CAA-opposed bill that would boost eviction jury trials hits snag


A CAA-opposed bill that would have encouraged jury trials in eviction cases — greatly delaying a landlord’s ability to speedily eject a nonpaying tenant — failed in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, May 7, and cannot return until at least next year.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano

AB 969 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, focused on cases in which a tenant claims he or she withheld rent because a landlord failed to make repairs to an apartment.

Under current law, a tenant already can use this argument in court to fight an eviction. The tenant, however, must be current on rent to do so.

The bill would have removed this requirement, allowing a renter who had not paid the rent to claim his or her eviction was simply the landlord’s way of retaliating because of rent withheld when the landlord didn’t make needed repairs to a unit.

AB 969 would have placed blame squarely with landlords, assuming a tenant’s withholding of the rent was automatically justified.

Moreover, the bill would have encouraged trials by jury, which take much longer than trials by a judge, and would have extended the eviction process, allowing tenants to live rent-free for months.

The California Apartment Association’s government affairs and legal teams fought to stop AB 969. Credit goes to the law firm of Kimball, Tirey & St John and its attorney, Puneet Singh, who testified Tuesday about the burden AB 969 would have placed on rental property owners.

Singh pointed to protections for tenants and landlords already on the books, and demonstrated that this bill was not necessary.

“Existing California statutes contain detailed remedies and defenses for residential tenants who withhold rent due to uninhabitability of their homes,” Singh testified.

She also attacked wording in AB 969 that implies landlords are to blame whenever a tenant fights an eviction by claiming he or she withheld rent because the landlord failed to make needed repairs.

“To add the proposed language to CC 1942.5 would result in a presumption that if the tenant claims the premises are uninhabitable, they are,” she said. “It would presume that if a tenant claimed rent was used to repair and deduct appropriate, it was.”