State Bill to Protect Organized Tenants From Eviction Fails

Another bill to limit rent increases passed, but only after major concessions.

(Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

A bill that would have instituted just-cause evictions for tenant associations statewide failed in the California Senate on Wednesday, even after a provision to allow rent strikes was removed.

Senate Bill 529, authored by Tenants Together and sponsored by state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, would have required landlords to submit written reasons for evicting a tenant who is organizing with fellow neighbors in a formal association. The idea was to prevent retaliation for tenants of the same landlord who are organizing together.

The bill failed to advance to the Assembly by one vote. State Senators Scott Wiener, Nancy Skinner, Mike McGuire, and Jerry Hill, who represent the Bay Area, all voted in favor. 

“It was very close and we’re obviously incredibly disappointed that Sacramento continues to not take the housing crisis seriously,” says Shanti Singh, Tenants Together spokesperson. “Even with a Democratic supermajority, we could not get 529 passed.”

SB 529’s rejection came after the real estate industry  — led by the California Apartment Association, California Chamber of Commerce, California Association of Realtors, and California Business Properties Association —successfully lobbied to remove a provision they felt went too far but that tenant advocates said brought landlords to the negotiating table. It would have allowed tenant associations, who must adopt bylaws, to vote to withhold rent for up to 30 days no more than twice a year in the same vein as a labor strike.

“In California, it’s too expensive and time-consuming to terminate a tenancy, and most owners would much prefer to work with a tenant,” the group wrote in an April letter. “California law already has some of the strongest protections in place for tenants who face retaliatory or discriminatory evictions.”

It wasn’t the only disappointment for tenant organizers in what seemed to be a pro-housing legislative session. Another housing bill to limit annual rent hikes to seven percent plus inflation, Assembly Bill 1482, passed but after San Francisco’s Assemblymember David Chiu agreed to have the law last just three years. The bill originally limited rent increases to five percent plus inflation for 10 years and heads to the Senate.

“We must take bold action to keep those renters in their homes, and today’s vote is a major step towards that goal,” Chiu says in a statement. “This legislation will protect renters from the most egregious of rent increases while still allowing landlords to turn a profit.”

Assembly Bill 1481, a companion to SB 529, has yet to be voted on but would be repealed in 2030. Assembly Bill 36, which would have amended Costa-Hawkins and allowed cities to enact rent control on units more than 10 years old, was shelved in April.

Tenants Together will keep pushing for bills like SB 529, Singh says, until legislators “do the right thing” for California’s 17 million renters.

All these other bills have failed or watered down beyond recognition,” Singh says. “At the end of the day, it’s the same question that it always is — money versus people. What needs to shift is which side the Legislature is on.”

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