The new ordinance goes a step further than existing state law and is expected to take effect on March 1, 2023.
Chula Vista has approved a landlord-tenant ordinance aimed at protecting good renters from no-fault evictions by landlords acting in bad faith.
Council members passed the law in a 3-1 vote Tuesday after having delayed the issue in May due to not having a quorum. Councilmember Jill Galvez cast the lone vote in opposition and Councilmember John McCann recused himself because of a conflict of interest as he owns multiple properties.
The ordinance, which still requires a second reading, is expected to become effective March 1, 2023.
Chula Vista’s law essentially offers stronger tenant protections than what current state law provides.
Under Assembly Bill 1482, passed in 2019, landlords can pursue evictions for “no fault” reasons, allowing them in situations where they intend to occupy the property, remove it from the rental market or conduct a substantial remodel.
The local ordinance goes a step further by imposing stricter requirements for those pursuing no-fault causes. One provision is that property owners would have to provide relocation payments to tenants worth up to three months’ rent. There is no limit as to who qualifies for relocation assistance, meaning that it also applies to a renter who has one day of the tenancy.
Chula Vista’s law also narrows what constitutes a substantial remodel per housing type. For apartments, the city defines a substantial remodel as one that requires improvements of $40 or more per square foot, and one that requires vacancy for more than 60 days. The state says a substantial remodel is one that requires a vacancy for at least one month.
State law exempts properties that are 15 years old or newer, but Chula Vista’s applies to all. The local law does exempt some property types, including mobile homes or where an owner who lives on the property is renting no more than two units or bedrooms.
Chula Vista’s ordinance also identifies eight more kinds of harassment than the state, including that landlords cannot verbally abuse or threaten a tenant, influence vacancy through fraud or coercion and refuse their rent payment.
No-fault evictions have become among the most common reasons why tenants have sought legal assistance or called on cities to issue eviction moratoriums, according to the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.
The initial draft ordinance came after several tenants’ rights groups asked the City Council for stronger renter protections following reports of tenant harassment and no-fault evictions, particularly in west Chula Vista.
Tuesday’s meeting stirred up mixed feelings from local tenants, property owners and advocates on both sides of the aisle.
Tenants said they want a local law to cover loopholes in state provisions because, without additional protections, they are exposed to harassment and homelessness.
Jose Lopez, a local renter and director of the San Diego Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said the ordinance is a step in the right direction. Lopez said he and his family have been living in a hotel for a month after a pipe in their rental home burst. They thought the situation was going to be temporary. The family is now facing eviction because the landlord has decided to take the property off the market for remodels, including adding a new bedroom, he said.
Joseph Raso, a local landlord, said the ordinance “greatly hampers’’ landlords’ ability to charge reasonable rents (and) encourages them to pull their property off the rental market altogether. Out of 11 substantial remodels he completed in the past, nine would not quality under the city’s ordinance, he added.
“We’re the older part of Chula Vista, so you’re forcing the place to turn into slums,” Raso said to council members.
Through a contractor, the city conducted a survey in July to learn more about local evictions and why they were occurring. Results came from 271 tenants and 89 landlords renting 116 separate units.
Results showed that since April, 26 had received eviction notices and the top reasons were non-payment of rent, substantial remodels and owners moving back into the property. Some said the survey was flawed and contained biased multiple-choice questions favoring tenants.
Councilmember Galvez said she opposed the ordinance because Chula Vista should wait for AB 1482 “to stabilize, hire someone in the city (to address landlord-tenant disputes) and spend our taxpayer resources to help people who really need it.”
City staff said the ordinance was designed to encourage landlords and tenants to resolve their own disputes, but the city would step in some situations, including citing a property owner over fraud, threats or cutting off a tenant’s utilities.
Some argued the better option is to build more housing. Chula Vista is already building more than other parts of San Diego County. Of about 4,600 apartments that have or are set to open this year, more than a quarter are in the South County city.
Mayor Mary Casillas Salas said the ordinance is not about good landlords.
“It’s not about punishing good landlords. It’s not about rewarding bad renters. It’s about protecting good tenants that have been good citizens and that have provided a means of income to the landlords,” she said.