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Down but NOT out: a local Tenant Anti-Harassment ordinance

Across the City and County of Sacramento, renters are facing abuse, harassment, coercion, threats, intrusion and MORE at the hands of their landlords with very limited options to turn to for support. Sacramento no longer has a functioning Renters Helpline, there’s no robust infrastructure for supporting renters, and more broadly, we all know that there is nowhere NEAR enough accessible, affordable housing. It might seem that, given these circumstances, the LEAST our local government could do is to provide support to renters experiencing these abuses with nowhere to go and no way out.


Enter: a local Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance (TAHO)

^promo image from ACCE


The push to pass this ordinance was championed by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), with support from Councilmember Caity Maple at the Sacramento City Council, and Supervisor Patrick Kennedy at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.


Quick summary


Sacramento City and County are both in desperate need of additional and more robust protections for renters against landlord harassment and abuse, and within the last couple of months we have seen proposals come before both the city council and county board of supervisors to try and codify those protections. In both cases the respective items were shut down or paused. TAHO, or a Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance, is the policy being championed by Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), with support from Councilmember Caity Maple at the Sacramento City Council, and Supervisor Patrick Kennedy at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors (pictured in ACCE graphic below).


Last month, the Sac City Law & Legislation Committee stopped TAHO from moving to the full City Council for a vote, directing staff to go back and complete more research. The BOS voted it down, and instead made a decision to host a public “workshop” around existing tenant protections. Three of the City Councilmembers on the Law & Leg Committee, and every county supervisor, took campaign donations from landlord, developer and/or real estate interests, but did not recuse themselves from voting on these items…seems like a conflict of interest.


Keep reading for a deep dive into this ordinance and its significance!


So what is the purpose of this local tenant anti-harassment ordinance?


ACCE says it best:

While Tenant Harassment is already illegal statewide, tenants in Sacramento have huge barriers in asserting their existing rights. Legal services are so overwhelmed that it is challenging for tenants to seek legal help with it taking several days to talk with legal staff. Even if they manage to get legal consultation, Sacramento lacks a strong Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance that can protect them. Housing Rights Lawyers & Housing advocates agree Sacramento should adopt a ‘Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance,’ similar to Oakland and Richmond, that will protect tenants from threats, intimidation, and other unlawful activities through civil remedies

We’ll talk more about this further down, but the fact that some forms of harassment are already illegal at the state level was a big “counter-argument” from real estate, landlord, and developer interests when they showed up to urge city councilmembers and county supervisors to vote against these ordinances.


Which begs the question, if these protections exist, and people are still suffering, maybe they need to be reinforced and expanded upon?


If all these landlords say they’re already not breaking the law, then wouldn’t they not be impacted at all by a new ordinance?

That’s the million dollar (literally) question.


What are the specifics of TAHO?


ACCE’s South Sacramento Chapter is advocating for a TAHO that can be used as a tool for holding landlords accountable around things like:

  • Influencing a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation, or coercion

  • Abusing the owner’s right to access the tenant’s rental unit

  • Removing a tenant’s possessions without the tenant’s permission

  • Threatening violence against a tenant

  • Refusing to acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment

  • Substantially interfering with a tenant’s right to quiet use

  • Interrupting, terminating, or failing to provide housing services

  • Attempting to coerce tenants to vacate with offers of payments coupled with threats

  • Invading a tenant’s right to privacy

  • Refusing to do repairs for purposes of harassment

Two versions of TAHO were brought before Sac City's Law & Legislation Committee (8/15/23; item 5) and the Sac County BOS (9/12/23; item 61), with a couple differences between the ordinances presented at each meeting. Monica Madrid, an organizer with ACCE said those differences are as follows:

  • The City proposal was stronger due to the fact that landlords would be required to pay renter’s legal fees

  • The City proposal also didn’t set a limit on how much money tenants could win in court

  • The County proposal had stronger rules regarding retaliation

So, what’s the status of these crucial ordinances?

