Just Cause for evictions

Community Development Agency
Aline Tanielian (left) of the Community Development Agency watches at community members pick up written materials prior to the Board of Supervisors workshop about Just Cause policies on September 11, 2018.

The Board of Supervisors will conduct two public hearings - a First Reading on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 at 5:30 PM and a Merit Hearing on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at or after 1:30 PM - to consider an ordinance to establish a Just Cause for eviction policy in the unincorporated areas of Marin. The staff report, presentation, and other materials developed for these hearings on Just Cause policies will be posted below, under "background," as they become available.

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Background

October 13, 2015 The Board of Supervisors conducts a workshop to review results of a 2015 rental housing survey in which a Just Cause ordinance and other affordable housing and tenant protection measures are introduced. (webcast of meeting; presentationstaff reportinforme del personal)

December 15, 2015 A more detailed continuation of the prior Board of Supervisors workshop on affordable housing and tenant protection policy options. The Board of Supervisors chooses to forego pursing a rent stability ordinance for the time being, and retains a Just Cause ordinance for future consideration along with other policy options. (webcast of meeting; presentationstaff reportinforme del personal)

February 9, 2016 Staff requests confirmation of next steps and timing for consideration of policy options according to a phase schedule. The Board of Supervisors directs staff to move the Source of Income Protection ordinance to Phase I and the Just Cause ordinance to Phase III. (webcast of meeting; presentationstaff reportinforme del personal)

August 1, 2017 The Board of Supervisors considers update staff recommendation for implementation of housing policy options and agrees to enhance acquisition and preservation of existing affordable rental housing and Landlord Partnership Program. Board also supports further consideration of a Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ("Mandatory Mediation") ordinance and Just Cause ordinance. (webcast of meeting; presentationstaff reportinforme del personal / báo cáo nhân viên)

December 5, 2017 The Board Affordable Housing Subcommittee conducts First Reading of Rental Housing Dispute Resolution ("Mandatory Mediation") ordinance and directs staff to return for further consideration of a Just Cause ordinance in 2018. (webcast of meeting; presentationstaff reportinforme del personal / báo cáo nhân viên)

June 12, 2018 The Assessment of Fair Housing identifies consideration of a Just Cause policy as a priority recommendation to promote fair housing opportunities in Marin. The Board of Supervisors schedules a September 11 informational workshop on Just Cause policies. (staff reportinforme del personal / báo cáo nhân viên)

September 11, 2018 The Board of Supervisors hosts an informational workshop on Just Cause policies and directs staff to develop a draft ordinance. (webcast of meeting; presentation / presentación / trình bày; board packet / informe del personal / báo cáo nhân viên)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an eviction?

An eviction occurs when a residential tenant is forced out of their home by action or decision of a landlord or property manager. A legal eviction comes with a court order and can create additional barriers for tenants seeking to relocate, since many landlords screen for recent evictions.

What is “Just Cause”?

“Just Cause” refers to housing policies that require tenants to be given a legal reason or, a “cause,” for an eviction. Such policies are established by a local ordinance, which provides a list of reasons for which a tenant may be asked to discontinue a rental unit. Just Cause policies are typically intended to provide clarity to landlords and tenants about their rights and responsibilities and, in tight housing markets, may be considered as a tool to improve housing stability for renters.

Does Just Cause prevent a tenant from being evicted?

Just Cause policies do not protect tenants from eviction if they fail to pay rent or breach their lease agreement.

Other common grounds for eviction allowed under Just Cause policies include:

  • Tenant uses the property for illegal activities;
  • Tenant fails to allow landlord access to the unit, after receiving due notice;
  • Tenant rejects a written lease extension;
  • Landlord, or an immediate family member, moves into the unit;
  • Landlord seeks in good faith to remove the unit from the rental market;
  • Unit is declared unfit for human habitation and must be temporarily removed from the rental market; and
  • Unit is removed from the rental market because substantial renovations will make it temporarily unfit for human habitation.
To what properties could Just Cause apply?

Just Cause policies only apply to rental units within a jurisdiction that has adopted a Just Cause ordinance. The ordinance may apply to all rental units within the jurisdiction or, alternatively, some communities have modified the applicability of their ordinance to address special circumstances or specific needs. Potential exemptions include:

  • Rental units in which the landlord shares a living space with a lodger;
  • Rentals occupied by Housing Choice (“Section 8”) voucher recipients and/or other government-subsidized units; and
  • Rental units located on properties in which the owner or a member of their family occupies one of the living units and the structure contains fewer than three dwelling units.
Is Just Cause the same thing as rent control?

