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Legal advocates are making sure Kern tenants know they have rights

The Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability's Keep Bakersfield Housed campaign is focused on making sure everyone knows their rights in landlord/tenant matters.
Posted: 8:11 PM, Apr 13, 2023
Updated: 2023-04-13 23:11:51-04
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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Last year, the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability started going door to door in East, Southeast, and Southwest Bakersfield. They say what they found were many tenants who were not being treated fairly by property managers and owners.

Now, the counsel is advocating to the Bakersfield City Council to make sure that everyone knows tenants have a right to legal representation in landlord disputes.

"We've seen a lot of habitability issues, like mold, broken appliances, broken stoves, broken windows, a lot of water damage inside of homes," said Leadership Counsel Policy Advocate Sandra Plascencia. "So definitely a lot of habitability issues, a lot of illegal rental increases."

About those illegal rental increases, Plascencia says that while canvassing through Bakersfield, advocates with the Leadership Counsel saw many landlord violations of California's Tenant Protection Act, which refers specifically to how high a landlord is allowed to raise the rent during any calendar year.

The act states, in part:

Landlords are allowed to increase rents each year by 5 percent plus the applicable average increase in the cost of living in order to allow for inflation, but there is a maximum increase of 10 percent allowed in any given year.

"We've also seen a bunch of other issues, evictions left and right, so we are definitely finding out that housing is definitely a giant issue right now," said Plascencia. "Our Keep Bakersfield Housed campaign focuses on establishing something called a Right To Counsel."

Part of the Leadership Counsel's campaign is making sure that everyone knows their rights.

According to First and Main Property Management, tenant rights in California include, but are not limited to:

  • The right to a proper eviction process
  • The right to live in a habitable housing unit
  • The right to have repairs made in the unit within a reasonable period of time
  • The right to break the lease agreement for legally justifiable reasons
  • The right to be treated fairly and without discrimination as per the Fair Housing Act
  • The right to live in peace and quiet
  • The right to withhold rent if a landlord fails to conduct requested urgent repairs

Plascencia says that oftentimes when there is a landlord/tenant dispute, it's only the landlords who have representation in court.

"We know that 59 percent of landlords have representation in court in comparison to less than one percent of tenants, meaning that if you go to court as a tenant because you have an eviction and you don't have someone representing you, it makes everything 10 times more difficult," said Plascencia

Another factor for some tenants is a language, cultural, or educational barrier.

"A lot of us don't know how the legal system works," said Plascencia. "A lot of us don't understand that paperwork. A lot of it comes in English. We don't know what it means."

That's why the Leadership Counsel, Unidad Popular Benito Juarez, and Faith in the Valley are hosting community workshops to urge the Bakersfield City Council to set aside funding in the upcoming city budget to ensure a comprehensive right-to-counsel program passes.

"We just want to make sure that every single tenant in Bakersfield has access to an attorney to make sure that we put a halt to these illegal rental increases, to make sure that folks are living in safe and healthy homes, and to make sure at the end of the day, everyone stays housed," said Plascencia.

Joe Conroy with the City of Bakersfield says there are city programs in place to address housing issues.

"We've actually completed recently 166 affordable housing units, and that's at various different projects," said Conroy. "That's at 5 different projects."

Conroy continues, adding that the city council has created the now-permanent Housing and Homelessness Committee.

"Last year there was an ad hoc homelessness committee, but this year they've created a new committee that's permanent, and it addresses housing as well, since that's also an element and affordable housing is part of that, and they will be monitoring that and keeping track of their progress and different projects that we may be implementing," said Conroy.

The Right to Counsel community kickoff meeting was held in Downtown Bakersfield on April 13, and more meetings are scheduled, as well as community actions set to take place at upcoming Bakersfield City Council meetings. For more information, visit the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability's website.


In-Depth: Annual Evictions in Kern County

Tenants in California have the right to a proper eviction process. However, there have been cases of informal evictions in Kern County.

According to a study conducted by Faith in the Valley, there were just over 4,000 eviction filings for the fiscal year 2018-19. The same study also showed that there were just over 3,500 residential unlawful detainer filings (the legal notice that the landlord intends to evict) in Kern County.

The annual number of legal evictions in Kern County is more than 2,000 but estimates that the number of people removed by a landlord from their living arrangement, legally or otherwise, could potentially be as high as 4,000 or more every year.