New tenant protection ordinance approved

The latest changes to city eviction rules, including language for what is considered a ‘mom and pop’ property owner, will take effect in July.|

The Petaluma City Council has approved amendments to the city’s tenant protections following another hours-long discussion Monday night.

Council members OK’d the ordinance in a 4-2 vote, with Mike Healy and Karen Nau against it and Mayor Kevin McDonnell recused, solidifying the city’s efforts to further protect renters from unjust evictions.

“I think the (Tenant Protections Act) of 2019 has been effective and that’s a reason to try to improve upon it,” said council member Dennis Pocekay.

The latest vote came after the City Council asked staff last month to make further revisions to the city’s draft tenant protections ordinance, which has been altered from the interim ordinance adopted in October 2022.

In May 2022, responding to rising concerns over evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council decided to make it a top priority to tighten restrictions for when a homeowner or property owner is allowed to end a contract with a tenant. Public feedback led to a newer version of the ordinance being discussed in a March 6 workshop, before council members asked staff for further revisions.

On Monday, Nau said she remained concerned for smaller property owners who may struggle under the tightened restrictions.

“This ordinance will cost the city of Petaluma plenty to try to manage and enforce it, and an ordinance like this will not encourage small mom-and-pop landlords to provide needed rentals in our community,” Nau said. “I’d like to see these single-family-home units removed completely (from the ordinance), to make more single-family-home units available to renters, not fewer.”

The ordinance would set relocation assistance given by landlords to tenants in a just cause eviction at either 2.5 times the amount of a current month’s rent or $9,000, whichever is less.

Provisions that would limit just cause evictions for teachers and students to the summer break months were taken out, as staff said in their report that “strong support for the protections was not voiced during the public outreach meetings and the provisions present implementation challenges.”

The language for what is considered a “mom and pop” property owner was also changed to be defined as an owner who has up to three rental units instead of two rental units.

The City Council also decided to extend a no-fault eviction renter the right to return to a property if the property returns to the market within six months for all “just cause” reasons – including if a property owner ended a renter’s contract due to selling the property, moving in a family member or for a major remodel. Before, the right of return was only extended to those who were evicted for a landlord wanting to sell a property.

The new ordinance also does not exempt new construction that occurred in the past 15 years, which mirrors the just cause ordinances in California, according to the staff report. For that reason, Healy did not support the amended ordinance presented by staff on Monday, because he believes it may drive new housing creators and construction lenders to take their projects elsewhere, which may further exacerbate the housing shortage.

“I think this was a good discussion, most of the changes we made were appropriate,” Healy said. “But for me the 15-year issue is a red line.”

The city’s interim ordinance does not exempt nonprofit owners of residential rental properties, but it does exempt housing that is owned by the government or where the rent is subsidized by a public agency, as well as “properties where half or more of the units are deed restricted as affordable.”

But according to the April 17 staff report, “there doesn’t appear to be a need for the city to exempt itself or other nonprofit rental housing owners from the ordinance.“

The new ordinance is set to take effect once the interim ordinance expires in July, and while it does not currently have a sunset date, staff plans to revisit it in the next two years for possible changes if conditions warrant.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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