No, rent control policies regulate the amount or rate of rent increase that an existing tenant can receive. Just Cause policies define reasons that a tenant may be evicted; they do not address the cost of rent, or a landlord’s ability to increase it.

Are tenants already protected from arbitrary evictions under California state law?

State law does not require cause for an eviction. It requires only that a tenant receive a 30- or 60-day notice of lease termination, dependent on a resident’s length of tenancy or, in instances where a tenant has failed to pay rent, a tenant must be given a three-day eviction notice.

Are tenants already protected from discriminatory or retaliatory evictions under California state law?

Federal, State, and local laws forbid discrimination in the housing market on the basis of protected characteristics, such as race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, familial status, disability, and source of income. California Civil Code section 1942.5 also prohibits, for a period of six months, retaliation against tenants who have notified their landlord or an appropriate agency of a code violation in their unit.

Tenants may assert these prohibitions against discrimination or retaliation as an argument against the validity of an eviction action. However, eviction proceedings are designed to be expedited proceedings, and the defenses that tenants are allowed to raise in these proceedings are limited. Additionally, due to the abbreviated nature of eviction proceedings, the opportunity that tenants have to raise and present evidence for these limited defenses, including discrimination and retaliatory eviction, are similarly narrow and may not allow for thorough consideration of such defenses. Since tenants must establish a landlord’s intent to discriminate or retaliate within that framework, defenses that rely on arguments of discrimination or retaliation are difficult to prove and thus may be rarely successful. Additionally, raising a defense like discrimination or retaliation in an unsuccessful eviction defense may preclude a tenant from bringing those claims in a civil suit, where procedures allow for a more thorough investigation of those claims.

Requiring landlords to provide a just cause for eviction in the original notice to the tenant creates a clear framework for both landlords and tenants for eviction proceedings, and may provide a platform for misunderstandings to be better resolved. Under just cause, tenants experiencing an eviction inspired by retaliatory or discriminatory intent would not need to prove the intent of their landlord during the eviction proceedings. Instead, the eviction hearing need only to evaluate whether or not the landlord demonstrated a documented just cause for the eviction.

What other Bay Area communities have a Just Cause policy?

Several Bay Area communities have adopted Just Cause policies including Berkeley, Hayward, Mountain View, and East Palo Alto. Jurisdictions that have adopted Just Cause policies that do not also have rent stabilization rules include Emeryville, Fremont, Los Gatos, and Union City.

Do we have data on the number of evictions in the county?

There is no data collected on no-cause evictions. Without a Just Cause policy, landlords are not required to specify a reason for an eviction, and the County is therefore not able to collect and analyze data on the number of and causes for eviction. Some Just Cause policies include data collection provisions that allow for the creation of a localized database to help policymakers track evictions and examine trends in the local housing market.

The Marin County Superior Court tracks a subset of evictions called unlawful detainers, which are those evictions that are formally contested by a tenant and are therefore filed in the courts. In 2016 and 2017, there were 371 and 341 filings, respectively. These figures only represent a portion of the total number of Marin evictions during those years since many tenants choose not to contest evictions.

This is because a tenant who fails in the defense of an unlawful detainer action may face additional consequences, such as a damaged credit score and increased hardship in securing a new home, particularly in a region such as the Bay Area, with high demand for limited housing opportunities.

If we don’t have data on evictions, why is Just Cause being considered in Marin and other jurisdictions?

In 2015, the County released the Rental Housing Survey to solicit input from renters and landlords regarding the rental housing market in Marin. Of the more than 800 tenant-respondents, 372 (45%) were concerned with insecurity and instability of their rental home; 59% of respondents were worried about rent increases and/or eviction. The current state of the rental housing market and its impact on the local economy is prompting jurisdictions across the Bay Area and beyond to consider measures such as Just Cause policies to address the tight rental market.

How can I stay informed as this process continues?

The Board of Supervisors will conduct two public hearings - a First Reading on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 at 5:30 PM and a Merit Hearing on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at or after 1:30 PM - to consider adoption of an ordinance to establish a Just Cause for eviction policy in unincorporated Marin. Sample ordinances, previous staff reports, and other supplemental materials will be posted on the Community Development Agency website as they become available. Please subscribe to stay informed about the Board’s discussion of Just Cause.

Additional Resources