Calling for help shouldn’t leave tenants at risk for eviction

mike koozmin/2013 S.f. Examiner file photoTenants facing evictions or unlawful rent hikes could see monthslong wait times to have their case reviewed due to a heavy workload for the San Francisco Rent Board.

Last month, California took an important step toward keeping residents safe in their homes. Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that will allow residents to call for police or emergency services without fear of eviction. The bill bolsters protections in state law against the life-threatening consequences of nuisance ordinances. These ordinances are local mandates that assess penalties, including eviction, for actions such as calling the police or emergency services for help too many times. They oftentimes fail to deter crime and instead blame and punish crime victims. They also force landlords to evict tenants engaging in “nuisance” conduct, or face severe penalties themselves.

Simply put, nuisance ordinances that penalize crime victims and others needing emergency help are bad public policy. These mandates hurt victims of crime, including survivors of domestic violence. Research has also chronicled the negative impacts of such ordinances on persons with disabilities and people of color. So, over the past year, the Women’s Policy Institute, the National Housing Law Project, and a coalition of advocates worked with Assemblymember David Chiu’s office to craft a common-sense solution: AB 2413, The Right to a Safe Home Act.

AB 2413 received strong support from the California Apartment Association, making it a tenant rights bill backed by the biggest landlord association in the state. Debra Carlton from the California Apartment Association wrote to the Governor, “Tenants should never live in fear in their own home, and rental property owners should never be hampered from relying on local emergency services to keep their employees and tenants safe at the property.” The bill passed through both houses of the legislature without a single “no” vote and Governor Brown signed it into law. California now joins states like Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Illinois in saying that enough is enough.

Under the new law:

  • Crime victims and people in emergency situations cannot be evicted just because emergency services were called to their home.
  • Local officials cannot penalize landlords when residents call for police or emergency assistance on behalf of crime victims or persons in emergency situations.
  • Tenants can now assert a violation of the new law as a defense to an eviction; and
  • State law supersedes current and future local nuisance ordinances that conflict with the new law.
  • The law also provides survivors of domestic violence and other forms of abuse an additional way to document the abuse they’ve experienced in the context of an eviction.

Passing the Right to a Safe Home Act was the first step. Now, we need your help. Click here if you are interested in supporting AB 2413 implementation efforts in California or if you would like to introduce similar legislation in your state.

With your support, we can guarantee that every individual can call for help without fear of losing their home.

Linh Tran-Phuong is the Crisis Intervention Coordinator at YWCA Silicon Valley. She is also a graduate of the Women’s Policy Institute, proud sponsor of AB 2413. She could be reached at tranphuonglinh02@gmail.com. Renee Williams is a Staff Attorney at the National Housing Law Project, which also co-sponsored AB 2413. The National Housing Law Project is working to combat the negative effects of nuisance ordinances on domestic violence survivors and other populations. Renee can be reached atrwilliams@nhlp.org.

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