Landowner-tenant laws may be contributing to homelessness

- While laws are supposed to protect, attorney James Cook told KTVU local landowner-tenant laws may be worsening the Bay Area’s housing crisis forcing more people into homelessness.

“Both landlords and tenants would say the current housing laws have contributed to at least the rental crisis,” he said. “If you talk to owners, they say it keeps small-time owners from renting to people because they want to rent out units for market rates because housing prices are so high. If you talk to tenants, they say the just law eviction laws do not protect them from unlawful evictions and they aren’t right.”

Cook said the Bay Area’s housing problem has grown at a speed for which many people and laws couldn’t have prepared. According to Cook, the Costa Hawkins Act originally made the law which determines control for rent control and when you can evict someone under rent control and what type of housing qualifies under rent control. Just Cause eviction laws determine the circumstances under which someone can evict a tenant.

“These were written two decades ago. The Costa Hawkins Act before that, before we experienced the intensity of this crisis,” he said.

A possible solution, according to Cook, is to update the laws.

“We need to rewrite them with lawyers, but also with social workers and also economists. Big developers can work with our current set of laws, but small owners are risking homelessness if someone doesn’t pay them rent. That’s why people continue to have empty homes and continue to struggle to pay rent,” he said.

When asked if the Bay Area can come together and accomplish this, Cook hesitantly said yes.

“You have a lot of activists on both side, and if politicians only listen to the activists, we may never do it. If the politicians really take the time and bring in the social workers, economists and lawyers, I think they can do it. The short answer is, yes, if we have the will and the desire,” he said. 

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