Days After County Eviction Ban Expired, San Diego Tenants Forced Out
Vanessa Houston and her mother, Frances, have been packing up their one-bedroom apartment in El Cajon ever since they found out their lease was being terminated. They have 60 days to find a new place.
On a Wednesday morning last week, stacks of plastic containers lined the walls and cardboard boxes in need of assembly laid strewn across their kitchen table.
“I still have clothes in the closet, so we have to get more boxes, but that’s about it,” Frances said as she surveyed what’s left to pack. “That’s all we’ve been doing since they told us we had to move.”
Last month, they found out their apartment building, The Palm Gardens, had been sold to GLC Legacy Trust, a trust that owns other properties in El Cajon.
A few weeks later, they came home to find a white envelope on their doorstep. Similar envelopes sat at their neighbors’ doors, all saying their leases were being terminated in order to remodel the apartments. The Houstons were on a month-to-month lease. They could move back in when construction is finished, but their rent will rise from $1,100 to $1,550. Vanessa, who is her mother’s primary caretaker, can’t afford it.
“They can’t say ‘evict’ because of COVID,” said Vanessa. “So they are saying, ‘let’s remodel and get these people out and raise that rent.’”
GLC Legacy Trust and Swanson Real Estate Solutions, the apartment’s management firm, did not return calls seeking comment. Their lease termination notices went out just two days after San Diego County’s eviction ban expired on Aug. 14. The countywide ban prohibited landlords from pushing people out for reasons such as substantive remodeling.
There’s still a statewide eviction ban in place, but it doesn’t offer as many protections—it allows termination of leases for remodeling.
“I would say it's like a soft opening of what's going to happen after September 30, because after September 30, we're losing the statewide ‘just cause’ protections,” said Gilberto Vera, senior attorney on San Diego Legal Aid’s housing team.
Vera anticipates that more people will be both evicted and legally forced out when the last of the protections expire.
Raising rents after fixing up a place is common practice and perfectly legal, according to Terry Moore, a landlord and the co-owner of ACI, an income property brokerage.
“For the last 40 years the textbook solution was to buy the building with the right things wrong with it,” he said. “If it’s got ugly paint, lousy management, has poor tenants, has poor landscaping, that’s the right thing wrong with it, you fix that and you can rent for more.”
Moore has worked in San Diego County for 30 years and he’s never seen the current level of demand for apartment complexes.
He estimates that there are around 1,500 investors looking to purchase in San Diego, but there are only 350 apartment complexes on the market this year. So investors eager to capitalize on the region’s steadily rising rents are outbidding each other on the few apartment buildings for sale.
According to a new report by Apartment List, an apartment marketplace that tracks trends, San Diego rents have increased 15.5% over the past year. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is currently $1,800 and is on track to keep increasing over the next few months.
Moore believes building more will lower high costs, but not anytime soon, and not in time for everyone.
“Things are expensive in California,” he said. “Not everybody can afford to live in paradise.”
That’s something Charles Canizalez, a student, and his mother Gloria, are fighting against. They’ve lived in their Chula Vista apartment for 12 years.
“I was born in this hospital right next to our house,” Charles said. “This is our home, it is why we want to stay. I feel very close to this place.”
Like the Houstons in El Cajon, their apartment complex was recently sold to new owners and they were asked to leave shortly after.
The countywide eviction ordinance protected them the first time their lease was terminated in May. Once the ordinance expired in August, however, they received a second notice saying they had 60 days to vacate the property.
They currently pay $850 a month for a two-bedroom apartment that is in need of repairs. The Canizalez bought a new fridge and have maintained the place over the past few years.
Canizalez said their landlord took down their door numbers, took away their doorbells and routinely turns off their water without proper warning.
The new landlords, Robert Stack and Associates, refused to comment about the claims.
The Canizalez don’t want to go away quietly. After they received the first notice in May, they joined ACCE, a local tenants group, because they want to demand stronger tenant rights.
“I want to tell the community to look for help because it is out there, and to unite because if we don’t get together it’s hard,” Gloria Canizalez said in Spanish. “There’s strength in unity.”
Back in El Cajon, the Houstons are still packing and planning to move, but Vanessa is increasingly worried she won’t be able to find a place she can afford.
Her federal unemployment ended last week and she may have to postpone a surgery she needs to be able to work so she can move out on time.
“We are paying our bills on time, we are doing everything required, and we got to leave,” said Houston. “I don’t know where to go.”