The California Senate passed Assembly Bill 291, expanding protections for immigrant renter households who are being regularly harassed, discriminated against, and illegally evicted. The bill is an effort to address growing concerns throughout the state that landlords are threatening to expose renters who have undocumented immigration status. Landlords using this leverage can intimidate renters and prevent them from seeking to enforce their rights by contacting building inspectors about habitability concerns or by contesting eviction and other disputes in court. AB 291 was introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu (D), and previously passed the Assembly in May; the bill now goes to Governor Jerry Brown (D), and advocates are organizing to ensure his signature. The Western Center on Law and Poverty, an NLIHC member, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and Tenants Together are among the organizations working to influence Mr. Brown to codify AB 291 as law.
To support AB 291, advocates have demonstrated that landlords have unique access to a large amount of personal information about renters, like financial backgrounds, Social Security numbers, and employment status. Landlords also know what languages their tenants speak and sometimes even have information about a tenant’s schedule, knowing when they are most often found at home. This information can be valuable to immigration enforcement officials, and potential disclosures constitute a significant vulnerability for the renter. To address this power-imbalance, AB 291 prohibits landlords from providing information related to tenants’ immigration status, and it officially establishes a right to sue landlords who report renters to immigration officials.
Landlords will often illicitly intimidate immigrant renters in advance of court hearings. Attorneys might ask renters about their immigration status during litigation, or they might use this leverage to get renters to move out immediately without a legal eviction process. Renters who might sue for other disputes such as illegally withheld security deposits are intimidated from doing so for fear of exposure to immigration officials. AB 291 specifically bans questions about immigration status during legal discovery or at trial. The bill ensures that legal proceedings on matters of rental housing law do not account at any point for a renter’s immigration status.
For more information about AB 291, see a factsheet produced by the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation at: http://bit.ly/2xRUSDj