New “Just Cause for Tenant Evictions” and “Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants” Ordinances
Two new ordinances drawn from Measure M impose "just cause for eviction” laws on nearly every residential property in Santa Cruz. While the intent is good, harmful side-effects outweigh benefits. Here is the full text of the two ordinances, key portions are discussed below in two sections, the first being for 2019-01 and the second section being for 2018-20.
Ordinance No. 2019-01 - Just Cause for Tenant Evictions
The proposed just cause for tenant eviction ordinance establishes provisions that will be applied to nearly every property in the City of Santa Cruz. It details and defines “just causes” to terminate a tenancy with a standard list with several big exceptions – (1) the end-date of a lease or month-to-month agreement is excluded, and therefore is no longer a valid reason to give tenants notice to move and (2) additional subtenants can be added up to maximum high occupancy levels . There are other issues with the ordinance, see the below.
Unlike the previous emergency rent control measure it does not exempt rentals that are the sole rental property of the landlord. It does exempt ADUs, duplexes and triplexes where the owner lives on the property.
Claimed oral or implied agreements
In the definitions section H. “Rental Housing Agreement is defined as an oral, written, or implied agreement between a landlord and a Tenant for use or occupancy of a Rental Unit and Housing Services”. Formalized recognition of oral or implied agreements counters standard legal practices and opens the door for endless litigation on claims and counter-claims on both sides.
Definition of Tenant
Also in the definitions section, section J “Tenant. A Tenant, subtenant, lessee, sublessee, or a person entitled under the terms of a Rental Housing Agreement to the use or occupancy of a Rental Unit.”
The problem with this it allows a sub-lessor to have a sub-lessor and so on, all who have full rights as ‘Tenants’. In addition to each sub-lessor having unlimited ability to add additional relatives etc. It also allows a renter the right to sublet at higher prices and make a profit off the unit with no benefit just additional costs to the owner.
As an example of a better definition, here is what a similar Los Gatos ordinance says – “Tenant. A person who is legally entitled to occupy all or part of a rental property pursuant to the terms of a written lease or rental housing agreement.”
End-date of lease is not valid
The ordinance establishes provisions that details and defines “just causes” to terminate a tenancy with a standard list with one big exception - the end-date of a lease or month-to-month agreement is excluded, and therefore is no longer a valid reason to give tenants notice to move.
Restrictions on owner moving back in
There are additional restrictions if an owner needs to move back in. They cannot terminate a tenancy to move back in themselves unless the owner occupied the unit for at least a full year for a period ending within the last 12 months.
Also an owner could not regain possession of a rental house for family use if the tenant was 62 or older, or claimed a disability unless the owner is similarly qualified or goes through a complicated expensive process that legally removes the unit from the rental market for ten years, in which case 12 months notice is required.
The ordinance also severely limits the ability to limit subleasing and specifies that lack of creditworthiness can not be a reason for rejecting a sublease. It further removes all ability to limit subleasing to family members, relatives, or their partners and the ability to limit the maximum occupancy of a unit below the Federal Housing occupancy limit.
Additionally the definition of ‘Tenant’ includes these sub-lessors as being defined as Tenants, who in turn can add relatives or partners without further limit by the landlord or other housemates up to the UHC 503(b) maximum occupancy.
This federal guideline section 503(b) of the Uniform Housing Code sets the minimum size for a dwelling by number of residents. Each dwelling must have at least one room measuring at least 120 square feet; and all other habitable rooms excluding kitchens must be at least 70 square feet. The size determines the maximum occupancy rate. Two people can occupy a minimum-sized dwelling. For each additional occupant, the minimum must increase by 50 square feet. This means the limit for an average three bedroom house is around 16 people. Along with attendant cars and trash. This will result in significantly increased numbers of renters per house and further impact neighborhoods.
Effective Date and Expiration Date
“This ordinance shall take effect thirty (30) days following its final adoption (the “Effective Date”) provided, however, it shall apply retroactively to any notice of termination of tenancy with an effective date on or after December 11, 2018 and any unlawful detainer action brought pursuant to a notice of termination with an effective date on or after December 11, 2018 that is still pending as of the Effective Date.”
"..This Ordinance shall automatically terminate one year from the effective date or upon the Council’s action on an ordinance addressing additional tenant protection following the conclusion of the work of the task force, or whichever is sooner. "
Ordinance No. 2018-20 – Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants
This passed and now in place ordinance provides for two times the then current fair market rent as relocation assistance paid by the landlord to tenants in two cases: (The fair market rent is a number determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.)
(1) if they have to vacate due to unsafe or hazardous living conditions or due to illegal use of the structure as a residence, or
(2) they choose to vacate due to a large rent increase which means an increase of more than five percent in one year or cumulatively more than seven percent in any two consecutive years.
Any tenant evicted or required to vacate any residential structure due to unsafe or hazardous living conditions or due to illegal use of the structure as a residence shall be given the right of first refusal to reoccupy a residential structure on the site once said structure becomes habitable, or once housing is redeveloped on the site.
In addition in the event of a tenant being required to vacate a structure with less than thirty days’ notice the relocation payment shall also include the immediate payment of one additional month’s fair market value rent.
The ordinance is retroactive for rent increases after November 27, 2018. Rent increases before that date do not count in the one or two year limits in the ordinance. Rent increases after that date do.