In the expensive housing markets of northern California, a growing number of cities are making it tougher for landlords to displace tenants by requiring they justify their evictions.
Now Los Angeles, with its own housing affordability crisis, may follow their lead.
The City Council's housing panel on Wednesday advanced a proposal that would bar evictions except for just cause — such as when tenants don't pay rent, become a nuisance or damage property. Right now, landlords of market-rate properties in L.A. don't have to give a reason for removing tenants.
Housing advocates say the proposal before the council would protect tenants from landlords looking to profit from the tight rental market.
"It is easier to evict the tenants, replace them with a demographic they like more, and make more money," said Walt Senterfitt of the L.A. Tenants Union.
But landlord groups maintain that owners always have a good reason for removing tenants, and requiring just-cause evictions would only create unnecessary legal hurdles. Litigation is particularly cost-prohibitive for smaller mom-and-pop operations, said attorney Linda Hollenbeck.
"Their business is rental housing, not evicting," said Hollenbeck, a board member of the California Apartment Association. "Evicting is something they do when they have no other choice."
City staffers have been directed to report back in 60 days on creating a just-cause law for L.A. and look to ordinances adopted by Bay Area cities such as Alameda, Oakland and Mountain View. San Jose's ban on no-cause evictions just took effect in May.
They can also turn to the city's own experience with just-cause eviction rules, which are applied in cases involving the older, rent-regulated apartments. Tenants living in these units can only be evicted for one of 14 reasons.
Tenant advocate Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival said without the just-cause provision in city code, many low-income and senior tenants would have lost their lower-cost units.
"They would be out of their homes, maybe out on the streets, out of the city, out of the state, because they could not find comparable, affordable housing," Gross said.
Gil Cedillo, the council's housing chair, introduced the just-cause proposal with fellow Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. Cedillo said he doesn't see why all tenants shouldn't get the same protections.
But the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles and other landlord groups argue that it's already time-consuming to evict someone, and that just-cause evictions will drag out the court process even more.
Association spokesman Fred Sutton said that the testimony of tenant witnesses would be needed in just-cause cases.
"People do not come forward and do not want to be put in that position to confront a neighbor," Sutton said.