Protecting renters

Council to consider taking a broader approach to state tenant protections and vet first draft maps for election districts

Demographer Michael Wagaman drafted six maps for the city of Chico’s consideration as it switches to district-based elections. Like this “Plan Green” map, all are labeled by color so no order of preference is implied. (In this plan, district 5 includes the Chico Water Pollution Control Plant, which is not pictured.) Go to <a href="http://tinyurl.com/ChicoDistricts">tinyurl.com/ChicoDistricts</a> to find links to the rest of the maps in PDF and interactive formats.

Demographer Michael Wagaman drafted six maps for the city of Chico’s consideration as it switches to district-based elections. Like this “Plan Green” map, all are labeled by color so no order of preference is implied. (In this plan, district 5 includes the Chico Water Pollution Control Plant, which is not pictured.) Go to tinyurl.com/ChicoDistricts to find links to the rest of the maps in PDF and interactive formats.

Photo courtesy of the city of Chico

The City Council will take on tenant protections at its next meeting, Tuesday (Jan. 7), considering a controversial proposal to expand locally the state’s recently passed Tenant Protection Act.

This is just one of several topics coming before the council that night, which will include the third public hearing regarding Chico’s switch to district-based elections and first vetting of several draft maps.

The Tenant Protection Act, or Assembly Bill 1482, already will bring about significant changes for renters and landlords in Chico. It puts into place “just cause” termination stipulations, which make it tougher for landlords to kick out good tenants, and caps on rental rate increases through 2030.

Last month, the Internal Affairs Committee (IAC)—made up of Vice Mayor Alex Brown, the chairwoman, and Councilmen Scott Huber and Karl Ory—explored the topic and voted unanimously to recommend that the council extend just cause restrictions to all properties. The state law has exceptions, and does not apply to single-family homes, for example. The panel also voted to remove a requirement that specifies a minimum of one-year residency for just cause protections to kick in, noting the lingering impacts of the Camp Fire. These recommendations will be considered Tuesday.

While just cause restricts when tenant leases can be terminated, it still allows for landlords to evict those who haven’t paid rent, violate their lease, maintain or permit a nuisance, or engage in criminal activity. It also allows for no-fault evictions, including when a landlord intends to occupy, demolish or substantially remodel the property.

Another provision of the Tenant Protection Act relates to rent caps and prohibits landlords from increasing rent more than 5 percent plus the percentage change in the cost of living in any one-year period, or more than 10 percent of the lowest rate charged in the past year (whichever is lower). Landlords also are prohibited from increasing rent for a unit more than twice in a year. The law went into effect Wednesday (Jan. 1).

Discussion at the IAC meeting last month quickly became emotional on both sides of the issue. Sara George, a local landlord, told the committee that she and her husband bought a second home and decided to rent out their first to help pay for their children’s college expenses and their retirement. But it hasn’t been easy, she said, because the home isn’t even paying for itself.

“I’m not a predatory landlord. I’m not here to take advantage of people,” she said. “If you are ruining my ability to charge market rent to cover expenses that are increasingly going up, I’m going to have to sell that rental home.”

Other landlords shared similar sentiments, but most of the 14 speakers that day advocated for additional protections. Kelly Hees, a longtime renter, told the IAC that she and her husband received a no-fault termination after 11 years of tenancy, and spoke in favor of other provisions of the Tenant Protection Act that had yet to go into effect. One of those requires landlords to pay relocation expenses for tenants like Hees.

“We’re not protected at all right now,” she said. “I just really would like if you guys could address that so people aren’t kicked out and becoming homeless on the street ….”

In addition to taking a broader approach to the Tenant Protection Act, the IAC also is recommending that city staff research the possible implementation of a rental registry program and report back to the IAC with a cost analysis. Registries vary from city to city, but often include a fee for landlords and require information such as rental prices, inspection reports and tenancy eviction history. The idea is to help cities better enforce rental violations.

Brown told the committee that she supported these recommendations given the number of renters in Chico. “It is about leveling the playing field and also creating a mechanism by which to enforce things that are currently not being enforced,” she said.

Ory added that while he understood landlords’ concerns, Chico is experiencing a housing emergency, and these actions are just a few things the city can do to address that.

“Talk about demand—incinerate [14,000] houses,” he said. “… [S]ome of the few extra things that Chico’s talking about doing are needed because of the fact that we are in an outrageous situation with rents right now and with affordability.”

Also on Tuesday, the public and the City Council will review six different district maps, which were published online last month. Come the November 2020 general election, voters will select council members from their district, rather than from a group citywide.

This is the first chance to publicly weigh in on the draft plans. The city’s consultant, demographer Michael Wagaman, said the plan is that by the end of the next hearing, on Jan. 21, one of the maps will be chosen.

When drawing the plans, Wagaman said he relied upon traditional criteria for creating boundaries, such as the city’s creeks and freeways, as well as input from the public, which included draft maps drawn by Chicoans.

Last month, the council directed Wagaman to prepare some maps that include the home address of each incumbent as a secondary consideration. Based on the Google interactive maps Wagaman has uploaded, half of the maps have multiple council members in at least one district. The other half show all incumbents in separate districts.

Wagaman, who has done this work for more than 20 years, said several things stood out in the city of Chico’s process. For one, there were more draft plans drawn up than usual, and that was primarily because the city will have seven districts (verses the more common five—or four with an at-large mayor). Also, the city received an above average number of publicly submitted maps, particularly for a city of this size, Wagaman said.

“Chico’s been engaged from the beginning,” he said. “That’s great. Because the more the public is engaged, the more they are providing that feedback … the better the final product.”

Another topic of interest on Tuesday includes a request from Mayor Randall Stone and Brown to agendize a future discussion about rescinding the city’s sit/lie ordinance and amending the Offenses Against Public Property ordinance (see “Protest success,” Newslines, Dec. 19).

In the request, Brown cites the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a challenge of Martin v. Boise, in which homeless citizens sued the city of Boise, Idaho, for being cited for resting and/or camping in public. This means the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling stands; criminally prosecuting homeless people for sleeping outside on public property when there are no available shelter beds is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

“Despite an ever-growing body of evidence illustrating that these laws are ineffective in reducing homelessness, the City of Chico has ordinances on the books that reinforce an enforcement approach to the issue of people living on our streets,” Brown writes. “As we engage in discussions about alternative approaches, theses ordinances contain immediate and necessary changes we can make to better align with the 9th Circuit Court decision and recognize the realities of gaps in service to the unsheltered population in our region.”