Five months after the Milpitas City Council voted down tenant protections, the Council on Tuesday passed two measures in favor of tenant protections and just cause evictions, and another measure to help homeless residents with children to find housing.
The unanimous votes, effective immediately, enforce just cause protections for tenants and fast track the creation of a rent review board to mediate rent increase disputes between tenants and landlords.
The Council also unanimously approved a pilot rent aid program to help households that parent homeless children.
The measures were praised by residents in attendance who had been advocating for tenant protections since the failed May vote, but some still saw the measures as not going far enough.
“There’s no teeth in this measure,” said one resident during public comment.
Some tenants in the audience were also concerned the Council had taken too long to provide tenant protections. In neighboring San Jose, similar measures have been in place since 2017, and in Fremont since January 2018.
“The families right now are going through a lot of anxiety,” said tenant resident Ana Naranjo. “At this moment, I can’t even express myself. There are single mothers and families who are looking for this just cause. I’m asking everyone to have a heart and do the right thing.”
The city’s just cause ordinance requires landlords to cite a reason before evicting a tenant, such as the tenant defaulting on rent payments or conducting criminal activity on the landlord’s property. The rule is meant to prevent rent gouging, or landlords evicting tenants in order to increase rent prices on future tenants.
“Since the governor passed AB 1482, we’re already seeing landlords in Santa Clara County try to evict tenants in order to raise rents before AB 1482 takes effect in January,” said Michael Trujillo, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
The State of California has already approved similar legislation for just cause eviction, and neighboring cities like San Jose already have similar measures in place. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1482 (AB 1482) into law, which enforces a cap on rent increases and provides just cause eviction protections statewide.
But the act isn’t effective until January 1. That means landlords are free to increase rent at will for their tenants in places where protections aren’t in place. Tuesday’s Council vote puts a stop to such practices in Milpitas until the state’s law kicks in.
In the meantime, both the city’s ordinance and AB 1482 only provide protection for tenants who have been living in their homes for at least a year, shutting out tenants who are contracted to their landlords on a month-to-month basis.
“I think Milpitas can do better than the state level,” said Sandy Perry of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County.
Month-to-month leases, although less common than year-long leases, grant more flexibility to tenants, but also give more freedom to landlords to increase rents due to the shorter lease periods.
“I walked the city of Milpitas for a third time pretending I was looking for an apartment to rent,” said Dominguez. “And those apartments are turning tenants’ leases into month-to-month contracts.” she said. “Those are working-class families. These are the most vulnerable families in Milpitas. If these families are displaced, we are gentrifying Milpitas. We are saying that if you only make a certain amount of money, you are welcome to this city. That is not a statement I will stand on as a Council.”
She added, “We have the opportunity to continue the vibrant city we have by protecting these tenants.”
The ordinance as written also asserts that landlords aren’t legally obligated to provide just cause and rent cap protections for residents who have lived in their homes for less than a year.
Dominguez, who has long advocated for tenant protections and just cause, proposed a more stringent ordinance, echoing the sentiments of many residents at public comment. She filed a motion to make the protections permanent and for them to take effect at the beginning of a tenant’s lease instead of after a year, two proposals advocated for by several residents before the Council.
“Housing issues are not going to go away. They’re going to get worse,” Dominguez said. “We cannot afford the resources and the time we have spent on this conversation already. Those tenants deserve protections from day one.”
But the motion failed to get support from the rest of the Council.
Dominguez was successful, however, in passing a motion to extend the ordinance to tenants who live in subsidized housing, such as the federally-run Section 8 program.
Her colleagues, including Councilmember Bob Nuñez, who serves on the Council’s housing subcommittee, floated the idea that the body could return to amend just cause protections at a later date.
“This ordinance, covers, in my eyes, 95 to 98 percent of the people affected,” said Nuñez. “We shouldn’t lose everybody because we can’t get to a hundred percent.”
The Council also revisited a rent review program ordinance they had discussed on September 17. The rent review program, which would be administered by Santa Clara-based nonprofit Project Sentinel, would allow residents who believe their rent has been unfairly raised beyond the city’s rent cap to appeal to city officials.
If a resolution between the tenant and landlord can’t be reached, the renter can request a hearing in front of the city’s appointed five-member review board, which will consist of two landlords who own property in Milpitas, two Milpitas tenants, and a Milpitas resident who is neither a landlord nor a tenant.
“This is not going to solve all the problems of the tenants in Milpitas, but it’s one piece of the puzzle that will help,” said Sheri Burns, executive director of the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, a local housing access advocacy nonprofit.
The board’s decision wouldn’t be legally binding, however, which prompted residents to speculate about its true effectiveness when it comes to preventing rent gouging.
“Regardless of what the review board says,” said one resident, referring to the review board’s decision-making power, “you kind of get to do what you want to do.”
“The state is already there doing this,” said another resident, referring to AB 1482’s tenant protections. “To me it’s a waste of resources.”
At the September 17 Council meeting, a 7 percent cap plus inflation was discussed. Tuesday’s vote amends the rent cap to 5 percent plus inflation.
The program will run from November 1 of this year until December 31, 2021, and will cost the city $100,000, to be paid out of the city’s affordable housing fund. It follows a nearly identical program in neighboring Fremont.
Before Mayor Rich Tran adjourned the meeting, the Council also adopted a pilot rent relief program, which will provide financial aid to low-income renters to help with their rent payments.
The one-year pilot program, which will draw $100,000 from the city’s affordable housing fund, was also initially proposed at the September 17 council meeting, but was tabled until Tuesday’s meeting. Originally, a wide array of groups were eligible for the program, such as seniors, foster children, domestic violence victims, and homeless families with school children.
However, after a Council discussion with city staff at the dais about homeless school children, Tran proposed the Council narrow its focus for the program to children within the city’s school district.
“One of the most vulnerable groups is our Milpitas Unified [School District] families,” said Tran. “Folks living paycheck to paycheck. And I would like to see $100,000 go to Milpitas families to help out those students deemed homeless.”
The rest of the Council agreed, and passed the pilot program unanimously.
To be eligible for the program, families must be homeless residents of Milpitas and have at least one child attending a Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) school for at least “one grading period,” according to Council. Families that qualify will be eligible for up to $5,000 a year.
The program will be administered by the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center.
“This is one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done,” said Tran.
With a trio of affordable housing successes, Dominguez called it “a huge win.” She congratulated city staff and residents for their patience during what she says has been a “long, six-month journey,”
“I wanted this tonight to be the end of this issue,” said Dominguez. “I think we’re all ready for that.”