Eviction Safeguard Gets Mixed Reviews

South Pasadena residents gather at City Hall on Nov. 6 to support passage of an urgency ordinance protecting tenants from no-cause evictions. Photo by Skye Hannah

While the “urgency ordinance’’ passed by City Council on Nov. 6 to protect renters from no-cause evictions has saved some residents from getting the boot, other residents this week told the Review the council’s action was too little, too late — because many renters have already moved on.

The ordinance was meant to close a gap ahead of a new state law that caps rent hikes.

The ordinance, unanimously passed on  a 5-0 vote, went into effect immediately and will remain in place until Jan. 1, when the state-wide Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) goes into effect. The state act will give tenants additional protections, such as required relocation assistance and a documented reason for eviction.

Resident Hayley Nielsen, a tenant of the multi-unit 635 Prospect Ave. apartment building, told the Review she was one of the few people who did not receive a 60-day eviction notice. As she watched her neighbors continually receive notices starting in September, she said the stress had grown and she was fearful to make concrete plans, thinking she would be next. She was glad the ordinance was passed but wished it had been sooner so that her neighbors wouldn’t have been forced to move out.

“For many people around the room, it was kind of too little, too late. … It did help some people but we maybe have, out of a 32-unit building, there’s maybe six occupied apartments,” said Nielsen.

“That means everyone else in the apartment was not protected. It is kind of a bittersweet feeling for us. Yeah, some people get to stay, but also our community in this building has kind of already been ripped apart.”

Nielsen attended the City Council meeting on Oct. 2 where her fellow tenant, Evelyn Allen, first shared concerns on the mass evictions at their building.

On Oct. 29, Nielsen, Allen and several other tenants at her building met with an ad-hoc committee consisting of Mayor Marina Khubesrian and Council Member Michael Cacciotti to discuss eviction concerns. Nielsen said Khubesrian and Cacciotti expressed concerns that development companies would file suit against the city if an ordinance were passed.

“When we met with the City Council, they told us because of the possibility of a lawsuit, they weren’t going to do it,” said Nielsen. “A lot of people said ‘OK’ and they moved out.”

Khubesrian confirmed to the Review that a lawsuit was a concern at first. She said that if evictions had been happening at just one building, an urgency ordinance would have been difficult to pass. Once she heard of several other buildings being affected, however, she knew the city was “going to be able to make the findings of a crisis level disruption to the community.”

“Once I knew we could make that finding and once I knew that would significantly reduce the liability to the city because we could easily demonstrate that, given what we were hearing from people, I knew it was worth considering the emergency moratorium,” said Khubesrian.

Larry Estrada, a tenant of 635 Prospect Ave., spoke at the Nov. 6 special meeting and said he was “surprised” that the ordinance passed. He received a 60-day notice at the end of September and expressed a sense of frustration regarding communication from the management company Anchor Pacifica Group. After the pressure of the notice and being unsure whether he’d be able to stay in his apartment, he found another apartment in South Pasadena.

“I figured it was best for me to move on,” said Estrada. “After this, I don’t want to stay with them. They got their way and I’m moving out.”

Estrada said he was happy with the ordinance, however, as it would protect some of his neighbors, including a family with two girls who attend South Pasadena High School. He said he understood that property owners were within their rights to evict people in order to charge higher rents, but he wished it had been gone about differently.

“All if all, I suppose that’s the way our country, our society is going,” said Estrada. “It’s kind of a shame. As I said, they’re entitled to make money, it’s their property, I understand that. It’s just doing so without care on the people they’re impacting.”

Council Member Diana Mahmud expressed sense of pride for the passing of the ordinance while cautioning that it is not “a silver bullet.”

“I strongly suggest that they (renters) follow up with their landlord and ascertain whether or not the landlord is going to honor the ordinance or seek to force them out by way of unlawful detainer, because if that’s the case, then they have to be prepared for that,” said Mahmud. “They don’t want to be caught flat-footed. The best way to know whether they have to prepare is just to contact their landlord directly.”

Khubesrian said she understood the challenge of property owners balancing the needs of bringing below-market buildings up to code and to market value, with many of the buildings having higher property taxes from the previous owners.

“From a business perspective, you see where they’re going to because they need to cover their costs and they need to make a profit,” said Khubesrian. “However, housing as a for-profit business in this day and age, when we’re seeing such huge numbers of homelessness, that really puts into question where we put the priorities to balance and regulate this particular business model. … We fell on the side of expanding the state’s bill to be in effect that night, rather than two months later.”