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Santa Rosa considers eviction protections for renters

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Santa Rosa landlords appear to be kicking out low-income residents for no other reason than to capitalize on the soaring demand for rental property in the city following the recent fires, according to city officials.

The City Council on Tuesday night will consider an immediate ban on such evictions while the state of emergency remains in effect, a proposal likely to be welcomed by housing advocates and blasted by real estate interests.

Since the fires, 15 residents paying federally subsidized rent have been issued 90-day eviction notices, according to Santa Rosa housing officials.

City staff members have “received multiple reports that some landlords may be taking advantage of the exceptional circumstances to evict existing lower income tenants in order to rent, at significantly higher rates, to insured households displaced by the fires,” according to a city report.

In addition, city officials have received anecdotal reports that other renters have received similar evictions at a time most can ill-afford it.

“The combination of the City’s extremely low vacancy rates and the sudden spike in rents may make it difficult, if not impossible, for lower income tenants to find affordable rental housing within Santa Rosa, placing those individuals and families at increased risk of housing instability and homelessness,” the city report states.

It is not clear how the city knows those 15 evictions are related to the fires. David Gouin, the city’s director of Housing and Community Services, said the department is still researching that. City Attorney Sue Gallagher called the claims “anecdotal.”

How the new law would mesh with the city’s existing price-gouging rules is also not clear. That ordinance prevents landlords and other businesses from increasing prices more than 10 percent during the state of emergency.

The city was already facing an acute housing shortage before the fires, with a vacancy rate around 1 percent and housing prices that have risen to all-time highs. Home prices and rents have both increased following fires that wiped out 5 percent of the city’s housing stock.

The city ordinance would bar landlords from evicting residents for anything other than 10 approved reasons. These include nonpayment or repeated late payment of rent, violating the rental agreement, creating a nuisance, illegal use of the rental, or a tenant’s refusal to renew their lease on the old terms.

Other allowable eviction reasons include refusal to allow a landlord access to the unit for repairs, a landlord’s need to correct code violations, taking the property off the market, or if the landlord themselves or “a close relative or a resident manager” intends to occupy the unit.

The City Council approved a controversial rent-control law in 2016 that also included a provision requiring landlords to have “just cause” to evict residents. This was aimed at preventing landlords from getting around the rent controls by kicking people out and renting to new tenants at market rates. The law was overturned by referendum in June, and this law does not conflict with the prohibition against the city taking similar action for a year, Gallagher said.

The council has the ability to pass the measure as an “urgency” ordinance, which would go into effect immediately. That takes five votes to pass. It could also pass it in the regular manner, taking effect 30 days after a second reading.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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