City Attorney Victor Ponto said the program was not being enforced but still made the city a target for litigation.
ADELANTO — An ordinance that, in part, requires landlords to evict tenants at law enforcement’s request and was deemed discriminatory by a coalition of nonprofits was repealed by the City Council on Wednesday.
The unanimous vote at the regular meeting to strike out the city’s Crime Free Rental Housing Program appeared to be motivated by the threat of litigation.
City Attorney Victor Ponto said the ordinance enacted in 2017 was similar to many “cookie cutter regulations” used by cities across California that have met legal challenges.
He said despite the program not being enforced, it still made the city a target.
“It’s not a matter if we’re going to get sued. It’s when,” Ponto told the Council. “It’s not agendized, but we just got rid of three lawsuits in the last 24 hours. I don’t want to get a new one.”
Hesperia and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department were sued by the U.S. Department of Justice last month, which alleged a crime-free housing program in that city had resulted in the illegal evictions of numerous African American and Latino renters.
Both the city and department have denied the allegations and say they intend to defend themselves in court.
In 2017, Hesperia was forced to make the program voluntary and had to pay almost $500,000 in legal fees in a settlement to the plaintiffs: the Victor Valley Family Resource Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, according to a previous Daily Press report.
Representatives from both nonprofits were present at Wednesday’s meeting in Adelanto and spoke in support of the repeal. Others, who identified themselves as property managers, said taking away the city’s program would increase crime.
The law — which applied to renters in multi-unit housing — mandated that landlords include a crime-free addendum in leases.
“The Crime-Free Lease Addendum shall provide for eviction of any occupant that causes, maintains, or allows any criminal activity, illegal drug activity, or drug-related nuisance,” according to city code.
A local property manager named Will said he sees “deals” happening at other complexes every night. He believed the ordinance was useful in combating criminal behavior.
“It does protect our community,” he said.
A manager of a mobile home park, Judith Hink, said the program does not pressure her to evict people and informs tenants of their rights.
She said she enjoyed having a representative from the Sheriff’s Department, who manages the department’s separate housing program, visit the property. She said the ordinance does not target minorities.
Others at the meeting disagreed.
Desiree Sanchez, an ACLU community engagement and policy advocate, said Adelanto’s program expedites illegal evictions and does discriminate against certain racial groups, such as African Americans and Latinos.
Before it was repealed, the law required that landlords begin eviction proceedings within 30 days against a tenant if requested by law enforcement. In addition, proceedings could be pursued based on evidence, and not conviction, of a crime.
Domingo Nunez, a local resident, said he felt discriminated against due to the ordinance because of criminal convictions in his past.
Despite having the required down payment, a good rental history and credit check, he said he’d go to an apartment complex and couldn’t even get an application.
He said the rejections started to break him down and made him ask himself, “What the hell is wrong with me?”
City Council member Stevevonna Evans, who supported repealing the program since it was suggested last year, reiterated that endorsement at the meeting, particularly in the light of Hesperia’s lawsuit.
“What I’m in agreement in doing is removing this from the liability of the city,” she said.
She also sought to assuage some landlord’s fears by emphasizing that they could still mandate criminal background checks for tenants and other requirements, but would take on responsibility of a possible lawsuit themselves.
“That’s on you. By all means, (there’s) nothing that we can do to prevent you from setting your own rules,” Evans said.
Martin Estacio may be reached at MEstacio@VVDailyPress.com or at 760-955-5358. Follow him on Twitter @DP_mestacio.
Credit: Source link