At the city: TAHO was presented before the Law & Legislation Committee, which means that it will not be able to move to the full council for a vote until it passes through Law & Leg. Unless the Mayor pulls it directly from the committee and puts it on a full council agenda. But we’re not holding our breath.


The ordinance did not pass. Councilmembers Valenzuela, Jennings, Guerra and Kaplan sit on the Law & Leg Committee. Jennings was absent, so the final vote was a “yes” from CM Valenzuela, and a “no” from Councilmembers Kaplan and Guerra.


The final decision was to put this project on hold, and have staff come back with a “detailed report” on what current tenant protections and resources exist in Sacramento. Of course we already know the answer to that, the research has been done. It can be accessed in the item’s staff report, and was also presented by CM Maple at the Law & Leg meeting.

The direction to have staff do “more research” is a tactic to shut this proposal down through bureaucracy.

At the county: TAHO was shut down by the board, with only Supervisor Kennedy voting "yes". Instead of passing something meaningful, the board decided to provide direction to staff that a “workshop” on tenant protection resources take place sometime in the future…if that isn’t the most performative nonsense…


Oh and for good measure, Supervisor Desmond would also like for the District Attorney & Sheriff’s offices to be included in this “workshop”.


Kim Nava, county spokesperson, said the board could revisit the proposal at any time.


What happened when this proposal was heard at City Council?


Thank you Caity Maple for championing this ordinance at the city level; the meeting opened with CM Maple explaining how existing protection programs, even if they were fully resourced (they are not currently), would not be sufficient to cover everything within TAHO.


CM Caity Maple pictured below, explaining the necessity of this ordinance; behind her sits a very anti-TAHO and anti "comminusian" landlord, holding a very clear and not-at-all-perplexing sign...(folder?) at the 8/15 Law & Leg meeting

The city’s code enforcement division presented as well, and verified that the current significant gaps in tenant protections that exist within Sacramento would be filled by TAHO.


CM Valenzuela made an excellent point:

A law which can only be enforced by people who can afford to hire an attorney is not just

KV stated that TAHO would allow code enforcement to actually enforce harassment laws rather than just referring people to legal services, and would allow tenants to recoup legal fees.


CM Guerra: said he had concerns about increasing the cost of doing business for landlords, and spoke about how existing programs might be enough.


Here’s a quote from Guerra, referencing his past self, that seems to encompass his level of understanding around this issue:

If I didn’t like my landlord, I moved to another place

What an incredible way to show you’re out of touch; a stunning example of his disregard for the needs of the struggling people living in his district.


Essentially, during this conversation, Guerra claimed that the real issue is that we don’t have enough housing, and that increasing the housing stock will force landlords to be…better? Generally his statements were vague, and he didn’t really make a clear point.


CM Valenzuela attempted to get Guerra to clarify his position, but he stubbornly refused, and instead insisted on a making a substitute motion to have staff bring back their recommendations on how to address harassment while “keeping the end in mind” (he explicitly refused to define what “the end” means to him, but he said that phrase several times).


CM Kaplan was also worried about the cost, and about how it would affect the city’s efforts to build more housing. She claimed that there’s no data to support TAHO’s effectiveness.


KV absolutely holding it down at this meeting, and speaking truth to power! We see you CM Valenzuela and we appreciate you!


Another fantastic quote from CM Valenzuela:

We move quickly when things align with our own goals and agendas and then we slow down when they don’t

KV pointed out that we can’t get more data because tenants can’t even file complaints about harassment with code enforcement, which TAHO would allow them to do. She specifically called out Guerra and Kaplan for opposing tenant protections, even though they are trying to pretend they don’t, and really pointedly brought up a law requiring people to disclose financial contributions from anyone who has business before the council (full comment below).



Because so many landlords, realtors, property owners, etc. showed up at this meeting, the comments in favor vs. opposed to the ordinance were pretty evenly split. As you can imagine, the comments supporting the ordinance were powerful, moving, sad, and truly meaningful & important...the opposition comments were also very sad, if you consider the thought of accountability and violations enforcement for landlords sad...


