This summer, Alejandra Pérez Orozco of Bay Area Legal Aid’s Contra Costa County housing law team and Hilda Chan, Regional Counsel of Housing Litigation, with co-counsel from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), achieved a major legal victory for tenants of an apartment building in San Pablo.
California’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019 includes provisions that limit the allowable reasons for eviction in cases where a tenant has done nothing wrong. One of the situations where a landlord does not need to demonstrate that a tenant is at fault is when the landlord needs to “substantially remodel” a unit, and this process will take more than 30 days and make the unit unsafe for occupancy. Unfortunately, many landlords have seen a financial incentive in pushing the limits of “substantial remodel” evictions as a way to evade the law’s tenant protections to increase rents.
This was the central issue in the San Pablo building, where the owner sought to evict all six remaining tenants in a 14-unit building under the false allegation that the City of San Pablo was requiring the tenants to vacate due to “substantial remodel” provisions. BayLegal represented two tenants, and ACCE represented all six. All were low-income Latinx immigrants, with long-term tenancies in the building, rents well below market rate, and no other affordable options to move to in the Bay Area.
After working with an expert consultant, completing six depositions, and preparing for jury trial, the landlord dismissed all six evictions at the eve of trial. The team negotiated additional terms post-dismissal with the owner that included terms to limit no-cause notices while he remains owner and terms to facilitate the purchase of the property by a local land trust.
Bay Area Legal Aid’s ability to fund this costly litigation was secured with the help of a grant from the San Francisco Foundation. The importance of this support highlights the overall need for well-funded, expert legal services in housing cases: dismissals in this type of case are very unusual, and a major contributing factor is the economic imbalance in access to justice for landlords and tenants. Approximately 80% of landlords have legal representation in eviction cases, but fewer than 3% of tenants come to court with an attorney.
For further detail on this story, please see coverage in the East Bay Times from August 22, 2022 (subscription required).