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Housing Policy • April 4, 2006

SACRAMENTO REPORT

SACRAMENTO REPORT

By

Greg McConnell

 

In this report, we discuss new legislation introduced by Assembly Member Saldana aimed at slowing or stopping conversions of rental housing to condominiums and a bill by Senator Kuehl that puts landlords in the middle of domestic violence disputes. Over the next several months, we will discuss other bills as they work their way through the Office of Legislative Council and get set for hearing.

 

NEW RESTRICTIONS ON CONVERTING TO CONDOMINIUMS

 

AB 2464 (Saldana)

 

This bill would place serious obstacles in the way of Condo Conversions.  Apparently, the author believes that low income people are being displaced as landlords opt to convert rental units to condominiums.  To stop or slow the pace of conversions, the bill would amend the California Environmental Quality Act to require an agency, which is considering the approval of a conversion, to demonstrate that the conversion will have no adverse impact on the environment.  Under the bill, an adverse impact is defined to include condominium conversions which result in the removal of rental housing units from the supply of affordable housing in a city or county.

 

The bill will trigger CEQA review if the city in which the conversion is to occur has a population of over 250,000 or the county has a population of over 1,000,000, the vacancy rate is 8% or below, the city or county does not limit the number of annual conversions to fewer than 400 units, and other conditions apply.  This sounds like it limits application of the law, but in fact, it will apply to conversions in every major city and county in the state.

 

Any developer will tell you that CEQA is one of the major obstacles to building housing in California.  It gives individuals the power to file a legal action and bring a development project to a halt.  Quite often, CEQA lawsuits are frivolous, aimed at extorting concessions from a developer.  By tying conversions to the CEQA process, the bill would give individuals and legal aide groups a powerful weapon to stop conversions or to make them so expensive that landlords cannot convert.

 

The bill has many defects, but one of the most glaring is that it assumes that the removal of rental units adversely affects the supply of affordable housing. From my point of view conversions do just the opposite.  In California’s major cities, conversions are the last frontier of affordable home ownership for workforce people. People who buy converted units are most often first time buyers. They are teachers, firefighters, police officers, government workers and a host of other people who want to own homes in the over priced cities in which they work. Conversions don’t just change the status of properties; they change the status of the residents, from renters to homeowners. Seen in that light, condominium conversions increase affordability. 

 

Stay tuned, this bill will be hotly contested by landlords and realtors.

 

 

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

 

SB 1745 (Kuehl)

 

This bill would produce a major change in the law.  It prohibits discrimination against a victim of domestic violence and imposes new duties on landlords to assist victims of domestic violence. 

 

This bill would require a landlord of a building, if requested, to replace or reconfigure household locks upon the request of a tenant or household member who has obtained a valid protective order against a person who is also a tenant, if the requesting tenant or household member provides the landlord with a copy of the order. This bill would prohibit the landlord from providing copies of new keys to the tenant against whom the order of protection was issued.    This bill would provide that the tenant against whom the protective order was issued would not be released from liability or obligations under the rental agreement under these circumstances.

 

The bill would allow a tenant or household member who was a victim of an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, to terminate the rental agreement and be discharged from payment of rent for any period following the last day of the month of the quitting date, if the tenant or household member provides the landlord written proof that the tenant or household member has a valid protective order or that the tenant or household member has reported the domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to a qualified 3rd party and the qualified 3rd party has provided the tenant or the household member written documentation that the person is a victim of the act. The request to terminate must occur within 90 days of the act or circumstance that gave rise to the protective order. A tenant who terminates a rental agreement in this manner is entitled to return of the full deposit notwithstanding lease provisions that allow forfeiture of a deposit for early termination.

  

The bill would amend the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to include a person's status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, within the unlawful bases for discrimination in employment and housing accommodations.  The bill would make several changes to related anti - harassment and discrimination laws.

 

Here are some questions that immediately jump to mind when considering what would happen if this bill becomes law.

 

Who would be responsible for the cost of re-keying the property? Is this an expense the landlord would have to eat?

 

The bill states that the offending tenant is still responsible for the rent, but how realistic is it to expect payment of rent by a tenant who has been locked out?

 

Sometimes the victim is also an offending party. What happens in that situation? Does the landlord lock out both of the tenants?  Who, then, is responsible to pay the rent? 

 

How does the landlord get paid rent that is due, if the victim remains in the property but is not the wage earner and cannot pay the rent?  In an unlawful detainer action for non payment of rent, could the victim allege that the action is barred because it amounts to discrimination? 

 

What if the parties reconcile and then engage in renewed domestic disputes?  Could the landlord then evict the tenants or would he or she be barred from doing so because that would amount to discrimination?

 

How do landlords protect other tenants from spill over violence that often occurs in domestic disputes? 

 

While most people are very sympathetic to the plight of victims of domestic violence, these questions and many more that will come up as the bill is more thoroughly vetted, raise the question of what is the appropriate responsibility of landlords in these situations?

 

Over the next few months, we will provide detailed analysis of this measure. For now, this does not appear to be a change in law that landlords will be able to accept.

 

View the entire text of the bills in this report at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html

 

Greg McConnell is a rental housing consultant and legislative advocate.  He represents and advises apartment associations, property management companies, and individual landlords throughout California.  For more information please visit www.themcconnellgroup.com.

 

ă  This article is copyrighted and cannot be republished without the consent of the author.

 

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