Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 30, 2003


Page 1


High Court to Review Statute on Evictions From Subsidized Housing


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously agreed to decide whether a statute requiring landlords to give minimum notice of 90 days before attempting to evict a tenant from government-subsidized housing applies statewide or only in rent-controlled jurisdictions.

Div. One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, ruling in a San Diego case, Wasatch Property Management v. Degrate, 103 Cal.App.4th 913, last November, held that the applicability of Civil Code Sec. 1954.535 is not limited to cities which, unlike San Diego, have enacted ordinances limiting rents.

The statute reads:

“Where an owner terminates or fails to renew a contract or recorded agreement with a governmental agency that provides for rent limitations to a qualified tenant, the tenant or tenants who were the beneficiaries of the contract or recorded agreement shall be given at least 90 days’ written notice of the effective date of the termination and shall not be obligated to pay more than the tenant’s portion of the rent, as calculated under the contract or recorded agreement to be terminated, for 90 days following receipt of the notice of termination of nonrenewal of the contract.”

Section 8 Housing

The case involves Siriah Degrate, who rented a San Diego apartment from Wasatch Property Management in May 2000 under the federal Section 8 housing program. She signed a lease for a minimum term of six months, extendable from month to month.

After Degrate had lived in the apartment for eight months, she received a notice to vacate within a month. She did not do so, and the landlord file an eviction proceeding.

A San Diego Superior Court commissioner ruled for the landlord, as did the Superior Court Appellate Division.

But Justice Terry O’Rourke, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that Degrate was entitled to a 90-day notice under the statute.

O’Rourke rejected the landlord’s argument that because Sec. 1954.535 appears within Part 4, Title 5, Chapter 2.7 of the code, titled “Residential Rent Control,” the Legislature must have intended that it apply only to rent-controlled jurisdictions.

The justice reviewed the legislative history of the chapter, which was originally created by the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits the circumstances under which local rent control ordinances may apply. O’Rourke pointed out, however, that Sec. 1954.535 was not part of Costa-Hawkins, but was enacted four years later as part of SB 1098.

SB 1098

SB 1098, he noted further, does not deal exclusively with rent control, but addresses unrelated issues of landlord-tenant law, including the right to form a tenant’s association and income discrimination. SB 1098 also amended Costa-Hawkins to make it harder for landlords to increase rents by opting out of Section 8.

Sec. 1954.535, O’Rourke said, was enacted as a distinct provision of SB 1098. As with the tenants-association and income-discrimination provisions, the justice concluded, there was no intent to limit the section’s applicability to rent-controlled jurisdictions.

O’Rourke went on to say that the section reflects a legislative judgment that 90 days is a reasonable time to allow a low-income tenant to find replacement housing in the state. Since the problem of tight housing markets is not limited to rent-controlled jurisdictions, O’Rourke said, it would be unreasonable to believe the Legislature intended to limit the remedy to residents of those communities.

The San Diego Housing Commission and the California Apartment Association were among those urging the high court to review or depublish the Court of Appeal opinion. The National Housing Law Project and other advocates for low-income tenants had urged that the decision remain as precedent.

In other action at yesterday’s conference, the justices declined to revive a local screenwriter’s claim that the 1997 hit movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding” was based on a screenplay the plaintiff wrote nine years earlier for a producer who had a role in the making of the film starring Julia Roberts.

No justice voted to review the decision of this district’s Div. Two in Friedkin v. Double U-Productions, Inc., B150322.

Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst, in an unpublished opinion, rejected Barbara Friedkin’s claims of instructional error by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcom Mackey. The justice also said there was substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict finding, after an eight-day trial, that the film was not based on Friedkin’s screenplay.


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