The Palo Alto City Council officially approved a new ordinance on August 21 that reduces the lease term required to qualify for just cause eviction protections. Under California state law, just cause protections take effect after 12 months of tenancy. The newly adopted ordinance will lower this threshold to six months for Palo Alto renters. The expansion of just cause protections builds on a series of recent victories for Palo Alto renters, including an earlier ordinance to strengthen statewide just cause standards and a lowered cap on security deposits. Organizers with the Palo Alto Renters’ Association played an integral role in the campaign to secure these new protections.
“Palo Alto renters have not had representation for 50 years but are almost 50% of the voters,” said Lauren Bigelow, board chair of Palo Alto Renters’ Association. “Thanks to Palo Alto Renters’ Association’s work, the City of Palo Alto finally understands that renters deserve to have rules that help them stay in their homes. Having local jurisdictions create renter protections that strengthen the state’s bare-bones policy ensures that those protections suit the individual needs of its constituents, renters and landlords alike.”
The California state legislature enacted Assembly Bill 1482, which established statewide just cause eviction protections, in 2019 (see Memo, 9/23/19). The law bans no-cause evictions for renters who have been in their homes for more than one year. Landlords can still evict tenants with cause, such as nonpayment of rent or destruction of property. AB 1482 also restricts landlords to annual rent increases of 5% plus the rate of inflation. The law does not apply to renters living in single-family homes or homes built within the past 15 years, or renters who have lived in their homes for less than one year. The provisions of AB 1482 will sunset in 2030.
Palo Alto City Council’s latest ordinance will extend the protections of AB 1482 to renters who have been in their homes for at least six months. The Council approved the ordinance on a first reading on August 7 and officially adopted it with a second reading on August 21. The provisions will take effect on September 21.
This ordinance marks Palo Alto City Council’s second major expansion of just cause protections in 2023. The Council voted on June 5 to apply just cause protections to buildings constructed within the past 15 years and to make its protections permanent, unlike the statewide just cause law that expires after 10 years. This new ordinance took effect on July 20 and requires landlords to give renters notice of their right to just cause evictions in the future, state the specific just cause reason for eviction in a termination notice, provide renters with the opportunity to address curable lease violations prior to issuing a termination notice, and provide financial relocation assistance or a rent waiver in cases of no-fault just cause evictions.
“Homeowners have the predictability agreed upon in their mortgage and the incentives codified in our taxes,” said Angie Evans, cofounder of Palo Alto Renters’ Association. “By beginning to close these policy loopholes, we move California’s most exclusive city toward a more fair and stable place for tenants. And in this city where 80% of our lower income tenants are rent-burdened, it couldn’t happen soon enough!”
The Council also voted on June 5 to limit security deposits to 150% of the monthly rent for unfurnished apartments. Under state law, landlords can charge security deposits up to 200% of rent. The city is also in the process of developing a new rental registry, approved by the Council on May 31, which was a longstanding priority for Palo Alto Renters’ Association and other local advocates.
Palo Alto Renters’ Association officially launched during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to the persistent underrepresentation of renters in city government. Renters in Palo Alto, who constitute approximately 46% of Palo Alto residents, must navigate the housing market in one of the least affordable regions of the country. According to NLIHC’s Out of Reach report, workers in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metropolitan area, in which Palo Alto is located, must earn an hourly wage of $56.56 to afford a standard two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, making it the third most expensive metropolitan area in the country.
“The reality is evictions happen every day in Palo Alto, primarily impacting seniors, single parents, and BIPOC community members,” said Katie Causey, former tenant organizer and current board member of Palo Alto Renters’ Association. “Thanks to the Palo Alto Renters’ Association, tenant protections are finally getting on track in Palo Alto!”
The passage of new tenant protections in Palo Alto builds on the momentum of more than 200 state and local tenant protections passed since January 2021. The End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE) Project at NLIHC has been working to track protections passed across the country in its State and Local Tenant Protections Database. The ERASE Project was formed in January 2021 to ensure that the historic $46.6 billion in emergency rental assistance aid enacted by Congress reached the lowest-income and most marginalized people for whom the aid was intended. The ERASE Project has been working closely with its coalition of state and local partners this year to advocate for the passage of stronger tenant protections.
For more information about the ERASE campaign and tenant protections, visit: https://nlihc.org/tenant-protections
For more information about Palo Alto Renters Association, visit: https://www.paloaltorenters.org/