From the California Progress Report.
By Dean Preston
Imagine that you pay your rent faithfully for years and then one month something extraordinary happens and you need to pay late. That’s exactly what recently happened to a Los Angeles tenant named Jorge, a former Marine and automotive tech who lived in his rent-controlled apartment for thirteen years with his wife and three children paying rent timely each month. In February, the family was not able to pay the rent until the 10th of the month, and conscientiously advised the landlord of the situation.
The landlord responded with a three-day notice to pay or quit and immediately filed an eviction action, refusing to accept this one-time late payment of rent. The tenants now have an eviction on their record and will likely become homeless. When the judge at trial noted that the landlord’s actions were extremely harsh, the landlord’s lawyer replied, “that is what the law permits.”
Unfortunately, the landlord’s lawyer is right. Under California law, tenants have no right to pay after the expiration of a three-day pay or quit notice to maintain their tenancy. Tenants who are just four days late on rent can be thrown out of their homes notwithstanding their willingness to pay rent, even if they have lived there for years.
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D- San Francisco) has authored AB 265 to address such unfair evictions. His bill cleared a major hurdle last week when it passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee despite an intensive lobbying effort by landlord groups. The bill would provide tenants being evicted for nonpayment the right to pay the rent due and specified costs during eviction proceedings in order to “redeem” the tenancy and prevent eviction. Similar rights exist in over a dozen states, but not in California.
“With the second highest rents in the nation, California tenants are suffering in the current economy,” noted Ammiano. “Despite their best efforts, some tenants cannot pay the rent on time, but with the help of family, friends or nonprofit rental assistance programs are able to come up with the money soon after it is due. These tenants should be protected from eviction.”
A right to redemption already exists under California law for property owners (including landlords) who default on mortgage payments. A landlord who fails to make mortgage payments that are due has months in which to pay up and retain their rights to the property, but a tenant has a mere three-day period in which to pay any and all rent due or face eviction.
The Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 to move the bill to the full Assembly for a vote. Assemblymember Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) broke with her fellow Democrats on the Committee to oppose the bill.
AB 265 will prevent unnecessary and unfair evictions without creating any hardship for landlords. The bill deserves broad support.
Dean Preston is the Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. Tenants Together is the sponsor of AB 265. For more information about Tenants Together, visit www.TenantsTogether.org.