Rent law’s “eviction window” created opportunity for LA landlords

Some LA landlords seized on the months-long delay to evict tenants and avoid new rent caps

Oct.October 24, 2019 09:00 AM
Assemblymember David Chiu (Credit: Getty Images, iStock)
Assemblymember David Chiu (Credit: Getty Images, iStock)

Call it a loophole. Call it an “eviction window.”

But any way you call it, the months-long delay from when the state legislature passed statewide rent control in September to when the newly-signed law will take effect on Jan. 1 has created an opportunity for landlords.

In recent weeks, some landlords in Los Angeles sent eviction notices to tenants at dozens of apartment buildings to clear out units at below market-rate rents, in order to avoid rent caps and tighter restrictions on “just cause” evictions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the statewide rent control measure — known as AB 1482 — into law on Oct. 8. But from that day, it would be nearly three months until the law kicked in. Compare that to New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June signed the state’s sweeping rent reform bill into law immediately after the legislature passed it. And the law took effect immediately after that.

Why didn’t California lawmakers do the same?

Simply, lawmakers didn’t have the votes. A statewide law can only take immediate effect if it garners two-third’s majority in the state Senate and Assembly.

AB 1482 fell just short in both houses. In the 40-member Senate, 25 lawmakers voted in favor, falling two votes short. Five members abstained. In the 79-member Assembly, 48 lawmakers voted in favor, falling five votes shorts. Five Assembly members also abstained.

The bill’s author, San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu, appeared to have been caught off guard by the landlord eviction move.

In a written statement, Chiu said there was “no reason for landlords to evict tenants in order to skirt the rent cap” ahead of Jan. 1 because AB 1482 “allows landlords to make a fair rate of return.” He called it “a shame that some unscrupulous landlords have chosen to exacerbate displacement and homelessness in order to make obscene profits.”

In response to the eviction notices, the L.A. City Council on Tuesday passed a moratorium on evictions that lasts through Dec. 31.

A spokesperson for Chiu added that it would would have been “extraordinary” to notify local governments in advance about any potential fallout from the law’s delayed enactment.

Under AB 1482, landlords essentially cannot evict a tenant — who has lived in a unit for at least a year — without paying relocation assistance or waiving the rent for the last month of occupancy.

Greg Bonett, a staff attorney at Public Counsel, said evictions related to the bill started once the legislature passed the measure in September, and it became clear Newsom would sign it. The political system opened the window, Bonett said, but landlords took advantage of it.

“Even if it’s technically possible [to evict tenants ahead of the law], it is really an extreme action on the part of landlords to exploit that,” he said.

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