California’s new renters’ protection act reflects tenants’ power

By R.J. Taggueg and Katherine Nasol, Special to CalMatters

In a historic victory for renters and tenants, California will soon become the third state in the country to implement statewide rent cap. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation capping rent increases at 5% after inflation, for the next 10 years. 

With attempts at similar legislation in California defeated as recently as 2018, the landmark win would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of tenant organizers. 

California is plagued by an overcrowded, overpriced housing market, and the members of the Vallejo-based Strawberry-Gardens Alliance felt the impact directly. 

In February, the Reliant Group purchased apartment complexes in Vallejo, Antioch, Hercules, Hayward, and Napa

By May, residents in the Strawberry Hills and Holiday Gardens apartments received notice that their rent was to increase by as much as 110%. 

In June, news spread of the residents’ cases, and the newly-formed Strawberry-Gardens Alliance linked with advocacy and legal organizations across the region, including Migrante Napa Solano, Common Ground, the UC Davis Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies, Legal Services of Northern California, and other local tenant coalitions in cities where the Reliant Group made purchases. 

Through meetings and rallies, members of the Strawberry-Gardens Alliance were able to convince the Vallejo City Council to issue a temporary city-wide moratorium to cap rent increases.

Expanding their strategy, the tenants connected with PICO CA, a state-wide organization working on passing Assembly Bill 1482, the tenant protection act by Assemblyman David Chiu, San Francisco Democrat. 

Together, they drove to Sacramento to share their stories with Sen. Bill Dodd, Napa Democrat. With their ranks now growing to include tenants from across California, the Strawberry-Gardens Alliance met with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s aides, raising awareness of how developers are economically evicting tenants from their homes through using tax allocation credits

The growth of the Strawberry-Gardens alliance and the passage of AB 1482 is a testament to what tenants can win through organizing and coalition-building.

There is still work to be done. Ultimately, the bill is limited. While it provides considerable protections by placing caps on rent and requiring that evictions be legally justified, these measures will only last for the next decade. 

To enforce these protections, the bill requires tenants to sue their landlords for each new violation. Because many of these tenants have few resources to take landlords to court, proceeding with any legal actions is an uphill battle.

But the bill also is one of the strongest tenant protection laws in the country, and it shows what is possible. This is only the beginning of what tenants can achieve. 

The passing of AB 1482 will hopefully enable tenant organizing in Vallejo to win even bigger victories and help shape our democracy. This win can inspire tenants in other regions to build their own tenants’ unions, not just in California, but across the country. 

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R.J. Taggueg is the director of research at the UC Davis Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies, [email protected] Katherine Nasol is the director of policy engagement at the Bulosan Center, [email protected]. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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