Advocates of renter protection legislation in San Pablo have submitted more than 1,600 signatures to the city clerk’s office seeking an initiative on the November ballot.

The Contra Costa County registrar of voters has 30 days to approve at least 1,278 valid signatures before it goes to voters.

If it goes on the ballot and is approved in the election, the initiative would establish a rent program under the city manager’s office, where tenants can file petitions if the landlord fails to make repairs or takes away housing service and landlords can file a petition if they are not receiving a reasonable return on their investment. It also includes ordinances for rent stabilization, tenant anti-harassment and just-cause evictions.

“There is no state law that makes these requirements,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, a UC Law San Francisco professor who directs the legal nonprofit California Center for Movement Legal Services that wrote the ballot initiative for San Pablo.

Simon-Weisberg said state laws are useless and riddled with loopholes, so there is a need to pass local ordinances to protect people. State law does not preempt cities from doing so. Local rent control ordinances passed in the state have grown in recent years, from 15 in 2015 to now 40, she said.

She said San Pablo’s proposed measure is similar to ones that have passed in other cities, including Antioch and Richmond. She is also the legal director for the grassroots organizations that helped collect signatures — Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Rising Juntos. Currently, they have ballot petitions running in seven other California cities for the November election.

They rallied Tuesday in front of San Pablo City Hall with banners stating “Rent Control Now” and “Housing is a Human Right.”

Closing a ‘loophole’

“When people go into the emergency room with a heart attack or stroke, one of the questions, they ask is ‘are you having issues with your housing?’” Simon-Weisberg said to the crowd. “That should not be as common as it is today. Landlords in San Pablo think that they are free to do whatever they want and throw people out arbitrarily.

“There was a rash of what we call reno-victions where landlords claim they are evicting tenants because they’re going to make repairs,” she said. “Tenants have no right of return. There’s no requirement that they come back at the same rent, and so this closes that loophole.”

San Pablo is a largely Latino community that has a majority tenant population. Many of the activists on Tuesday, speaking in English and Spanish, shared stories of harassment and unfair evictions.

(Image via Freepik)

“A common thing that landlords do is they’ll take away people’s parking to kind of make it hard for them,” Simon-Weisberg said. “Like an elderly person, or people who have evening shifts and have to find parking in the middle of the night, and towing cars is a common thing they do.”

The new legislation will also require landlords to submit documentation to the city whenever they serve an eviction notice, a summons and complaint. Eviction cases in California are sealed, so there’s not a lot of public data available.

The coalition expects opposition to the ballot will come from local property owner associations.

California law caps rents yearly at 5 percent plus the rate of inflation but no more than 10 percent, Simon-Weisberg said. This ordinance is rent stabilization and caps rent at 60 percent of the Consumer Price Index or no more than 3 percent, whichever is less.

“Under state law, a tenant whose rent is $1,000 can get a rent increase as high as $100,” she said. “A tenant in San Pablo would only get a $30 increase if the rent was $1,000.”