Cesar Tellez looks at construction near the home he rents in Mountain View on Thursday, April 20, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler
Cesar Tellez looks at construction near the home he rented in Mountain View on Thursday, April 20, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

 A new proposal to bring San Diego’s tenant protections up to and beyond those provided by California law is not a silver bullet. It will not, as the officials who wrote the draft ordinance emphasized at a press conference, make homelessness disappear overnight. 

Rather, they said, it represents a careful balancing act of the city’s various housing interests. But for that same reason, almost no one seems perfectly happy with the compromises that came out of negotiations. 

Groups representing both landlords and tenants lined up this week to express criticism. Some want to kill it and some want to expand it. 

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said he and Mayor Todd Gloria were bringing the ordinance forward on Tuesday because no one who’s paying their rent and abiding by their lease should live in fear of eviction. Gloria said city officials are also focused on creating the conditions to build more homes, but that’ll take time to boost supply. 

“People are hurting today and they need help,” Gloria said. 

Cesar Tellez looks at construction near the home he rented in Mountain View on Thursday, April 20, 2023.
Cesar Tellez touches a fence that surrounds some construction work at the home he rented in Mountain View on Thursday, April 20, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

If approved, the ordinance would make the process for removing a tenant in certain circumstances, like a substantial remodel of the property, more transparent by requiring disclosures in writing. Landlords would have to make tenants aware of their rights and could not retaliate against a tenant who declines a buy-out offer. 

It would also require that landlords provide tenants evicted for no fault of their own with relocation assistance totaling two months of rent, not including a security deposit. Seniors and people with disabilities would get three months. 

Much of the activism over the last couple years has been motivated by corporations buying up homes and kicking out tenants during major remodels. Blackstone’s purchase of 66 apartment buildings in 2021 shocked housing advocates and caught elected officials off guard. Many of the units were considered naturally affordable, meaning they’re particularly vulnerable to demolitions and large rent increases.

Molly Kirkland, director of public affairs at the Southern California Rental Housing Association, which participated in City Hall talks about the ordinance, said her organization appreciated the measure’s consistency with AB 1482, a 2019 state law that capped rent increases and added tenant protections

The city has concluded the law’s eviction protections don’t apply in San Diego due to a 2004 city ordinance that provided its own protections. Essentially, it decided the nearly 20 year old city ordinance superseded the 2019 state law. 

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera (center), Independent Budget Analyst Charles Modica (left), and Assistant City Clerk Diana Fuentes (right) during a meeting on Jan. 10, 2023.
Council President Sean Elo-Rivera (center) during a City Council meeting on Jan. 10, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Elo-Rivera and tenant advocates, as they negotiated with landlord groups, have argued San Diego’s rules should at least align with state law.

Kirkland’s organization, meanwhile, has fought to keep the regulations from going much further.

“We’re very pleased with how far we’ve come on this since October and the December framework,” Kirkland said, referring to earlier announcements from city leaders about potential tenant protections. “There’s just a few areas of concern that remain.”

The association is planning to suggest amendments, including adjusted relocation payments based on income and changes to permitting requirements for substantial remodeling projects.

The ordinance, however, does not apply to all renters. The protections do not extend to affordable housing, vacation rentals, hotels, residential care facilities, granny flats, or other properties where the landlord lives permanently. It also includes a carveout for certificates of occupancy issued within the last 15 years. 

Tenant groups view that as a missed opportunity, given the growing diversity of San Diego’s housing stock, and argue that its exemptions would create significant loopholes. 

Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director at Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, or ACCE, said the ordinance does not include a number of key provisions — like the right of renters to return to the same property at the same rate.

“That’s the whole issue,” she said. “They’re only doing the evictions so they can jack up the rent.”

ACCE also pushed for affordable housing to be included in the draft protections, and for blanket prohibitions against landlords who temporarily take property off market to attract higher-income tenants. 

As a counter example, Simon-Weisberg pointed to Denmark, where lawmakers passed a new law preventing landlords from hiking the rent on renovated apartments until five years after the purchase date. Closer to home, she pointed to Los Angeles, where landlords are required to give certain tenants evicted for just cause a set amount based on their status and income — up to $23,000. 

“San Diego is a big city,” Simon-Weisberg said, “and it’s really time for it to have big city tenant protections.”

In response to this criticism, Maya Rosas, director of strategic initiatives for Elo-Rivera’s office, said separate protections for affordable housing tenants already exist in the law and people with Section 8 vouchers will be covered under the city’s proposed ordinance. 

Nevertheless, Simon-Weisberg is in the process of drafting a 2024 rent control ballot measure that also includes the provisions that didn’t make it into the city’s draft tenant protections. 

