California is home to over 2 million undocumented immigrants, and many of them live in apartments managed by landlords. Some landlords have used their tenant’s undocumented status as leverage in seeking to, among other things, get them to move out of rent-controlled apartments. Based on situations such as those – and no doubt in response to the actions of a new presidential administration seemingly keen on taking increased actions to forcibly remove undocumented immigrants from the U.S. – a bill has recently been proposed in the California legislature which would not only prohibit landlords from threatening to report undocumented immigrants to immigration services but would give tenants the right to sue the landlord for making the threat.
How the New Bill Would Change Landlord/Tenant Relations
Under current law, landlords are not allowed to attempt to get a tenant to vacate premises by “using, or threatening to use, force, willful threats, or menacing conduct that interferes with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the premises.” Furthermore, current law already prevents landlords in California from inquiring into tenant’s immigration status in either renting a dwelling or after it has been rented, except as required by federal law or to properly comply with a court order such as a warrant or subpoena.
Under the proposed law, the types of activities prohibited by law to intimidate a tenant into moving out would include threatening to inform authorities about a tenant’s or occupant’s immigration or citizenship status. Furthermore, actually reporting a tenant’s immigration status to authorities for this purpose would be prohibited. How this would play out in an eviction proceeding is that, if a landlord does pursue an eviction action against a tenant or occupant, that person can raise as an affirmative defense to the eviction action that the landlord either reported or threatened to report his or her immigration status.
Furthermore, under the proposed law, landlords could face a civil suit from tenants and occupants for violating the law in threatening to report or actually reporting a tenant’s immigration status to authorities, meaning a landlord may have to pay money damages to the tenant in such a case.
Legal Guidance on Your Landlord/Tenant Issues
Whether or not the proposed bill, Assembly Bill 291, will be passed into law is an open question, but, even if it is not, landlords are currently under strict prohibitions when it comes to concerning themselves with the immigration status of a tenant or potential tenant. For questions on any issues you are facing as a landlord in California, contact the Landlord/Tenant law attorneys at The Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC, in Southern California today.