National News

California Today: After the Wildfires: Price Gouging

Posted December 26, 2017 9:19 p.m. EST

The wildfires that have swept through California have lead to numerous complaints about landlords drastically raising prices or evicting tenants to capitalize on rising demand. This has prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a six-month ban on rent increases in excess of 10 percent, while Attorney General Xavier Becerra has warned against all forms of price gouging.

Santa Rosa, whose Coffey Park neighborhood was devastated by the fires, may go even further. The city is considering a temporary “just cause” eviction ordinance that would allow evictions only when tenants have broken their lease, failed to pay rent or damaged their home or apartment.

“It can’t be just so somebody can turn it around and rent it for more money,” said Chris Coursey, Santa Rosa’s mayor, who supports the proposed measure.

In the aftermath of the wildfires that swept through Napa and Santa Rosa in October, Coursey said his office has been inundated with emails from tenants urging him and the council to enact expanded renter protections, as well as from landlords who worry that the emergency just cause ordinance will eventually become permanent. The Santa Rosa City Council is expected to take up the measure early next year.

The proposed law is the latest twist in a long and contentious fight over rent increases in Santa Rosa. The Sonoma County city, like everywhere in California, is struggling with a difficult housing shortage and rising rents. The City Council passed a rent control and just cause eviction measure in 2016, only to see it repealed by a landlord-backed ballot initiative during a June special election this year.

After the fires, community groups continued to organize renters, holding clinics and renewing their push for expanded rights.

“The fires are clarifying the deep need that our region has for tenant protections,” said Davin Cardenas, co-director of the North Bay Organizing Project.