The California Apartment Association on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court against Alameda County, alleging that its eviction moratorium infringes on rental housing providers’ constitutional rights and violates state law.
CAA is joined in the lawsuit by five small rental property owners who have been harmed by the more than 2-year-old ban on nearly all evictions. In addition to suffering losses amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent, these owners’ stories also showcase how the county’s one-sided policy has caused real, lasting harm to property owners.
Among the rental property owners who are joining CAA in the lawsuit are Rakesh and Tripti Jain. They rented out their home in Fremont to a tenant in January 2020 with the intention of using the rent proceeds to help fund their son’s college education. Things started going wrong almost immediately. The tenant’s security deposit check bounced – and he failed to pay any rent.
The District Attorney’s office has filed criminal charges against the tenant related to the bounced check. In the lawsuit, the Jains also allege that the tenant has violated the terms of the rental agreement by having several large dogs despite agreeing to a no-pets policy, allowing unauthorized occupants to move into the unit, and even making unpermitted modifications to the Jains’ home. Because of the Alameda County eviction moratorium, the Jains have been powerless to remove this nightmare tenant, even for the purpose of moving into the home themselves.
“I’m going in circles. I have almost talked to every authority in Alameda County, Fremont city,” Tripti Jain told ABC 7. “I have spoken to almost everyone. Everyone shows sympathy, but that is not paying my mortgage.”
As shocking as the Jains’ story is, it is – unfortunately – not unique. The other property owners partnering with CAA in the lawsuit have all been harmed by the Alameda County moratorium in their own ways. Examples include being banned from moving into their home; having their retirement undermined by a non-paying tenant; and having their condo destroyed by tenants who have unauthorized pets and consistently waterlog the garage.
CAA’s lawsuit argues that, however well-intended the eviction moratorium might have been when it was enacted more than two years ago, it is now causing more than harm than good and that in doing so it has infringed on property owner’s rights under the Takings, Contracts, and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit also argues that the moratorium violates the Ellis Act – a California law that protects rental housing owners’ right to go out of business – by prohibiting evictions for any reason if a tenant claims a COVID-19 hardship.
The complaint requests that the court declare the moratorium invalid and that the county be ordered to pay damages to the individual property owners for the harm they have suffered.
In filing this lawsuit, CAA is seeking not only to have the Alameda County moratorium declared unconstitutional, but to shape legal precedent that will prevent governments from enacting such harmful, one-sided policies in the future.
You can find a copy of the complaint filed with the federal court here.
Whitney Prout is policy and compliance counsel for the California Apartment Association.