Immigrant Tenant Protection Act Passes Assembly

Monday, May 22, 2017

AB 291 strengthens laws to be sure that immigrant tenants do not face intimidation and retaliation in their homes

Sacramento, CA–The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, a bill by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) that strengthens state law to protect immigrant tenants from intimidation and retaliation in their homes, today passed the full Assembly.

“Tenants should not have to live in fear simply because they are immigrants or refugees. Trump has declared war on immigrants, and it is clear that ripping apart families through mass deportations could be our new reality,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “This bill will deter the small minority of landlords who unscrupulously take advantage of the real or perceived immigration status of their tenants to engage in abusive acts. I appreciate the support of my Assembly colleagues.” Assembly Bill (AB) 291 received 52 aye votes.

“We need this law to protect families with undocumented members from this type of abuse,” said Maria, a grandmother from Oakland who testified earlier this month in committee about her experience with a landlord who threatened to report her family members to ICE if they did not stop asking for much-needed repairs. “No one should have to experience the fear, pain, or harassment my family has suffered just because they are undocumented.”

"Even under ordinary circumstances, immigrant tenants shouldn't have to fear being reported to immigration authorities by their landlords, who know so much about them. The events of the last four months make the need for these protections only more certain," said Jith Meganathan, Policy Advocate for Western Center on Law & Poverty, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

AB 291 bars landlords from disclosing information related to tenants’ immigration status for the purpose of retaliation, harassment, or to influence a tenant to vacate the home.  The bill would also prohibit landlords from threatening to report tenants to immigration authorities, whether in retaliation for engaging in legally-protected activities or to influence them to vacate.

Landlords are in possession of sensitive information about tenants such as their social security numbers, the number of people in their household, the language(s) they speak, what they do for a living, and when they are home. This measure will make sure that this information is not misused by landlords and will take away one avenue that the Trump Administration could use to deport our immigrant neighbors.

As Chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, Assemblymember Chiu received complaints from around the state describing incidents where landlords threatened to report tenants to immigration authorities unless they vacated immediately. In many cases, these threats are made to retaliate against tenants for reporting habitability issues, such as exposed electrical wiring and vermin, which landlords are legally required to fix. Threats are even made in connection with gentrification, when, in order to raise rents, long-time tenants are suddenly targeted for eviction based on their suspected immigration status (see stories below).

The bill now heads to the State Senate.

Assemblymember David Chiu (D – San Francisco) is the Chair of the Housing & Community Development Committee of the California State Assembly. He represents the 17th Assembly District, which encompasses eastern San Francisco.

Stories from Statewide Advocates Relating the Kinds of Abuses Faced by Immigrant Tenants

“The landlord did an illegal lockout, threatening to call ICE if the tenants tried to re-enter their home.” --email from Oakland advocate

A married couple missed a rent payment. The wife was a U.S. citizen, while the husband was undocumented. The landlord referenced the fact that the husband was “powerless” because he was undocumented and said he wouldn’t evict the couple if the wife would have sex with him. --phone call with Central Valley advocate

“[M]y…attorneys and I have seen Plaintiffs’ Attorneys and pro per landlords threaten to call ICE and/or threaten to deport tenants during [eviction] negotiations. About 3 years ago, I overheard a Plaintiff Attorney tell a tenant in the hallway outside of Dept 94 at Stanley Mosk [Courthouse] to either take the deal or the landlord will call ICE and tell them he was here.” --source: email from Los Angeles advocate

“The most obvious abuse is landlords threatening to call ICE on people if they complain at all or try to assert their rights as tenants. I hear about landlords threatening to call ICE all the time. Basically any shady landlord practice that exists is always just exacerbate[ed] in these cases because people are afraid to complain or assert their rights out of fear of retaliation, and because of lack of alternatives (i.e., they have nowhere else to go and lack support systems, don't have local family support or access to resources, so it's either put up with slumlord or be out on the street). […] I hear about a lot of overcrowding--a master tenant or landlord renting out uninhabitable areas (garages, living rooms, etc.) and making a ton of money by cramming as many folks and families on top of people as they can. For some reason this practice seems to be particularly common among tenants who are non-English speakers, but that's perhaps just the impression I get. The most egregious habitability cases I've seen are ALWAYS in cases where the tenants don't speak English. […] If a tenant is illegally locked out by a landlord (for example, if the landlord is engaging in "self help" eviction), the only option is for the tenant to call the police to do a civil standby while they break back in. For obvious reasons this is a lot harder/scarier for undocumented folks who are distrustful of cops and engaging in that process.” --email from East Bay advocate
“When a new landlord takes over a building and wants to gentrify, he or she will run a credit check on undocumented tenants and then seek to evict on the grounds that the tenants provided false or duplicate social security numbers in their rental applications—even if the rental commenced years earlier. Similarly, a new landlord will station agents at the entrance to the building and demand to see proof of identity, in an attempt to intimidate undocumented tenants into vacating.” --telephone call with Los Angeles advocate    

“It is very common that landlords threaten to call ICE if a tenant refuses to vacate (whether a valid eviction notice has been served or not), and also if tenants complain about habitability or other maintenance and repair issues. We are worried that these sorts of threats in a post-Trump era will make it even less likely that undocumented tenants will stand up for themselves against abusive and illegal landlord behavior.” --email from Silicon Valley advocate

“Primarily the tenants from mobile home parks that come to my office for help are US citizens and they say that the tenants/residents in mobile home parks that are undocumented are too afraid of retaliation to assert any rights. So they never even contact my office seeking help.” --email from East Bay advocate

“I do hear about undocumented clients being taken advantage by LL.  If they complain about repairs they are told they will be evicted or they are evicted without proper notice, LL takes their stuff out of home. They are charged rent and not given a receipt. They are threatened to have INS called if they complain. Their rent goes up more than once a year. They don't get their deposit back at all.” --email from Central Valley advocate

“The main thing I see is intimidation - landlords threatening to call immigration on tenants in order to get them to leave.” --email from Los Angeles advocate

“[We] have begun to see threats by landlords about calling immigration on them, and the police. These instances have occurred when requesting repairs to be made, or when asserting their rights under rent control. This is an issue in our own fair housing case, where tenants were threatened by the manager, saying she would call immigration when they challenged unmerited 3 day notices.” --email from Los Angeles advocate

“In our work, we have seen landlord abuses against this community include the following: landlords threatening to contact immigration if a tenant exercises his or her rights; and landlords give misleading information (e.g., sheriff will come and deport you if you are evicted, do not have any rights, etc.).” --email from Orange County advocate