Ramla Sahid, executive director at the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, said her organization wants council members to make amendments, including protections for shorter-term leases, relocation payments based on market rents rather than current rents, which are often much lower, and school-year eviction protections.

“We’re really hoping the City Council will close the loopholes to make sure they are protecting families instead of protecting predatory landlords who are profiting off of our families,” Sahid said.

Judging by the current draft, Sahid said she also couldn’t help but question whether the city should just repeal its 2004 tenant protection ordinance so it could instead be covered by AB 1482.

State Sen. María Elena Durazo of Los Angeles is now pushing legislation to build on AB 1482, which Sahid said could mean that San Diego’s new regulations become less protective than state law soon after the City Council vote.

But even tenants interviewed by Voice of San Diego who had hoped the ordinance went further were pleased that it includes new transparency measures and guaranteed relocation assistance. 

Cesar Tellez in the alley near the home he rents in Mountain View on Thursday, April 20, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler
Cesar Tellez, 41, in the alley near the home he rented in the neighborhood of Mountain View on Thursday, April 20, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

“Those are the exact things I fought for,” said Cesar Tellez, a 41-year-old hip hop artist from Mountain View whose home was purchased by an LLC during the pandemic. 

Tellez refused to leave in 2022, as the property was about to undergo major renovations, so he signed a temporary construction agreement instead. But when Tellez then refused to sign a month-to-month lease — fearing he’d be immediately evicted — his property manager sent him a three-day notice to quit, citing a music video that he’d shot on the construction site. 

Tellez took the construction agreement to an attorney and discovered something else. The document included waivers of habitability. Under California law, landlords are required to keep their rental units in fit and safe condition, and tenants cannot sign this right away. 

In the end, Tellez got 60 days to look for a new place and $10,000. He wanted more but felt drained by the dispute. 

“It was killing me not knowing where I was gonna go — not knowing if I was gonna have a home,” he said. 

Barrio Logan resident David Lesser, 61, has also craved more protections. The formerly homeless veteran recently received a 60-day notice to quit ahead of a major rehabilitation. Lesser said he later learned his landlord hadn’t secured permits for that work — and that perhaps he wouldn’t have to move after all. By that point, he had already put down a deposit on a downtown apartment.

“I kind of wish I waited but it’s too late,” Lesser said. “I can’t change it.”

Under the draft ordinance, Lesser’s landlord would have been required to pay him the equivalent of two months of rent and to wait to evict him until permits were secured.

Lesser’s property manager, Dino Padulo of Miris Properties, said the building needs major repairs and noted that Lesser had refused assistance with a moving truck. He also argued that his noticing didn’t violate current rules and that landlords shouldn’t be required to pay relocation costs in all instances.

North Park Towers going under renovations in North Park on April 20, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

“I think relocation fees are good for those that need it but not for those that can afford it,” Padulo said. “Somewhere there has to be landlord rights to their land without abusing people. It’s a fine line.”

While tenant groups seek to strengthen the ordinance, others appear to be working on its demise. Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre is threatening to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Los Angeles-based Apartment Owners Association of California, Inc. 

In a letter to city officials on Monday, he and attorney Maria Severson argued that the proposed ordinance unfairly passes the costs of homelessness onto clients like theirs. The attorneys are effectively asking city officials to pump the brakes and hold a series of public meetings to allow for more feedback before going to the City Council. 

“It’s not a solution to single out one particular group and so-called protections, which are really not going to provide the protection that’s needed, and have them pay for it and say mission accomplished,” Aguirre said.

Both Elo-Rivera and Gloria pushed back on the suggestion that they didn’t already get a wide range of advice. The ordinance has undergone review by city attorneys and incorporated feedback from housing providers big and small who assured officials, Gloria said, it wouldn’t hamper their ability to build more homes or remain in the rental business. 

The mayor said the feedback “gives me confidence that not only can we pass this with the City Council’s blessing, but that it can withstand legal scrutiny and begin immediately providing benefits to tenants who need it today.” 

Jesse Marx

Jesse Marx is Voice of San Diego's associate editor.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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  1. What the city council spends its time on is absolutely baffling. Nobody cares about this issue, it does not appear on anyone’s top 5 list unless they’re getting paid to care about it like the grifters you interviewed.

  2. Thank you for covering this. I care deeply about tenant protections. Land owning is an investment, as such, sometimes it pays well and others it doesn’t. Let’s stop unfairly protecting land investment. It can’t always be artificially at the height of profitability. Like any investment, it should fluctuate over the course of time. Who said we have to protect it at the cost of humanity?

    1. Land and property ownership is not always at the height of profitability. Many property owners have gone through ups and downs over the decades as the economy has gone. In the 80’s we had a housing boom, and rates went down right along with occupancies. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s it happened again, and most property owners lost big time during the pandemic when most people took advantage and didn’t pay their rent. I thinkk government needs to stay out of it, and let the market dictate, as it should be.

