Hannah Kemp hadn’t pictured herself as a tenant activist, but with less than two months to either find a new apartment or pay a steep increase in rent, she feels there’s no choice but to fight back.
A new statewide rent control law was designed to help people like Kemp, but on Oct. 27, the landlord of her downtown Seventh Street apartment building gave her and her neighbors a 60-day notice to move out, a legal maneuver that allows the landlord to clear out his property before the new law takes effect.
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, her landlord will be forbidden to evict a tenant without just cause, nor could he raise rents by more than 10% in any given year, or 5% plus the cost-of-living percentage, whichever is lower.
The law is AB 1482, known as the Tenant Protection Act of 2019. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law Oct. 8 after it passed the state Assembly and Senate on partisan votes.
Nearly all the Democrats in the state senate, with the exception of those who didn’t participate in the vote, were in favor of the bill, and most of the Democrats in the Assembly endorsed the bill. The bill did not gain any Republican support in either the Assembly or the Senate.
Because the governor signed the law nearly three months before it was to take effect, landlords had time to legally issue the 60-day notices and clear out their units and then rent them out at higher rates.
That delay in implementing the new law is the reason Kemp and her 10-year-old daughter have until Christmas Eve to move out. For the single mother who commutes to her job as a corporate warehouse administrator in Livermore and lives paycheck to paycheck, the 60-day notice came as a shock.
“From that moment, I haven’t stopped stressing over it and worrying,” Kemp said. “My first reaction was, What am I going to do? The options that were given to me, in my specific situation, neither of them were options.”
She said the building owner, Eric Biland of Redwood City, told her she could stay if she would agree to a monthly rent of $1,400, closer to the market rate for a one-bedroom apartment in Tracy. Kemp said she paid $700 a month when she moved in three years ago and now pays $900. Another similar rent increase would be manageable, but an increase of $500 a month is not.
“Leaving is also not an option, because having to pay rent for the two months that I’m trying to look for somewhere else to go is not going to allow me to save money for a down payment or a security deposit on somewhere else,” she said. “I can’t leave because I can’t afford it and I can’t stay because I can’t afford it. I will have nowhere else to go. That’s a very hard situation to be in.”
Her downstairs neighbor, Michael Hays, pays $925 for the one-bedroom apartment that he and his wife, Connie, have lived in for seven years. Both are on disability, and Hays relies on Veterans Affairs benefits from his four years in the Air Force to pay his medical expenses that arise because of Parkinson’s disease and heart problems.
Once he got over the shock of the 60-day notice, he drafted letters to send to the governor, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman and state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani.
“For about three days, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep right,” he said, adding that even with his own health issues, he’s more concerned about his wife, who is recovering from a fall that broke her legs.
“We’ll die on the streets,” he said. “There’s no way with our health.”
Biland did not respond to requests for an interview, but the letter he sent Kemp and other tenants said that the timing of the new law essentially forced landlords to issue the 60-day notices before the end of the year to anyone who was paying less than the market rate. Had he not issued those notices, the rents tenants pay now would be locked in as of Jan. 1 and future increases would be limited by the new law.
“Landlords are forced into raising rents to market rate for all of their units – otherwise, their properties will fall further and further behind in value,” he wrote to his tenants in a memo that accompanied the 60-day notice.
Landlords using the 60-day notice provision to clear their properties so they can bring in new tenants at higher rents is nothing new, according to Robert Brooke-Munoz, director of San Joaquin Fair Housing.
“Tracy started years ago with rents going higher because of Bay Area people,” Brook-Munoz said. “Now it has affected the whole San Joaquin Valley, especially Stockton, and in the past two years we’ve seen a lot of dramatic changes as far as rents going up and families given notice because of no rent control.”
Brook-Munoz said that landlords had already been limited in how much they could raise rents on existing tenants, but before AB 1482, they could issue a 30-day notice to vacate for anyone renting for less than a year or a 60-day notice for someone who had been in an apartment for more than a year.
“There doesn’t have to be a reason, which we know basically is just to raise the rent,” he said. “It’s not considered an eviction. It’s just a legal way of an owner getting their property back.
“That’s been happening for the past couple of years. With the influx of Bay Area people coming to the valley because it’s more affordable, owners knew they could make their rents higher, but more affordable to Bay Area people.
“The last two years have been very hard for families in San Joaquin County.”
Kemp said that she had found plenty of other people in the same situation she is in. She has also learned that some cities — including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento — have their own rent control laws that protect renters from what is happening to her.
She’s now searching for an advocate in government who can help pass an emergency ordinance for Tracy or San Joaquin County to give her and her neighbors a reprieve. She reached out to Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom after both attended last week’s meeting of the Tracy Community Homelessness Taskforce meeting at the Tracy Branch Library.
She is also meeting with tenant advocacy groups that are helping her determine whether her landlord followed the letter of the law in his 60-day notices. If he didn’t, she might get to stay in her place a bit longer.