23 ABC Bakersfield
By Vania Patino
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Advocacy groups across the state, including some from Kern County, made a trip to Sacramento Monday to push for Senate Bill 567, otherwise known as the Homelessness Prevention Act. The effort came a day before a scheduled judiciary hearing on the issue on Tuesday.
SB 567 looks to build on the already-existing California Tenants Protection Act that went into effect in 2020 which essentially limits annual rent increases, among other protections. However, housing advocates argue it is full of loopholes, that make it easy for people to get evicted, which they are hoping to close with the new legislation.
So, they made their voices heard. Marching with banners in hand, advocacy groups walked to the state capitol, voicing their support for SB 567. Their goal was to talk to legislators and explain why they need this bill to pass.
One of the advocates who went to Sacramento was Bakersfield resident Tereza Reyes. In Spanish, she explains that everything seemed to be fine at her home, and then she was suddenly told she had to leave.
Reyes has been living in her home for 3 years and paying $700 a month in rent when she received a tenant termination letter from her landlord. The letter says the reason for her eviction is considered "no fault - just cause" under current California law, stating the eviction is because the owner wants to remodel the property.
That is one of the three legal reasons which also include the owner or a family member of the owner wanting to move, or looking to sell the property.
Reyes says she had no idea this was possible and did not see it coming as she says she was never late on rent and had been a good tenant for the past 3 years. Adding the eviction has left her heartbroken.
Reyes now has until May 17 to find a new place to live. She says she asked the landlord if she and her family could at least stay through the end of the school year so her kids could finish out their semesters without dealing with having to move, but he said no.
Between tears, Reyes says she's had no luck finding another apartment, and she's worried her family will become homeless before finding something they can afford.
The 'just cause' reason for evictions is what SB 567 is hoping to get rid of in the California Tenants Protection Act of 2019. As legislators explained, landlords and property owners are abusing the 'just cause' provision.
Sasha Harnden, Senior Public Policy Advocate for Inner City Law Center explained at the hearing.
"With respect to substantial renovation, we have seen abuses in 2 ways; both claimed renovation that never materialized but gave the basis for an eviction and forced a family out, and also deferred maintenance during the pandemic," said Harnden.
SB 567 would require that if a "no-fault just cause" is used to evict someone on the basis of selling the property, then that property must be taken off the rental market for at least 10 years.
Committee member and State Senator Thomas Umberg from Santa Ana raised concerns about this timeline and the details of the changes.
"The bill says 10 years, so again, we don't want to raise false expectations that, at least to me, 10 years off the market is way too long," said Umberg.
Just as the room filled with those in support of the bill, there were those who opposed, such as the California Apartment Association.
"Now you are telling us 'Why did you even come to the table?' You are saying to us 'We are always going to change the rules on you even though we came to the table in good faith" said Debra Carlton, a representative with the CAA. "We are respectfully asking for your no vote."
Carlton adding that owners have lost millions of dollars and some owners are losing their homes due to the current tenant protection laws.
The author of SB 567, State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, argues the loopholes only let landlords take advantage of tenants.
"It is wrong for a landlord to say they are going to renovate a unit and use that as an excuse to evict and raise the rent," said Durazo. "Too much of that is happening."
Durazo cited a 2020 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found a $100 dollar median rent increase led to a 9 percent increase in homelessness across the country. Durazo also noted that, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, California made up 30 percent of the nation's total homeless population in 2022.
Cities like Bakersfield are already looking into this issue, with the city Housing and Homelessness Committee also meeting on Tuesday to discuss eviction prevention services.
"When we are talking about the inflow of new individuals to homelessness, homeless prevention is more cost-effective than rehousing or rehabilitating those experiencing homelessness," said Assistant Director for Economic and Community Development for the City of Bakersfield Jenni Byers.
Byers says they are working with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, who came up with this eviction prevention plan, which will also include case management services, legal consultation, and mediation services.
The eviction prevention plan would have worked through a multi-language public awareness campaign, a public education workshop and mobile clinics on tenant and landlord rights, as well as legal aid for tenants facing eviction.
The City of Bakersfield did not adopt that eviction prevention plan, only receiving and filing it, but they are looking to bring it to the rest of the city council. As for the state bill, the motion did pass 4 to 1 and now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee but with an amendment to remove a rent cap that had initially been included.
IN-DEPTH: WHAT WOULD SB 567 DO?
The main aim of SB 567 is to make sure there are no wrongful evictions that lead to families living on the streets. An in-depth look at the text of SB 567 reveals the types of changes the legislation is calling for.
Sasha Harnden, Senior Public Policy Advocate with the Inner City Law Center of Los Angeles supports the bill, and elaborated on the proposed changes during the State Judiciary Committee meeting held Tuesday.
"SB 567 addresses loopholes and unforeseen flaws in the TPA's just-cause provisions, which allow for evictions for legitimate reasons so long as those reasons are stated upfront," said Harnden
The text of the law further details what they mean by wanting to have reasons clearly stated upfront about evictions. For example, one of the changes the law would bring if passed, is about how repairs are handled on rental properties.
Under SB 567, landlords would have to provide a detailed description of the repairs being done, how long it will take, and why the tenant would have to leave while repairs are happening.
The landlord would also have to offer the tenant an opportunity to return to the unit with the same rental agreement and rental rate. The tenant must not be evicted during the time repairs are happening unless they choose to leave or move.
SB 567, if passed, would also make sure the rent isn't increased for the tenant if and when they return after repairs are completed.