  3. All this is about high rents and availability of units on the lower end of the market.

    What Gloria and Elo-Rivera never talk about is how the City and increasing property tax revenue are big contributors to higher rents. Local government is the silent partner in all property transactions, gets paid first and always gets paid, even when there is a problem tenant.

    This issue has been caused, in part, by past City Councils incentivizing redevelopment of older affordable housing for a more lucrative tax base.

    Today we have a Council up-zoning large portions of the City with more market rate housing, with no input by communities regarding the size and scope of projects, charging no impact fees and a “lets see what happens” mentality.

    But the one thing that remains a constant is the City keeps bringing in more property tax revenue $$$ while demanding more affordable housing.

  4. There is a big difference between giant, faceless, corporate owners and mom and pop landlords. There needs to be some protection for “small business” landlords — or all housing stock is going to be held by the Blackstone Groups of the world. There will be zero hope for tenants — or for the dream of home-ownership — at that point. This is a dark path, long-term.

    1. I agree. There is a huge difference between a faceless, predatory, corporate entity that is looking to maximize profits for wealthy owners and/or shareholders and the “mom & pop” landlord who is holding onto something that a family member might move into someday or using the rental income to help offset the long-term care of a relative who once lived in that property. The smaller businesses that own a few units might fall somewhere in between.

      The city council’s tenant protection proposal is full of legalize, but does exemption L of section §98.0703 actually protect the mom & pop owners of rental property? Does it protect a small business that owns, say, a single apartment building? Maybe VOSD can get clarity on this?

  5. How are all those virtue signaling Government rules working?
    Free rent during COVID , free money if you get evicted etc. etc. etc.
    Rents went through the roof – why? Bureaucrats like Elmo Rivera and Gloria.
    Landlords will start doubling their deposits and raising the bar of who they will rent to ( pro – tip : it won’t be Hip Hop artists or seniors ). Gov intervention mean rents will rise and maintenance will go down.
    Say Blackstone wants to renovate an apartment, they have to pay 2 mo’s to evict a regular tenant and 3 mo’s to evict a Senior or Disabled person …do you think they have not thought this through (unlike the City) and pre-determined they won’t rent to Senior or Disabled?

  6. As an owner of two small rental units using what little profit I actually realize after rises in too many different taxes to count as well as costs to make repairs or replace appliances quickly, as my renters have a right to expect, to supplement my retirement income guess what? People like Gloria wanting me to absorb more costs, after almost losing not only my rental investments but my own home when nobody had to pay rent during the pandemic, have me throwing in the towel. I can’t improve my rentals without either raising the rent or doing without necessities myself. I’m sick of being thought greedy when all I’m asking is I not be vilified for refusing to come out of pocket every month for someone else to live in the property I sacrificed a lot to purchase. I’m going to take the money from a big corporation everyone is so dissatisfied with and though I wish my renters the best of luck whatever happens to them next is on all the people that think everybody is owed something without working for it. Oh and by the way, if you’re in your upper years or disabled as I am and don’t own your own home good luck finding anyone that will rent to you once all this mess goes through. And if you’re fortunate enough to be young and healthy you might want to start saving now towards the rent that’s double what you would pay now plus the 4x monthly rent deposit you’re going to have to come up with to get into a place.

  7. There are a great number of 8-16 unit buildings scattered throughout San Diego that are rented well under market market thanks to Prop 13 protections. Unfortunately, Prop 19 killed the opportunity of a son or daughter inheriting these units and continuing to rent at under market rates. Owners are selling and tenants are the losers. When the smoke clears, there will fewer rentals at higher prices under these “tenant protections”.

    1. Why should someone be able to inherit a “well” below market rent apartment? To incentivize multi generational poverty? To incentivize the building owners not to make improvements? If what you’re saying is true about there being less apartments covered by these “protections,” that sounds great to me.

      1. Since Prop 13 started in 1978, the chances are pretty good that the property is paid for, thus the ability to rent at below market prices. Since there will be no heirs, the building will be sold, tenants evicted and upgrades will be made so that when the units go back on the market, they are at a premium price.

  8. The best approach to housing stability is giving more renters ownership opportunity, some trace of equity. Otherwise they will always be at the mercy of market forces. And the RE market is out of control, it is not demand driven for homes to live in.

    How about an empty home tax?
    How about removing tax incentives for those who have 2nd, 3rd, and 20th properties?

    And pardon my lack of sympathy for those that inherit an apartment building and are now cut out of Prop 13. Let’s do the same to commercial landlords and anything that isn’t their primary residence. Most of these Prop 13 benefits are putting a disproportionate burden on 1st time buyers.

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