Updated: May 9
After a hard-fought two-and-a-half-year campaign by North Bay Organizing Project’s housing arm, the Sonoma County Tenants Union, in partnership with Legal Aid – which was strengthened by the steadfast support of North Bay Jobs with Justice; the North Bay Labor Council; NAACP-Santa Rosa, Sonoma County Branch; and other allied organizations – Petaluma City Council finally passed a permanent tenant protection ordinance!
The ordinance passed on the first reading on April 17th, and the final vote to adopt the ordinance is Monday, May 15th.
We encourage everyone to join us at Petaluma City Hall one last time to cement this win for renters! Monday, May 15th at 5:30pm at Petaluma City Hall (11 English Street).
This victory is bittersweet because the City Council both expanded coverage beyond what the State Tenant Protection Act ("TPA") offers, and weakened protections the prior City Council had passed for no-fault evictions last year. It was a 4-2 vote with Mayor Kevin McDonnell recusing himself as a landlord and Council members Mike Healy and Karen Nau voting no.
What’s in the Policy? What Does the Ordinance Do?
The ordinance is weaker than the prior interim ordinance in multiple ways. It removed all the protections for no-fault evictions – withdrawal from the rental market (Ellis Act), owner/owner’s family member move-in, and substantial remodel/rehab – and only gave the tenant a right to re-rent if the unit is placed back on the rental market within 6 months. We foresee many landlords simply complying and re-renting after 6 months, or making renovations take 7 months, so that they can re-rent at market rate to a new tenant. One justification for this was to increase relocation payments from one month of rent under the TPA to 2.5 months rent or $9,000, whichever is lower. This modest increase in the cost of evicting a tenant due to no fault of that tenant or their family, is hardly going to discourage bad faith evictions in order to gain a market rate rent increase from a new tenant.
The City Council also removed the prior bans on evictions of educators and households with school-aged children. Given the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates the devastating impacts of moves during the school year, especially forced moves such as evictions, on children, we were very disappointed to see this change. Furthermore, City Staff claimed that they removed these protections due to a lack of public outcry. We believe this is a cop-out. Several teachers, principals, and parents of school-aged children in Petaluma, as well as young people, have expressed their strong support for these protections throughout this long campaign. After passing this version of the ordinance, we urge the City Council to make amendments in the future to put these protections back in place.
The ways in which this ordinance is stronger than the prior ordinance are powerful (3-7 below).
Here is the summary of what the City passed on April 17 (subject to potential changes at the second reading on May 15th):
Every Petaluma tenant (est. 20,000+ people) should receive a written notice about this ordinance and their rights - whether they have them or not.
The small-property-owner exemption: Landlords who own 3 or fewer rental units within the City of Petaluma are exempted from the ordinance.
The rest of the summary applies to tenants whose landlords own 4 or more rental units.
This exemption was added by the new City Council. The prior ordinance did not have an exemption for the number of properties owned by the landlord; originally, all units were covered regardless of ownership count. The TPA does not have exemptions based on the number of units owned.
One positive is that this exemption does not include corporations, real estate investment trusts, or LLCs. In other words, these entities are covered by the ordinance. This is good because it means that an LLC must comply with the ordinance and provide these protections, regardless of how many units it owns.
Day 1 of tenancy- protections apply.
The prior ordinance applied after 6 months of tenancy; the TPA is 1 year.
Government and non-profit subsidized housing are covered.
The prior ordinance exempted this category of housing, as does the TPA.
New construction is covered.
The prior ordinance exempted this category of housing, as does the TPA.
Relocation assistance for no-fault evictions is 2.5x months’ worth of rent up to $9,000.
The prior ordinance only increased relocation payments for seniors, people with disabilities, and families with school aged children to 1.5x the rent. The TPA is only 1 month of rent.
All building types, including single-family homes are covered.
The TPA has exemptions for some building types, such as single family homes.
For all no-fault evictions, the tenant has the right to re-rent within the first 6 months if the unit is put back on the market.
A no-fault eviction in Petaluma is when a landlord evicts a tenant for reasons that are not related to the tenant's behavior or actions. Specifically:
Ellis Act eviction: The landlord can say they plan to “go out of business” and remove the unit from the rental market.
Owner Move In (OMI) eviction: A landlord can say that they or their family member will move in.
Renoviction: A landlord can say that they are making substantial remodels to the unit.
We tried to win more protections here or at least keep the protections of the interim ordinance in place, which actually closed the loopholes in the TPA.
