Alameda County Board of Supervisors Approves Suite of Tenant Protections

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted in December 2022 to approve a suite of tenant protections, including a fair chance ordinance that makes the California county the first county in the nation to prohibit landlords from conducting criminal background checks on rental applicants. The Board of Supervisors also voted to enact a just cause eviction ordinance and to create a rental housing registry. The new tenant protections will apply to more than 60,000 renters living in Alameda County’s unincorporated Eden Area.

“For too long, unincorporated families have been left behind and unheard by the County,” said Paulina Jacobo, a longtime Cherryland resident of the unincorporated Eden Area and member of My Eden Voice, a grassroots group representing unincorporated residents. “Our residents are hopeful these policies can protect families, and we hope the new Board of Supervisors upholds their promise.”

The “Fair Chance Ordinance” prohibits housing providers from inquiring about rental applicants’ criminal history, requiring applicants to authorize the release of their criminal history, or denying housing on the basis of criminal history in the case that this information is made available. Owner-occupied properties of four or fewer units and subleases are exempt from the ordinance. Landlords will still be allowed to check sex offender registries, and they still must comply with federal laws that bar people convicted of certain drug and sex offenses from publicly funded housing. The ordinance also outlaws advertisements of rental housing that indicate, whether directly or indirectly, that applicants with criminal records will not be considered. The Board of Supervisors’ passage of the Fair Chance Ordinance follows the lead of two of Alameda County’s incorporated cities, Oakland and Berkeley, which passed some of the nation’s strongest fair chance housing policies in 2020. The ordinance will take effect when the county’s eviction moratorium expires at the end of April.

The “Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance” protects tenants from arbitrary eviction by requiring landlords to demonstrate compliance with one of the enumerated causes for eviction. These causes include nonpayment of rent, material violation of the lease, substantial damage, certain criminal activity, refusal to grant the landlord access to the unit, substantial rehabilitation, owner occupancy, or removal of the property from the rental market under California’s “Ellis Act.” The county’s ordinance also protects families with school-age children and Alameda County school employees from no-fault evictions during the school year. Alameda County’s just cause eviction ordinance builds upon the protections of AB 1482, a statewide just cause eviction law passed in 2019, which does not cover the County’s 6,000 renting households in single-family homes, tenants whose units were built within the last 15 years, or tenants who have lived in their home for less than one year. These renters are protected under the new county ordinance, but residents of owner-occupied properties of four or fewer units are not covered.

The “Rental Registration Ordinance” will establish a registry of all rental housing units in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County. Property owners must register each rental housing unit and mobile home park space with the county and pay an annual registration fee. This requirement will be effective as of January 1, 2024, and registrations must be updated annually. The registry will include information about rental rates and eviction notices, among other key data, and will be used as an enforcement tool for the just cause ordinance.

Four of five members of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to pass the Fair Chance ordinance in an initial vote on December 20, 2022, with the fifth member abstaining from the vote. The Board also passed local just cause protections with three members voting in favor and two abstaining. However, the ordinances face one more obstacle: a second reading with a newly elected Board member. The second reading is set to be discussed at the end of January, and organizers are concerned about what to expect. “We are worried the new Board can strip away December’s promise to residents. With newly elected Supervisor Lena Tam, we hope Supervisor Tam upholds the legacy of the late Supervisor Wilma Chan in protecting the most vulnerable families,” said Leo Esclamado, co-director of My Eden Voice.

The Fair Chance Ordinance, Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance, and Rental Registration Ordinance constitute the first of three phases in a multi-step process to develop tenant protections in Alameda County. The Board of Supervisors may consider rent stabilization, among other policies, in future phases. Housing advocates in Alameda County are calling for the Board of Supervisors to set a clear timeline for passing Phase II and III protections before the expiration of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium in April.