On Nov. 1 Chula Vista City Council passed the long-contentious tenant protection ordinance with Council member Jill Galvez voting no and Council member John McCann recused for owning more than three properties that could be affected by the ordinance. The ordinance will take effect beginning March 1, 2023. There was no discussion from City Council before passing the ordinance.
The ordinance states the reasons for the needed protections are that over 42% of the housing in Chula Vista is rentals, and 44% of renters pay more than 50% of their income towards housing cost.
The COVID-19 pandemic exasperated residents, particularly those within low wage and service industries and are at risk of failing to maintain housing and fall into homelessness, and inflation rates are bringing more costs to residents leaving them vulnerable to eviction.
The ordinance gives the city attorney the ability to (1) require owner and tenant to participate in education programs related to issues, mediation, or an alternative dispute resolution program. (2) Issue administrative citations or penalties for violations, not to exceed $5,000 per violation, per day. (3) Take civil action on behalf of the tenant. (4) Cite or prosecute an owner who interferes with a tenant’s peaceful enjoyment of the property, threat, fraud, intimidate, coerces or duress a tenant, cut off utilities or communications to the residents, restrict delivery of services and goods. The owner would be guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000 or six months imprisonment or both.
For No Fault Just Cause, owners shall provide notice and relocation assistance. Owners must provide written notice to the City of No Fault Just Cause termination of tenancy no later than three days after providing termination notice to residents, and regardless of tenant’s income or length of tenancy, the owner must assist the tenant in relocation.
In public comment Allen C. said McCann should not have been recused and some council members have relatives that rent and own property, and that the people against the ordinance lost representation.
“When you push too many regulations on tenant protections…and when you put too many regulations on one side and not another side, they are just going take their property off the market,” he said. “It is going to increase rent because you have less rentals available on the market,” adding that City Council should make the regulations fair and enforce those issues and should not be getting into litigation between the tenant and the apartment owners or homeowners. “That should be handled by the courts,” he said.
Joseph Raso said that this ordinance affects the typical mom and pop landlord, who could inadvertently make a mistake and suffer severe consequences. He said the written notice to the City for the No Fault Just Cause Termination is ambiguous and most people would not understand the language.
“It is there in black and white,” he said. “If a landlord inadvertently makes an error, the city will not give the landlord the opportunity to make things right.”
Southern Californian Rental Housing Association Director of Public Affairs Molly Kirkland said the changes to the ordinance since public input was not very substantive. She said this could potentially lead to litigation between the City and property owners.
“The way they have written it, they have different levels of enforcement opportunities, civil and I believe criminal activities,” she said. “They claim, city staff and the attorney’s office, that they are not going to go directly to those most punitive components. They are going to start with mediation and try to foster more communication when there are issues, but one of the biggest problems with that is they added this whole section on harassment that adds about 12 definitions of harassment. This could be pretty subjective. One suggested that if an owner uses language that incites a violent reaction from the resident. That could be asking them to pay their rent.”
To allow these penalties and enforcement on top of the ability for the tenant to sue is really punitive, Kirkland said.
“We are really concerned about that harassment section and all those odd definitions opening doors to frivolous lawsuits,” she said.
Kirkland there are definite concerns with many components of the ordinance.
“Overall, we are concerned of the message that this sends to property owners and what this might do in terms of investment in existing and new construction in Chula Vista,” she said.
“More specifically, a really troubling component is the relocation framework. That proposes to double, and in some cases triple the relocation amount when somebody receives a No Fault termination of tenancy. And it is at a rate determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, based on the zip code where the property is. The concern there, with the data and even what the City collected, shows that rents in Chula Vista are not as high as some would claim, and many property owners and managers were keeping rents below market.”
Kirkland said the relocation framework disincentivizes that practice going forward, saying moving forward, rents could increase with property owners knowing they might have to pay this huge amount on relocation services.
Kirkland said with exemptions, the City kept exemptions with what follows state law, with the exception of property build within the past 15 years.
“That is a key decision that they made at the state level, so you do not discourage the construction of new housing when we need is desperately,” she said. “It is definitely confusing. They have rearranged it several times, so it was an interesting exercise trying to compare those documents.”