A tenant has a “right of action” to sue for wrongful eviction if their landlord violates the ordinance and can get attorney's fees if the eviction is ruled unjust.
This is significant because it could help tenants find an attorney, or help Legal Aid take on more cases like this and help more tenants.
A tenant may assert failure to comply as an affirmative defense in an unlawful detainer.
This means that if a tenant is being evicted by their landlord in a lawsuit, the tenant can argue that the eviction is unlawful because the landlord did not follow the requirements of the just cause eviction ordinance. This is called an affirmative defense because the tenant is making a claim that goes beyond simply denying the allegations in the eviction lawsuit. By asserting this defense, the tenant is asking the court to consider whether the landlord followed the just cause eviction ordinance before ordering the tenant to leave the property. If the court finds that the landlord failed to comply, the eviction is void and the tenant does not have to move out pursuant to that eviction notice.
Most everything else tracks with the Tenant Protection Act.
Impacts of the Policy on Our Community and Our Organizing:
All of these things will likely prevent landlords from trying to evict people unjustly in the first place. This has a currently unknowable, probably profound, AND far-reaching impact -- stabler communities; less homelessness; healthier, less traumatized children growing into healthy adults; thriving academic and professional careers; happier, less chronically stressed families; greater racial equity; greater safety for women, children, and other potential victims of domestic violence; empowered tenants more ready to speak up to improve housing conditions; more ethically aligned landlords; and better climate impact due to shorter commutes and greater ability to invest in community climate resilience.
We can build on the momentum of this win both in Petaluma and across the county. Other localities across the state can learn from our example.
We can use these votes and the statements made along the way to celebrate or shame these elected officials.
We have developed a lot of material to support other campaigns, learned a lot about what it takes to advance tenant protections, strengthened our existing relationships and built new ones, and developed our leadership together. Some people used their voices for the first time ever, others for the first time in years. We showed up for each other and demonstrated the compassion and renter solidarity we feel and are committed to.
Every Petaluma tenant (est. 20,000+ people) should receive a written notice about this ordinance and their rights - whether they have them or not. This means we can refer to this notice of rights in every conversation we have at the door, and tenants can have clarity on what those rights are. We can also push the City to refer people to receive free legal advice from attorneys at Legal Aid.
Along the way we got the City of Petaluma to provide childcare, in-person Spanish translation, and accommodation for persons with children in that they are called to give their public comment first so that they can depart afterward if needed.
Next Steps in the Process:
The City Council is meeting on Monday, May 15, 2023 to do the second reading of the ordinance. We expect them to adopt the ordinance, but adoption is never guaranteed.
If the City were to not adopt the ordinance, the temporary ordinance would expire on July 1st, before they could adopt a new version of the ordinance. This would create a gap of time during which vulnerable renters could go without protection.
We need to show the City Council that we are still here, supportive of their adopting the ordinance. We need to show that we are appreciative, AND that they should strengthen it more in the future. We need to show them that we will hold them accountable to their commitments to renters.
How to Get Involved:
To support in any way, please contact Diana Kingsbury: (707) 324-9791 firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow our calendar to join our events such as phone banks!
Show the City Council our power in numbers - how we care about seeing this through!
Reach out to your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, and invite them to be a part of this historic win!
Reach out to renters in Petaluma who we’ve spoken to before, who have given us permission to keep them in the loop - we can update them on this exciting win and encourage them to be part of it!
Express thanks to City Council members for passing and soon adopting Just Cause.
Thanking politicians goes a long way in building a relationship! We want them to feel like what they’re doing makes a difference, and to remember our names, faces, and stories – for the next time we reach out to them.
You can send your thank you email easily by clicking on these names, but please personalize it as much as you can so it comes across as meaningful and personal as possible:
Together, we can show the City we are committed to making sure this ordinance is as successful as possible, and we can gather the data to show the impacts of the loopholes and weaknesses in the ordinance, so that other cities can learn from them.
Implementation is often the sticking point in any policy.
We can show the City Council how serious we are and that we will hold them accountable to their commitments.
Submit a letter to the editor supporting Just Cause.
Sign onto our letter to the City Council on behalf of your organization!
Join our Sonoma County Tenants Union General Meeting at our NBOP office (1717 Yulupa Ave, Santa Rosa) on Thursday, May 11, 2023 at 6-8pm!
According to the United States Census Bureau's American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (2015-2019, which are arguably outdated), there were a total of 20,187 renter-occupied housing units in Petaluma, California.
Any questions, comments, or concerns?
Contact Diana Kingsbury at
(707) 324-9791 and/or email email@example.com