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California Landlords Can Evict Renters for Repairs. A New Bill Could Limit That

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A man carries a brown moving box downstairs from his apartment building.
Antonio Avila Garcia moves belongings from the home he has shared with his family since 2012 to a new apartment in Concord on March 29, 2023. A new owner bought the apartment building, and the family received an eviction notice soon after. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

After more than a decade in the same Concord apartment with his wife and three kids, Antonio Avila Garcia is getting evicted.

Not because he failed to pay or broke the lease, but because his landlord wants to remodel. But Avila Garcia doesn't want to leave the tight-knit community he's built.

"We all know each other here," he said. "I even have a brother [who lives] here, too."

Major renovations are one of the few reasons outlined in the 2019 Tenant Protection Act that landlords in California can use to evict tenants who haven’t done anything wrong. The landmark legislation was designed to curb the impacts of rising rents and keep tenants in their homes. But housing advocates said the substantial-repairs exception created a loophole property owners are exploiting to kick renters out.

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Now, advocates and lawmakers have a plan to curb that practice. State Sen. María Elena Durazo’s (D-Los Angeles) SB 567, called the Homelessness Prevention Act, removes the financial incentive behind these so-called “reno-victions” by increasing the amount landlords must pay renters to relocate, or requiring them to cover temporary relocation costs and re-rent the apartment to the displaced tenants at the same price.

“We have to close the loopholes for landlords to evict,” Durazo said at a March press conference announcing the bill. “We can’t let families get pushed out onto the streets.”

The bill would also lower the state rent cap from 10% to 5%, expand the number of Californians covered by that cap and place other restrictions on evictions.

But property owners are balking at the proposal, which comes just a few years after the 2019 legislation. Earle Vaughan, president of the California Rental Housing Association, said the Tenant Protection Act was a long-negotiated compromise between property owners and tenant advocates meant to last a decade.

“This was a bill that was supposed to be fair to both the landlords and the tenants, allowing landlords to at least have a way to raise the rent so we could maintain our properties,” he said.

A man on the patio of his apartment leaves the sliding glass door ajar as he puts together boxes getting ready to move out.
Antonio Avila Garcia packs up belongings from the home he has shared with his family since 2012 in Concord on March 29, 2023. A new owner bought the apartment building, and the family received an eviction notice soon after. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

In August, a new owner bought the building where Avila Garcia lives, and a few months later, he got an eviction notice. His neighbor, Jose Luis Navarro Padilla, received the same notice, which cited plans to “substantially remodel” as grounds for the eviction.

“I lived there for 15 years and never gave them any problems,” said Navarro Padilla, who moved with his wife in December to their son’s condo in Concord.

Many of the residents in the complex are from the same part of Michoacán, Mexico. Avila Garcia has cousins here in addition to his brother.

“I’m starting to ask myself if I’ll have to abandon my life and my family’s life and the community we’ve called home,” Avila Garcia said, speaking at a December Concord City Council meeting.

California doesn’t have publicly accessible data that details why people are getting evicted. But tenant advocate Betty Gabaldon, who’s working with Avila Garcia and other Concord renters, said that since the Tenant Protection Act went into effect in January 2020, she’s seen an uptick in renovation-related evictions.

“We started noticing the 60-day [eviction] notices said the reason they're getting evicted is because they're planning on doing substantial renovations in the unit,” said Gabaldon, an organizer with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

A woman with long brown hair and eyeglasses wearing a white sweatshirt and jeans looks onward from her front patio outside of her apartment.
Tenant organizer Betty Gabaldon stands for a portrait outside her home in Walnut Creek on March 31, 2023. Gabaldon and other advocates say landlords are exploiting a loophole in California’s Tenant Protection Act to evict renters from their homes. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

The Tenant Protection Act requires that renovations be significant enough that they entail permits, but Gabaldon said there’s no easy way to ensure property owners follow through. Tenants can sue, but the process is time-consuming and costly.

In Avila Garcia’s case, the city has no permit on file for work on his apartment or his neighbor’s. Representatives for his landlord said they’ll start that process once they hire contractors.

But Gabaldon’s experience with other tenants makes her skeptical.

“The substantial renovations really don't happen,” she said.

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And Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute, said there’s another incentive for landlords to use renovation-related evictions: It allows them to get around the state’s 10% cap on annual rent increases.

“They buy it, kick everybody out, put a little bit of paint on it and then re-rent,” she said. “It's a real problem. Displacement should not be at the core of a person's business model.”