Guerra’s motion (which passed 2-1) was to direct staff to examine other ways to address tenant harassment. He claims he doesn’t want to “prejudice” staff either for or against TAHO, so he’s not explicitly forbidding them from just bringing TAHO back, but both he and Kaplan made it clear that they don’t want to create a new right of action against landlords.


What happened when this proposal was heard at the County Board of Supervisors?


Supervisor Kennedy opened the discussion, and spoke about some incidents of harassment he's aware of, about touring a facility that was in horrible disrepair, and about people being afraid to come forward due to retaliation. He said some things along the lines of “not all landlords”, but he’s still pushing the policy at least.


There were comments from real estate interests at this meeting AND when TAHO was heard at the city's Law & Leg meeting, that basically are: state law already covers everything so this ordinance is unnecessary. If that's true, it pretty significantly undercuts arguments from the landlords who claim this is gonna bankrupt them.


ACCE attorney Ethan Silverstein’s public comment called out that this ordinance would be a step in the right direction, but that it would still be one of the weakest harassment protections in the state, if it was passed.

  • Supervisor Desmond asked him to describe the lack of legal resources available for tenants in Sacramento, and Ethan pretty directly called out the county for divesting from providing resources over the years; said there are only two part-time attorneys working for the county related to tenant protection. Ethan also called out the California Apartment Association’s (CAA) website for providing misinformation, and recommended that tenants avoid using it when researching tenant protections

  • Supervisor Serna asked him why he described this ordinance as weak, and Ethan replied that it’s because this ordinance imposes caps on the financial remedies available, and on the ability of tenants to recoup costs, but also because we need to go beyond what’s in TAHO in terms of tighter regulations and making more legal services available

The overwhelming majority of public comments were in support of the ordinance.


According to Supervisor Desmond, what the county is really doing wrong is not educating people…he seems to think that people just don’t understand what their rights are, so what the county actually needs to focus on is “education”.


Hey, Supervisor Desmond…no, that’s not the issue.


Supervisor Hume agreed with Desmond that what we need is education, and more housing. When he was called out for real estate campaign contributions, Hume said “you can make whatever allegations you want about campaign contributions”, with his ultimate point being: those contributions don’t affect his decision-making at all because “not all landlords are bad, not all tenants are good”. For the cherry on top, it turns out that Hume is a landlord himself, but is very very kind and charges his tenant below market rates because she’s just so great [heavy sarcasm here].


Overall our supervisors did a great job at not understanding current law, not understanding what TAHO is/would do, and on a more fundamental level, entirely missing the point of this ordinance being necessary because the system is stacked against tenants. The current system not only supports landlords, but gives landlords almost unilateral discretion to abuse and mistreat renters in the name of increasing their profits. In sum, there is an enormous POWER IMBALANCE that works in the favor of landlords, and no amount of "education" is going to change that dynamic.


Conflicts of interest


FURTHERMORE!


Did you know that 3 Sac City Councilmembers, CM Kaplan, CM Jennings and CM Guerra account for 93% of the 2022 - 2023 campaign contributions from wealthy developers? And yet they regularly vote on programs and policies related to affordable housing? Read this letter from a coalition of orgs calling out Mayor Steinberg and the Sac City Councilmembers on this, and asking that the council consider amending the Sacramento City Charter to address this apparent conflict of interest.


The Sacramento Bee has reported (pictured in screenshot below) the following information on real estate and housing contributions to all five supervisors:


Below you can watch a fire comment from Keyan Bliss calling the supervisors out on these contributions, and asking them to think about if the decisions they're making are not only justified, but ETHICAL.



Is it a coincidence that TAHO, which was strongly opposed by real estate, developer and landlord interests, failed to move forward at the city or county? That’s probably what they would like for us to think.


What happens next?


At the city level we can keep pushing the Law & Leg committee members to pass this crucial ordinance! Folks living, or who know someone living, in districts 1, 4, 6, or 7 can contact their representative to share their personal story and let their representative know just how important this ordinance is, and why it NEEDS to pass! Find your representative


We don't have updates/actions for TAHO at the County at the moment, but we will be following this issue (at BOTH the city and county level) and keeping you informed!


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