California First State to Prohibit Anti-Immigrant Rental Ordinances

October 11, 2007

SAN DIEGO – Calling it a major piece of legislation that will keep local government and private citizens out of the role of enforcing federal immigration laws, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, along with statewide business and apartment associations and civil rights organizations, congratulates Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing into law AB 976 (Calderon). The bill, which was sponsored by the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities, will prohibit local cities and counties from enacting ordinances requiring landlords to check the immigration or citizenship status of their tenants, and likewise prohibits landlords from inquiring into their tenants’ status.

California is the first state in the country to expressly preclude these anti-immigrant ordinances at the local level. Courts across the country have found such measures unconstitutional for a number of reasons. “Under our nation’s laws, immigration matters are the exclusive province of the federal government,” said Kevin Keenan, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “We applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for signing AB 976 into law and Assemblymember Charles Calderon for his strong leadership on this issue. AB 976 should be a model for other states who want to protect their property owners from rogue city councils.”

The courts have also found that such measures have the potentially insidious effect of causing housing discrimination based on race or an individual’s perception of a prospective tenant’s background. “This bill will help prevent the denial of housing to individuals based on their race, ethnicity or national origin or whether they simply look or sound foreign,” said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “”Property owners and prospective tenants can rest easier today thanks to the enactment of AB 976, which will prevent ordinances seeking to turn landlords into immigration agents in California.” The bill enjoyed the support of a number of local apartment associations across the state.

The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, along with a number of other civil rights organizations and private law firms, successfully obtained a stipulated injunction against the City of Escondido, which had enacted a controversial ordinance that banned landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. District Judge John Houston, who approved the settlement in December 2006, said the ordinance raised “serious questions” about a number of federal and state issues, and expressed concern about tenants being evicted without due process or a public hearing. A similar ordinance in Hazelton, Pennsylvania that was challenged by the ACLU was also found to be unconstitutional.

Members of the coalition that challenged the Escondido ordinance included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fair Housing Council of San Diego, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, People for the American Way, and three private law firms–Brancart & Brancart, Cooley Godward Kronish LLP, and Rosner & Mansfield, LLP.

Click here for the text of AB 976.

AB 976 will become effective as of January 1, 2008.

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