San Francisco, CA–Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) on Friday joined San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, state and local legislative colleagues, and immigration attorneys and advocates to announce the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act of 2017 in San Francisco’s Mission District. Assembly Bill (AB) 291 strengthens state law to protect immigrant tenants from intimidation and retaliation in their homes.
“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 unscrupulous landlords who take advantage of the real or perceived immigration status of their tenants to engage in abusive and illegal acts.”
“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 two weeks 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. 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 (see examples below). 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.
Several other legislators have signed on to lead the effort to advance AB 291, including Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) as joint authors, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) as principal co-author and Senator Ben Allen (D–Santa Monica) and Assemblymembers Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Kansen Chu (D–San Jose) as co-authors.
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.
Voices for Protecting Immigrant Tenants
“No resident should have to fear intimidation or retaliation because of their immigration status, especially from landlords. California is economically and socially strong because of our immigrant population and we need protections in place for all families to feel safe, be healthy and to continue to be contributing members of our communities.” –Mayor Ed Lee
“My parents came to this country to live the American Dream which includes job and educational opportunities, and a safe place to live. Immigrant tenants are the most vulnerable and we must protect their rights so they can focus on achieving the American Dream for themselves and their families.” –Fiona Ma, CPA, Chairwoman,Board of Equalization
“Our immigrant neighbors shouldn’t fear being threatened or reported to authorities by their landlords, especially in this already-terrifying environment caused by Donald Trump’s attacks. California’s housing shortage already creates enough anxiety among our residents who live in fear of being evicted. Anxiety around immigration status shouldn’t be added on. I’m proud to join Assemblymember Chiu and thank him for his leadership on this critical issue.” –Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)
“The president is singling out immigrants by creating a predatory atmosphere of fear and mistrust. I am a child of immigrants who came to this country for a better life. California is full of people with the same story – the American story. That is why we must stand up for immigrant rights as they are under attack. Civil rights need to apply to everyone.”–Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco)
“Every member of our community deserves the dignity of a home that is free from harassment or threats, no matter their immigration status. Just because a resident was born in a different country doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the safety and stability of a home. Assembly Bill 291 demonstrates we won’t waver away from that freedom, regardless of what Donald Trump thinks.” –Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego)
“A person’s immigration status should never be exploited to jeopardize the roof over their head. Tenants need stronger protections to guard against unlawful evictions and harassment based on their immigration status. Shelter is a basic human right.” –Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland)
“We have a responsibility to ensure that all people, regardless of their immigration status, are free from housing discrimination. I am proud to joint-author AB 291 with Assembly Members Chiu, Bonta and Gonzalez Fletcher to protect immigrants from intimidation and undue harassment.” –Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose)
“I am pleased to co-author this important legislation which provides reasonable but necessary protections for immigrants who are tenants. They deserve to have the peace of mind that their immigration status will not be used against them simply because they rent their home.”–Senator Ben Allen (D–Santa Monica)
“As the son of an immigrant, I am here to say in solidarity with my colleagues that immigrant tenants have rights too, and we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that they are treated with respect and dignity.” –Supervisor Ahsha Safai
“The set of protections proposed by Assemblymember Chiu are going to be critical to protecting the housing rights of vulnerable populations, such as farmworkers, who we fear will face increasing intimidation over immigration status, real or perceived.In the midst of California’s housing crisis and changing policies at the federal level, we must do everything we can to keep California’s housed.” –Brian Augusta, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (co-sponsor of AB 291)
“Fear of immigration consequences is a real barrier to many of the tenant families we see who would otherwise stand up for themselves in Court. At Legal Aid we often consult with undocumented tenants with horrible living conditions for which there are strong legal remedies, but they are too scared to call code enforcement. I have seen completely defensible eviction cases and blatantly illegal rent increases against tenants who have decided to just leave their homes or pay money they can little afford because the landlord threatened them with immigration consequences. When tenants feel they cannot safely assert their legal rights because the landlord might report them to immigration authorities, it means our legal services lawyers and the Courts cannot enforce the laws that are designed to protect vulnerable tenants.” –Shirley Gibson, Directing Attorney of the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County
“In just two weeks, we have seen the detrimental effects of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies in our own neighborhood. We must take every step to necessary to protect immigrants in their communities, at the their jobs, and in their homes.” –Sam Ruiz, Executive Director of Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc.
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