Santa Ana Residents Say Landlords Are Evicting Them Ahead of New State Law, City Council Balks on Emergency Tenant Protections

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

A Santa Ana resident, who wishes to stay anonymous, shows her eviction notice that was sent to her personal email.

Santa Ana housing advocates are ringing alarm bells that local landlords are rushing to evict tenants or raising rents to get ahead of a new California rent control law, and calling on the City Council to follow other cities across the state in enacting protections for tenants until the state law takes effect.

At their regularly scheduled council meeting earlier this month, Santa Ana City Council members rejected those pleas, despite a push by a minority block of the Council to consider a possible emergency rent control ordinance or one requiring landlords who want to evict tenants to show “just cause” reasons for doing so, like a failure to pay rent.

Cities like Los Angeles and San Mateo have already passed such emergency laws.

The statewide tenant protection law — known as Assembly Bill 1482 and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October — will cap rent increases up and down the state at 5% plus the local rate of inflation, and will also impose the “just cause” evictions requirements on landlords.

Advocates for the urgency ordinance on Tuesday argued that by passing the state bill, which doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1 of next year, state legislators all but guaranteed rent increases and 60-day eviction notices to tenants from landlords all over California ahead of the new law’s implementation.

“There are three more months before the law is implemented (in 2020), leaving over 180,000 tenants in Santa Ana vulnerable to unjust evictions and excessive rent increases,” said Hilda Ortiz, program coordinator for Latino Health Access, during the Council’s Tuesday meeting.

Within the past few months, Ortiz said she’s seen “more and more residents” reach out for resources and help with paying rent or defending themselves from “unjust” evictions.

“We’ve heard stories of $500 rent increases from one month to another, and sudden evictions without cause to longtime tenants,” she added.

Councilman Juan Villegas, opposed to stepping in on behalf of tenants, challenged members of the public — many of whom asked for the Council’s help in Spanish — by saying during the meeting he was skeptical that a large number of eviction notices were actually going out across the city.

“I just wonder how many people received those notices under these circumstances,” Villegas said. “It’s very unfortunate what’s happening, but I’d like to see the evidence first, if this is really going on.”

One Santa Ana renter living near the downtown civic center, who didn’t want to be identified, interviewed last week outside her building, said she was evicted from her building along the 400 block of West 10th St., according to the eviction notice her family received, which she showed to a Voice of OC reporter.  She was required to move out with her husband, three kids and one grandchild by Dec. 1.

She said she and her family paid just under $1,200 per month for their unit, and now pay around $2,000, not including utilities, at their new living situation.

The resident’s family was evicted because of an “unauthorized” living situation in their unit, according to the notice. The tenant explained that one of her sons has a child, and that the mother would frequently visit. That was never an issue with the landlord until the state rent control bill passed and the building was sold, the tenant said.

The tenant said she also regularly spends money on medication, and that her costly living expenses sometimes force her to choose between paying rent and her medicine.

She and her family lived in the building for three years, she said, and many of the other people in the building who were evicted — including the building manager — still haven’t found a place to live.

“A lot of people are afraid to speak out,” she said.

Council members Vicente Sarmiento and David Penaloza at the last Council meeting were in support of an urgency ordinance.

Sarmiento questioned the logic of state legislators to leave open what he indicated was a window for landlords to get in as many rent increases or evictions as they could before the law takes place, and lamented local communities being “left to address these” issues.

“To the extent we don’t want to see families displaced, abused, we have to think about — is this the right thing to do, to allow folks (landlords) to take advantage of a loophole?” he said.

Penaloza echoed Sarmiento with a story about an ex-girlfriend whose family, he said, was evicted suddenly from their home with the landlord’s reason that the intention was to “remodel the whole place.”

Under the new state law, if landlords want to remodel or renovate the property, they’ll have to pay displaced tenants for relocation.

Councilwoman Cecilia Iglesias, agreeing with Villegas in opposition of an urgency ordinance, said she “would like to see, first, evidence of individuals who have received eviction notices,” adding that rent increases only happen when economic factors like minimum wage increases are put into play.

Iglesias added her belief that there’s also an issue of timing, with three months to go before the law takes effect: “By the time we put this into place, the law’s already going to be there.”

But as recently as Monday, officials in the northern California City of San Mateo were able to adopt an urgency ordinance extending a “just cause” eviction ordinance consistent with the new state law, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti on Oct. 22 signed a ban on evictions without “just cause” in the city intended to take effect that week, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Housing advocates in the city, including organizations like the progressive activist group Chispa, have for years demanded council members support a rent control ordinance in the city, though no movement has happened on city officials’ end. If Santa Ana officials had accepted the idea of rent control before the new law was passed, the bill might have applied differently to the city as it will next year for cities that currently have their own rent control laws.

The urgency ordinance didn’t have enough support on the Council to move forward, leaving housing advocates and other members of the public to chant “Shame on you” earlier this month as council members moved on to other business.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.