San Jose city leaders to vote on renters issues

SAN JOSE (KGO) -- The San Jose City Council is tackling the thorny issue of tenant protection at a meeting Tuesday afternoon where renters and landlords are expected to pressure council members to see things their way.

At issue is a new ordinance that would limit no-cause evictions and would require property owners to state reasons for just cause evictions. City staff has been studying how other Bay Area cities handle evictions. The argument by renters and community organizations supporting them is that tenants can be evicted as a means for landlords to turn over units to obtain higher rent without a specific complaint against the renter. The argument by landlords is that they need the ability to evict problem tenants who don't pay rent, damage property, or otherwise violate terms of their lease. A group of pro-tenant rights supporters has been staging a hunger strike since Thursday evening.

RELATED: San Jose community leaders sound alarm on no-cause evictions

There are several courses of action the council could take, including postponing action while more study is done or amendments can be considered, passing the ordinance, or rejecting it outright. San Jose's housing department has held 12 public meetings from November to February to solicit input from tenants, property owners, developers and the general public leading up to Tuesday's council consideration.

Landlords brought their case to the council. Several landlords believe council members have already made up their minds.

"The just cause eviction requirement would be the worst thing you could do for 99 percent of the tenants, the good tenants. It is my only tool for acting as an arbitrator when I have a bad tenant next to a good tenant," San Jose landowner Richard Matthews said.

Landlords currently can do no-cause evictions, which they say can help get rid of suspected drug dealers, those who damage property or violate their leases. But a just-cause provision would set specific reasons for evictions. That, tenants, fear might throw them out into a tight rental market at much higher rent.

"If full just-cause is implemented, respectable tenants will not have to fear retaliatory eviction the way I and the other tenants in my building did," evicted tenant Shelley Leiser said.

As drafted, the ordinance would cover multiple housing buildings with three or more apartments. However, the Housing & Community Development Commission has recommended that the council expand the protection to cover duplexes, single family homes, condominiums, townhouses and second units. It's estimated 87,521 apartments in San Jose would be covered by the proposed tenant protection ordinance.

Mayor Sam Liccardo indicates the Council needs to strike a balance. "Regardless of which approach we choose, we must avoid creating a cumbersome and costly bureaucratic process," he said. "We must have a system readily accessible for vulnerable tenants who seek relief, as well as for neighbors who seek to have landlords rightfully evict tenants who engage in drug, gang, or other criminal activity that threatens the community's safety."
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