Avila Garcia and Navarro Padilla said their property manager offered to re-rent them their apartments for over $800 dollars more than they had been paying. The property manager, Irma Galvez, disputes this. Through her attorney, Galvez said she never made a formal offer to re-rent the same apartments. Instead, she said she offered Avila Garcia an apartment at another property in Rodeo, 30 minutes away, for $1,950, or $500 more than he’d been paying.

Linda Dunn, the attorney representing Galvez, defended property owners’ right to raise rents after significant renovations.

“This is not price gouging,” Dunn wrote in an email to KQED, “and it certainly isn't price gouging as defined by the laws in California.”

Either way, Avila Garcia said the pressure from his landlord means his family won’t feel at ease in their own home. So, he chose to look for other options.

“I’d like to stay and fight,” Avila Garcia said. “But even if I win, I won’t feel comfortable.”

A man with short, dark hair and a five o'clock shadow wears a gray hooded sweatshirt that reads "California 1850 Republic" as he stares out the window from his apartment. The sunlight illuminates his serious face.
Antonio Avila Garcia looks out the window during a break from packing up the home he has shared with his family since 2012 in Concord on March 29, 2023. A new owner bought the apartment building, and the family received an eviction notice soon after. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

In Pittsburg, a group of tenants recently fended off a set of similar evictions. A new owner bought an apartment complex in March 2022 and, about six months later, started serving 60-day eviction notices, citing “extensive rehab.”

Francisca Castellanos was among those who received an eviction notice. She’s been living in her apartment for 46 years and said she pays $825 a month in rent. She’s not sure what she’d do if she had to move.

“I’m used to being here,” the 74-year-old said. “I live comfortably.”

Castellanos said she was told her rent would nearly double, to $1,600, if she wanted to return after the renovations.

Two older women sit side by side on the steps to an apartment's front door. Each woman has her hands folded neatly on their laps. They look serious, tired, concerned.
Francisca Castellanos (left) and Herlinda Villanueva (right). Castellanos has lived in her Pittsburg apartment for the past 46 years; Villanueva has lived in hers for a decade. (Vanessa Rancaño/KQED)

After tenants marched to the property manager’s office to protest, Contra Costa County ACCE Director David Sharples helped broker a deal to stop the evictions. To keep their homes, the renters agreed to a 10% rent increase beginning in April.

The owner of the building confirmed the details of the agreement, but declined to comment further.

“It shows why we need to pass stronger tenant protections,” Sharples said. “We know one of the leading causes of homelessness is eviction and rent increases.”

ACCE organizers are working with the tenants to urge the city to pass local renter protections. Most local rent stabilization and just cause ordinances go beyond state law, and can include provisions to prevent landlords from exploiting renovation evictions.

But tenants’ rights organizations said these “reno-victions” are happening around the state. So, they worked with Sen. Durazo’s office on her bill to crack down on them.

Simon-Weisberg said SB 567 cuts off the financial incentive to exploit renovations by requiring landlords to let tenants return at the same rent, or pay a relocation fee of six times the current fair market rent for the area.

It would also require property owners to have permits in hand before issuing eviction notices, provide a description of the repairs to be completed and detail how long they’re expected to take.

“If we do that, then landlords will only do it where they need to do it, not as a business model,” she said.

The bill also puts tighter limits on other types of no-fault evictions, including when an owner wants to move in or take their property off the market. Owners who plan to stop renting would have to keep their buildings off the market at least 10 years, and those who want to move in would have to do so within 90 days and stay for at least three years.

Dunn, the attorney for Avila Garcia’s landlord, called the proposal “another unconstitutional attempt to turn the entire state of California into a rent-controlled state.”

“Every landlord in California should be concerned with this proposed legislation as currently written,” Dunn wrote.

A wide shot of dozens of protestors in front of a superior court building. Large signs read "Stop Evictions, Save Lives."
Protesters form a line in front of Santa Clara County Superior Court in San José on Jan. 27, 2021, demanding stronger state eviction protections. A new California bill would crack down on renovation-related evictions — one of the few reason property owners can evict tenants without cause in the state. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Vaughan, of the California Rental Housing Association, said property owners need to be able to raise rents to deal with the impacts of inflation and COVID eviction moratoriums, or simply to recuperate costs associated with a renovation.

“You have to realize how much we've struggled in the last three years with not being able to collect rent in many cases,” he said. “How are we supposed to absorb these kinds of costs?”

Avila Garcia is asking himself a similar question as he prepares to move his family into a new apartment in Concord that’s going to cost him $400 more a month.

He’s been working at a market for more than six years and makes $16 an hour, just over minimum wage. He said he’ll find another job, at night, to afford the increase.

“They’re raising rents, and they don’t want to raise salaries,” he said. “How are we supposed to come up with the money to pay?”

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