message "that you will protect the most vulnerable in our community."
Others opposed the ordinance. Tom Thompson, member of the San Mateo County Association of Realtors, said the notion of the law being applicable retroactively to protect renters scared him, adding, "I've never feared my government until now."
While supervisors achieved the four-fifths majority needed to enact an emergency ordinance, which takes effect immediately, the sole vote against the ordinance came from Supervisor David Canepa. He favored an ordinance that would not provide what he called "retroactive" protections to renters who have already received eviction notices and haven't yet moved out, and expressed broader concerns with the notion of rent control.
Supervisor Dave Pine said he favored the ordinance because even though it is not likely to directly benefit a large number of people who have received notices of evictions or rent increases outside the bounds of what the new state law permits, those it will affect will benefit greatly. Also, he said, the ordinance wouldn't affect "99.9%" of landlords who are good-faith housing providers. As for the other 0.1% of landlords, he added, "I'm OK saying 'stop' after the fact because of the harm it causes."
Supervisor Don Horsley said he foresaw that AB 1482 could have potential unintended consequences in that landlords may be less forgiving of any delays or shortcomings in tenants' rent payments, and it could affect renters' references, but said he didn't have problems with the ordinance. Supervisor Warren Slocum said he favored the ordinance in part because he was " moved by the fact that it seems like most of those cases cited were from North Fair Oaks, frankly, and the coast as well."
Board President Carole Groom noted that the legislation didn't come from the county; it was handed down from the state, and the gap it left between the date when the legislation passed and when it took effect has yielded unintended consequences for the renters the legislation sought to protect.
"What we're trying to do today is protect those in our community who are the most vulnerable," she said. "If there are 10 or 11 of them, that's 10 or 11 too many in my mind. ... There (are) some very vulnerable people living in our county right now and they need all the help they can get."
The new law states that a landlord cannot evict a tenant unless he or she has a "just cause." Evictions are allowed in situations in which it's the tenant's fault – for example, if the tenant doesn't pay rent, is a nuisance, or violates another lease term – and in some circumstances where the tenant is not at fault, such as if the landlord takes the housing units off the market, moves in, or allows a family member to move in. In the latter category of these "no-fault" evictions, landlords would be required to pay between one and four months' rent to the displaced tenants to help cover relocation costs.
In addition, a landlord may increase rent only by 5% plus the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index, or by 10%, whichever is lower. Since this year's annual increase in the index was 4%, the maximum allowable rent increase in 2020 will be 9%. And under the new law, there is a provision that beginning in 2020, the baseline rent to which that 9% increase can be applied is whatever a tenant's rent was on March 15 of this year.
There are a number of rental housing situations in which the new law does not apply. Single-family homes or condos not owned by a corporation; housing units that are 15 years old or newer; school dorms; or already-restricted affordable housing are not covered by the law's protections, for example.