By Caroline Peattie, of Mill Valley, is executive director of San Rafael-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
The Marin Board of Supervisors is scheduled Tuesday to consider a “just cause for eviction” ordinance that would require a landlord to state a legitimate reason for terminating a renter’s tenancy.
Most people know that Marin renters face a housing crisis, given the scarcity of housing combined with unaffordable rental prices. Renters are vulnerable, and unlike homeowners, even if they pay their bills on time and maintain the property they live in, they can be given notice to move with no reason at all. Worse, if a landlord is evicting tenants for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation – both of which are illegal – the burden is on the tenant to prove it, something that can be difficult, if not impossible, to do.
We want our children to attend school without disruption, for seniors to have continuity of care and support, and people who provide
important services in Marin to have stability in their housing. And housing instability disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of our community — families with children, people of color, and individuals with disabilities, many of whom are seniors.
Marin County, already lacking in diversity, risks continuing to lose ground. (See, for example, Advancement Project’s “Race Counts” at racecounts.org/county/marin, which identified Marin County as the most racially disparate county in the state, or KQED’s 2017 podcast and article, “Why is Marin County So White?”
Marin County has passed other ordinances protecting tenants through its mandatory rent mediation program and its ordinance prohibiting discrimination against those with housing subsidies. But rent mediation without just cause for eviction does not truly protect renters, as property owners who want to raise rent without mediation can simply serve a no-cause notice to vacate.
I have not heard any substantial arguments against just cause eviction as a concept; rather, I have heard the “slippery slope” argument that is offered any time tenant protections are suggested. This “slippery slope” argument is that this is only the first step, and that the next step is rent control.
I have seen strong language along these lines, with exaggeration that just cause equals rent control, equals loss in values of Marin homeowners’ properties, equals all Marin homeowners (not just those in unincorporated Marin) losing tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars from loss of appreciation. Furthermore, it has been suggested that just cause for eviction leads to rent control, which in turn leads to the inability of landlords to provide a peaceful and safe environment or to avoid various tenant abuses.
It is extremely clear, given the express statements of this Board of Supervisors, that there is no will to consider rent control in Marin County. Providing a reasonable or justifiable explanation for why a landlord is asking a tenant to leave their home is what is at stake. Giving a tenant a reason for why they must move is simply a matter of fairness, given the upheaval caused by the necessity and difficulty of finding a new home, finding the resources to move, and then moving and setting up a new home.
On Dec. 4, Marin County’s supervisors should adopt the just cause ordinance, giving Marin’s seniors, families, workers and residents a fair chance at stable housing.
Caroline Peattie, of Mill Valley, is executive director of San Rafael-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.