No-cause eviction bill better than nothing

The Senate Rules Committee approved a bill to limit landlords' ability to evict tenants without cause after further weakening it in an attempt to make it acceptable to Republicans and some Democratic senators. Even in its watered-down form, the bill represents an improvement over the status quo.

In its original form, House Bill 2004 included language lifting the statewide ban on rent-control ordinances. That would not have imposed rent control, just allowed cities to adopt local ordinances if they wished.

Rent control is hugely controversial, and even allowing local jurisdictions the option appeared likely to doom the measure. The rent-control language was stripped from the bill in the Senate Human Services Committee last month. In its place was added a section barring landlords from increasing rents more than once in any 12-month period.

The state's rental housing market is saturated, with occupancy rates in many communities barely above zero. Rents are soaring, giving landlords an incentive to evict tenants so they can raise rents and quickly increase their income.

Landlords have argued they need no-cause eviction to remove problem tenants in cases where they don't have documentation or evidence that will stand up in court. That may be true from time to time, but it's also a convenient excuse in an overheated market.

In any case, an amendment to the bill adopted Wednesday gives landlords renting on a month-to-month basis the freedom to evict tenants without cause during the first year of occupancy, as long as they give 30 days' notice. That probationary period was nine months in the version passed by the House.

Landlords ought to be able to spot any potential problems with tenants in 12 months.

Landlords renting on a fixed-term basis — the minimum fixed term allowed is six months, unless the tenant requests a shorter term — may evict without cause at the end of the lease, but only with 90 days' notice. Existing law requires no notice at all.

Landlords also may evict tenants on month-to-month leases for specific business-related reasons, such as converting the property to another use, demolishing the property or selling it, but the bill would require the landlord to give 90 days' notice and pay the tenant one month's rent to help with relocation costs.

The relocation cost requirement would not apply to landlords owning fewer than five units, which answers objections from opponents that the bill would unfairly burden "mom-and-pop" landlords.

Another amendment reduced the proposed penalty for landlords who violate the ban on no-cause evictions. Instead of a penalty of three months' rent plus damages, landlords in violation would pay two months' rent or damages.

This bill won't make the housing crisis go away. Vacancy rates will remain extremely low until enough new construction takes place. And rents are already high, making life difficult for people on the low end of the income scale.

But even in its weakened form, HB 2004 gives those who have a place to live some protection from being tossed out for no reason and forced back into a rental market that may be priced beyond their means. The Senate should pass the bill.

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