California lawmakers, already engaged in a high-profile battle against the Trump administration over its opposition to “sanctuary cities” and “dreamers,” has approved a measure aimed at bolstering the housing rights of undocumented immigrants.
The legislature passed the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, which prohibits landlords from reporting, or even threatening to report, the immigration status of their tenants to authorities as a means of harassment or retaliation or to force an eviction. The bill also allows tenants to be awarded monetary damages if their landlord is found guilty of the actions.
Sponsors of the measure say they were spurred by an increased level of harassment by landlords toward undocumented immigrants.
“We were hearing from tenants that were being told that their rents were going to increase, that the water heater wasn’t going to be fixed, or they were going to be evicted,” said California Assemblyman David Chiu (D), who co-sponsored the bill with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
“They were told that if they didn’t do as they were told, immigration authorities were going to be contacted,” Chiu said in an interview. “The fact that we’re in an era where immigrants are under assault and where the threat of deportation is extremely real, in this context, we have seen certain unscrupulous landlords try to take advantage of the situation to pressure higher rents or evictions related to their tenants.”
The state Senate also voted to make California a sanctuary state. The measure would protect undocumented immigrants from possible deportation by prohibiting local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from cooperating with federal immigration officials. The measure also prevents authorities from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.
Lawmakers passed both measures last week.
The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act also prohibits a landlord, including one who takes over a building with existing tenants, from evicting anyone for reasons such as not passing a newly required credit check or not being able to provide a valid Social Security number.
“What we have found is that landlords that had been renting to immigrant tenants for many years are all of a sudden finding excuses to hike up the rents or otherwise establish a pretext for an eviction,” Chiu said.
The measure would give tenants whose landlords disclosed or threatened to disclose their status the right to sue for six to 12 times the monthly rent.
“We realized we needed to have some sort of penalty or else these landlords would simply engage in this behavior with impunity,” Chiu said. “Particularly given the skyrocketing rents throughout California, we wanted to make sure there was enough teeth to provide some disincentives to landlords to not engage in the worst behavior.”
The bill passed 56 to 20 and awaits final signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D).