California is a deep-blue state, with a Democratic Governor and a two-thirds super-majority in both houses of the legislature. It is the home to 15 million tenants in an overheated rental market, and ground-zero in the nation’s foreclosure crisis. Now is the time to get real change for tenants in the Golden State.
But when it comes to common-sense tenants rights laws, too many Democrats vote the wrong way. They take millions of dollars from the real estate lobby, which wields clout in Sacramento. Even some “progressive” Democrats who represent deep-blue, urban districts are not our best allies.
In 2008, local tenant rights groups across the state came together to found California’s only statewide renters’ rights organization, Tenants Together. We are organizing the state’s 15 million renters to bring about real change. We have made serious strides to empower tenants, particularly those living in foreclosed properties, and in the 2012 legislative session won a clean sweep of all four bills that we supported. Such bills included stopping unfair non-payment evictions after a change in ownership, requiring banks to give all tenants 90-days notice after foreclosure and banning landlords from imposing online-only rent payment rules.
Now, we are focused on our next fight: security deposit theft. Every year, California tenants put hundreds of millions of dollars into their landlords’ hands – money they are supposed to get back upon moving out. For many tenants, this deposit is their largest financial asset. But improper withholding by landlords has become so common, that most renters that tenants paying deposits don’t ever expect to see that money again. A Tenants Together survey found 60% of our members had their deposits improperly withheld. Such blatant theft should not be tolerated.
SB 603, authored by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would address this problem by requiring landlords to keep tenant deposits in accounts separate from landlord’s assets, and by imposing mandatory penalties against landlords who fail to return deposits. The bill would also require landlords to pay tenants interest on security deposits, as is required in many other states.
We can pass SB 603, with help from the broader progressive community. Winning on tenant’s rights issues helps millions of lower-income Californians achieve greater housing stability, with little to no cost for state and local governments, but we can only win by holding Democratic leaders accountable. On Tuesday, May 7th, the same day that SB 603 will be heard in the State Senate Judiciary Committee, Tenants Together will have a Lobby Day in Sacramento – so that Senators can hear from tenants who have been directly affected.
The real estate industry has lobbyists every day in the State Capitol, many of whom are shameless about spreading misinformation and trying to intimidate Democratic legislators in voting against tenant protections. With your help, we can make sure that Sacramento listens to the state’s 15 million renters – by voting “yes” on SB 603.