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Richmond City Council passes "Just Cause' Eviction Ordinance

Submitted by Staff on Thu, 06/18/2009 - 12:28pm
The Globe
With a population of 103,000, Richmond has its fair share of foreclosure victims. However, during this current economic crisis, there is another group of overlooked victims: renters — including good tenants who pay their bills on time and who, by no fault of their own, can also face eviction, ruined credit and homelessness.

On June 2, Richmond’s City Council took a bold first step to protect tenants impacted by their landlords’ foreclosures when it passed an initial reading of a Just Cause Ordinance introduced by Councilman Jeff Ritterman. The ordinance stipulates 12 circumstances under which eviction is allowed — foreclosure of a property not being among them. It provides an affirmative defense for a tenant in an unlawful detainer action, contains retaliatory eviction protection and relocation assistance, which is common in other jurisdictions. The legislation provides protection to residential tenants in good standing from being evicted from rental units that are bank-owned.

“We see tenants who have moved three to four times a year, from foreclosed property to foreclosed property, losing thousands in security deposits,” said Adam Poe, staff attorney for Bay Area Legal Aid. Renters make up about 75 percent of the caseload at its Richmond office. “It goes without saying that this legislation could provide tremendous relief to many of these individuals.”

Lorie Chinn, an ACORN community leader in Richmond, reports that more than 3,100 homes in her city are expected to be in foreclosure by 2010.

“Statewide, one-third of those caught in foreclosure are renters. The reality is bleak,” Chinn said. “Many are being displaced through no fault of their own. They pay their rent, never learning that their home is going through foreclosure and is now owned by the bank. It is time to acknowledge that renters are responsible and contribute to the richness and diversity of this city.”

“We can no longer stand by and see hard-working families victimized by the greed of banks who were responsible for issuing sub-prime loans to vulnerable populations,” said Roberto Reyes, community services director for the Central Labor Council of Contra Costa County. “Now the banks have taken over these homes and are evicting good tenants through no fault of their own.”

Also at the City Council meeting were representatives from the group REDI, the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative, which has been active working with community leaders and the city to address the concerns of Richmond residents throughout the foreclosure crisis.

In March, REDI partner organizations held a community town hall meeting at St. Mark’s Church where over 500 community members, including families in foreclosure, renters and faith and labor leaders, along with Richmond City Council members and city staff, heard testimony from city residents who are suffering from the foreclosure crisis. REDI also presented a comprehensive housing platform to keep families in their homes.

The platform included the Just Cause Eviction legislation to protect tenants from eviction as a result of foreclosure and policies to stabilize and revitalize Richmond neighborhoods and create more long-term affordable housing. Since that gathering, REDI leaders have been meeting with council members and city staff to implement the policies.

The Just Cause Ordinance first reading passed with some amendments (6-1; abstention by Councilman Nat Bates). The City Council will vote on the second reading on June 16.