Monday, May 21, 2012

Merced City Council to Consider Repeal of Popular Tenant Protection Law

By Dean Preston

Merced's new mayor, Stan Thurston, is seeking to re-open the floodgates to mass evictions by banks and investors acquiring foreclosed properties in Merced. The Mayor is leading efforts to repeal Merced's Just Cause for Eviction law that protects renters after foreclosure.

The city council is expected to vote this evening whether to repeal the law. 

Since December, arbitrary evictions of tenants after foreclosure have been outlawed under Merced's just cause for eviction law. The law applies to foreclosed properties and prohibits evictions of renters unless there is specific cause (like nonpayment of rent, nuisance, owner move-in, etc) for the eviction. Foreclosure alone is not grounds for eviction of tenants under the ordinance.

While local officials across the state are looking for ways to protect their residents from national banks, Mayor Thurston stands out as a local official who is actively looking for ways to make it easier for banks to evict more tenants in his community. His predecessors passed a law that, without costing the city a dime, stops post-foreclosure evictions of innocent renters, and one of his first acts as mayor has been to try to repeal that law.

The repeal effort has prompted widespread criticism. The law's supporters include not just tenant rights groups, but labor and other allies. Most recently, the local chapter of UDW, the homecare workers union, issued a letter supporting the law. Other allies will testify alongside tenants at this evening's repeal hearing.

The law is protecting families from unfair evictions, something that apparently upsets the Mayor and his real estate cronies. Realtors appear to be the only group pushing for the repeal. They have found an ally in the ultra-conservative mayor, himself a landlord.

One family's plight was recently featured in an article in the Merced Sun-Star. The Contreras family has lived in their Merced home for six years, faithfully paying the rent every month while their landlord failed to make mortgage payments. After their landlord's foreclosure, a Sacramento-based speculator immediately tried to kick the family out of their home for no reason, but with the help of Tenants Together and the new Just Cause for Eviction law, the family is asserting their right to stay in the home.

This repeal effort is truly the worst of special interest politics. Let's hope at least one of the new councilmembers (Mike Murphy or Tony Dossetti) sides with the residents of Merced who put them in office, rather than national banks and their realtors who are responsible for the evictions, vacancies and blight.