Just cause eviction ordinances have more to do with politics than “justice”. The unforeseen consequences in tight rental markets in California will be to reduce housing opportunities for poor tenants as apartment owners with less control over their property will be much more selective in choosing tenants.
If there ever was a misnamed piece of legislation it is the Santa Barbara City Council’s Just-Cause Eviction ordinance. “Just cause”, of course, refers to the word “justice” and this new proposed ordinance has no relation to justice. It has a lot to do with politics, however.
Santa Barbara is not alone in pushing through these “just cause” ordinances: they are on the agendas of almost every municipality in California.
The Progressive organization CAUSE has been pushing Santa Barbara’s City Council to adopt more social justice provisions such as just cause eviction laws for several years now and this is a partial victory for them. This is Round One of a battle to establish rent control in Santa Barbara.
There are unseen consequences of this ordinance, consequences that will make it more difficult for poor people to find rentals. But most of those Council members voting for it cared only about looking good to their political base—a kind of virtue signaling. If they really cared about tenants, they would have explored the ordinance’s negatives before they voted.
The “problem” with rental housing in Santa Barbara is a complex issue, but it comes down to this: there isn’t enough housing to satisfy rental demand. The housing market is tight and rents are high because Santa Barbarans don’t want “growth” and the City Mothers and Fathers have baked this anti-growth sentiment into the law. This is nothing new: the rental market here has always been tight.
I once joked that we could solve the housing shortage by building a 100-story condo/apartment building (think of the open space that would create). That idea didn’t get much traction because Santa Barbarans see their little town as something special; high-rises don’t fit their vision of who they are.
There will never be enough rental housing here to satisfy demand. Ever. While our meddling public servants in Sacramento keep trying to push granny units down our throats, local jurisdictions fight that fang and claw. The reality is that you can never build enough granny flats to satisfy demand or bring down rents. There just isn’t enough land and building costs are too high. Subsidized housing? Forget it, it’s a drop in the bucket and there’s never enough money.
The result is that poor people are crammed into existing rentals. Units meant for 4 or 5 people are occupied by 12, or more. Shared living spaces are now common.
We, because we don’t want our city to become another L.A., have created this problem. We don’t want developers to build vertically and create more density and congestion. We don’t want to pay more taxes to subsidize housing for poor people. In short, although we caused it, we don’t want to pay for it. Instead we shove the problem onto the backs of apartment owners and force them to bear the social costs. It’s easy to do that when you demonize them as greedy landlords who could care less for their tenants. And that is unjust.
The proposed ordinance forces apartment owners to:
- Give tenants a minimum one-year tenancy by written lease (vs. a month-to-month rental agreement). Rents may not be increased during the one-year rental period.
- A tenant may only be evicted for “cause” such as nonpayment of rent, criminal activity, damage, or some violation of the lease terms. City approved lease forms will be supplied to apartment owners.
- Give tenants “relocation assistance” in the event of no-cause “mass evictions” for buildings with 7 or more units (this is a separate ordinance). “Mass” means 1 (20% of total units) or more evictions during a 12-month period. The owner is required to pay the tenant the greater of $4,000 or 4X the “median advertised rental rate”. Additional compensation of $3,000 is required for the elderly, disabled, poor, and emancipated minors.
I listened to the entire Council hearing on this matter and it was not an impartial presentation of the issues surrounding eviction. It was predicated on the lack of affordability of rental housing and the difficulty of poor people to live here. The only solution presented was the just cause ordinance. There was nothing about the need for, or willingness to provide, more housing, or why housing is expensive, or the fact that rental affordability is endemic to all of Southern California, not just Santa Barbara. There was nothing about the burdens placed on apartment owners. There was nothing about the negative consequences of this ordinance.
There are unseen consequences to such ordinances. In a very tight rental market apartment owners with less flexibility to evict a tenant can and will be more selective in choosing tenants. The unintended results of these “socially just tenant rights” will make it harder for poor tenants to qualify for housing. This is not mere conjecture. Such laws have been studied in many jurisdictions and the conclusions are always the same: tenants, especially poor ones, are worse off.
It was clear that most Council members saw just the cause eviction ordinance as a moral crusade for the rights of tenants. They were moved by sad stories of evictions that cause a hardship to some tenants.
I am always chagrined when politicians claim the high ground and, as in our case, find tenant’s rights a “moral imperative” when they, in my opinion, have no grasp of the philosophy of justice or the moral imperative of property rights. They ignore the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the concepts of rights and justice founded in natural law which have brought about the most just and prosperous nation in all of mankind’s history.
Politicians have a simplistic world view: choose a “noble cause”, generate moral outrage, pass a law to implement it, and everything will be fine. There are two problems with that. One is that they are blind to the unseen consequences of their policies. The other is that they have no skin in the game—they never suffer the consequences of their bad policies. This is the genesis of bad laws.
This “just cause” ordinance is bad law. It will make poor tenants worse off and do nothing to alleviate the housing shortage or high rents. But it will probably get them re-elected.
There is something of record that needs to be addressed, and that is CAUSE’s claim that Santa Barbara’s Latino population has decreased 24% since 2011. That claim is not supported by the data that CAUSE cites as its source. They say the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that the Latino population in the city of Santa Barbara dropped by 9,308 from 2011 (38,780) to 2017 (29,422).
My research into that very same data shows the opposite: the Hispanic/Latino population has been very steady during that period:
Anyone can double check the data by going to the Census Bureau.