New Protections for Renters

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Santa Cruz community members press against the windows outside the packed City Council meeting, craning to see the proceedings. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

From the gallery, the windows and a screen in the nearby Tony Hill room, onlookers witnessed City Council vote to establish an interim just cause eviction ordinance and finalize a renter relocation assistance ordinance. The first meeting of the new City Council on Jan. 8 drew the residents of Santa Cruz out in force, filling council chambers beyond capacity and extending past midnight.

“There have been claims that we are passing Measure M. I want to emphasize, we are not passing Measure M […] We are not working to try and circumvent voters,” said newly elected city council member Drew Glover during deliberation. “We’re talking about a way that we can ensure stability for those in our community who are renters while we come up with a transparent and democratic process.”

The interim just cause eviction ordinance is intended as a Band-Aid solution while the community deliberates on how to fairly balance the interests of renters and landlords after Measure M, the rent control measure on the November 2018 ballot, failed. That conversation will take place through mediated discussions between representatives of the Santa Cruz community and a community-nominated task force. The ordinance expires one year after implementation or upon implementation of the community recommendations.

Public comment demonstrated a clear division in opinions over just cause eviction. The dialogue spanned three hours. 

Nearly everyone raised their hands when asked who wanted to participate in the public comment portion of the meeting. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

Supporters of the interim ordinance insisted it was necessary to ensure tenants were secure in their housing during community deliberation.

“It’s a little hard for me to be up here talking about rental issues, because less than a week ago I was served a notice to vacate my home of twelve years,” said Santa Cruz tenant Stacy Falls before the council. “I would love to buy a house, set down roots and know that a 30-year mortgage is going to protect me and allow me the luxury of being able to have a stable life. […] I can’t afford that, I’m a teacher.”

Landlords protested that the council’s vote in favor of the interim ordinance would be tantamount to instituting Measure M over the will of the voters. Comments from opponents of the ordinance revealed confusion and misinformation over which elements of Measure M the council was going to vote on.

“The push for extreme rental restrictions and the council’s shim-sham slide-dance to resurrect defeated Measure M conditions […] is out of the question for me,” Ricky Larson said. “The city needs housing. […] At the same time it is promoting restrictive rent control.”

Though there are some minor differences, the interim just cause eviction ordinance is nearly identical to the provisions of the February 2018 rent freeze. Like last year’s emergency ordinance, a landlord may only issue a notice of eviction on certain grounds. These grounds include failure to pay rent, breach of a material term of a rental agreement, damage to the interior or exterior of the property and in cases of conduct so disorderly as to constitute a violation of state or federal law.

Unlike the rent freeze, this ordinance was not passed as an emergency measure, and will require a second reading at later council meetings before implementation. It also exempts both landlords living on-site with their tenants and landlords leasing their primary residence with the intention of moving back onto the property in one  year.

Near midnight, the council moved on to the final reading of the Relocation Assistance For Displaced Tenants Ordinance, first introduced in July 2018 at a City Council meeting. 

Under this ordinance, the tenant is eligible to receive two months’ rent worth of relocation assistance if they leave the home they rent under certain conditions. Namely, if the tenant leaves within 60 days of a rent increase of more than five percent in one year, or seven percent over two consecutive years.

Many landlords who spoke during the public comment portion of the Dec. 11 City Council meeting adamantly opposed the new ordinance. 

“Unreasonable rental regulations jeopardize the rental housing supply,” said Santa Cruz Together leader Lynn Renshaw. “This will create more competition for rentals, which will push rents even higher.”

Tenants’ rights and housing activists disagree.

“Tenants are at such risk right now and this is an emergency, it’s a crisis,” said Students United with Renters (SUR) organizer Jessica Chuidian-Ingersoll said. “That’s why we have these protections, because the net loss of tenants if we don’t have these protections is so much more at risk than a landlord’s right to evict someone just because they don’t like them.”

Those affiliated with Measure M and SUR are angry about the lack of action taken to protect renters while they are tenants, not just after they are evicted. Julian Parayno-Stoll, co-chair of the Santa Cruz chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and SUR member, has been vocal about his concerns with the relocation assistance ordinance.

“There are serious enforcement problems with that ordinance, in that there is no clear mechanism for how it is supposed to work,” Parayno-Stoll said. “I don’t think there is a clear reporting system for tenants, and I think that the larger problem is that the rent is simply too high and that solutions that help people after their eviction still contributes to people moving out of the city.”

By the time the new City Council adjourned its first session, night began to creep into morning and the bustling mass of residents in the gallery dwindled to a dedicated few. Slowly, they trudged through the double doors and off into the dark. The next reading of the interim just cause eviction ordinance is slated for the Jan. 22 council meeting.

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Sean D. Ross is editor for the City News desk at City on a Hill Press. Previously, Sean served as an editor for the Investigative News desk and as a reporter for the Campus, City and Sports desks over the past two years. Before coming to UC Santa Cruz, he was News Editor for the Diablo Valley College Inquirer, contributing to the Inquirer earning the Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ “General Excellence” award at the 2016 Northern California Conference. For his coverage of California fires in the fall of 2017, Sean was awarded third prize in the California College Media Association’s Breaking News competition. Sean is pursuing a career in law, and has interned for renowned California attorney James M. Wagstaffe. Besides casually browsing LexisNexis, Sean enjoys board games of all stripes, competitive Magic: the Gathering, playing the french horn, automotive racing and the literary stylings of Neil Gaiman.

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