Only weeks before California’s statewide rent control bill takes effect, housing experts say no-cause evictions are increasing, possibly because landlords fear the ramifications of the law.

The law, which has already been put into effect for unincorporated parts of San Mateo County, makes several important changes to the landlord-tenant relationship:

* It applies to most apartments and other multifamily buildings, along with some single-family homes that are owned by a corporation or real estate investment trust. Accessory dwelling units are exempt. 

* Rent increases can only be 5 percent plus the local rate of inflation. That can’t exceed 10 percent. For next year, the top increase is 9 percent. 

* If a new tenant moves in, a landlord could raise the rent. 

* If a property owner has increased the rent by more than 10 percent after March 15, the rent must be reset within the limits by Jan. 1, 2020. 

* After one year of occupancy, it prohibits landlords from evicting tenants without a reason. 

* If a tenant is evicted for a reason that isn’t the fault of the tenant, such as the property owner wants to move in, the landlord must provide relocation assistance. 

The practical effects on the Coastside appear to be minimal. City officials report that the law applies to about  7 percent of the housing stock in Half Moon Bay. Yet some are concerned about how it may disincentivize new housing, affect landlord-tenant relationships and hurt their business. 

Stephanie Sills, a real estate agent based in Half Moon Bay, believes a better solution is to build more housing. 

“I feel that it can actually hurt property owners in our area,” she said. “I think the bill was drafted in response to large scale property owners who wield a lot of control in rental prices in the market.” 

County Supervisor Don Horsley said the Board of Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance enacting the bill primarily in response to an increase of no-cause evictions. He said he hadn’t heard of the problem on the Coastside, however. 

“Our concern was that the property owner might decide ‘I’ll get rid of that tenant and this tenant’ before state legislation kicks in and requires just-cause eviction,” Horsley said. 

Horsley doesn’t anticipate the board discussing any further rent cap rules in the near future. 

Directing Attorney Shirley Gibson with the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County said the nonprofit tracks evictions and has seen a steady increase throughout San Mateo County each year. Now, no-fault evictions are 51 percent of eviction activity in the county that goes through her office. There’s been a spike in some cities since September. 

“In 2012 or 2013, we would have told you nonpayment of rent was the No. 1 leading cause of termination of tenancy,” Gibson said. “That has lost ground to no-fault evictions.”

To help explain the trend, she said there are often instances when property owners don’t raise rents but don’t maintain the property as a sort of silent agreement with tenants. Now, she said, these landlords could be feeling “trapped” with the tenants and evicting them. 

“This new law will create a seismic shift in the eviction activity that we see in this county because the most common form of termination notice has just been outlawed,” Gibson said. 

Although the city of Half Moon Bay did not pass an urgency ordinance like the county, City Council members are on the verge of approving measures that will ensure more tenants qualify under the law. 

Realtor Barbara LaVey, in Half Moon Bay, speaking about the city’s measures and rent control broadly, worried it puts “layers of bureaucracy” over tenant and property owner relations. 

“We have seen what rent control has done in San Francisco and New York, and those are two of the highest-priced areas in the nation,” she said. “Those are our examples, and they’re not good ones.” 

The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. However, there’s no clear method for ensuring property owners abide by the new rules. In the meantime, Gibson hopes cities work with local social service providers who work with low-income tenants to educate them about what protections they now have.

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