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State pols move to protect immigrant tenants from deportation threats

State Assemblymember David Chiu and several colleagues have put forward legislation that would bar landlords from using a tenant’s immigration status to intimidate them into leaving. He and other state and local lawmakers and community leaders announced the proposal San Francisco’s Mission District, at the Mission Neighborhood Community Centers building on Capp Street.

Co-authored by State Senator Scott Wiener and seven other state legislators, the bill, AB 291, would make it illegal for a landlord to disclose a tenant’s immigration status. It would also prohibit landlords from threatening a tenant with reporting them to immigration authorities if the tenant reports building violations. Under the legislation, that prohibition from exposing a tenant’s status extends to questions that might come from landlords or their attorneys during a trial or hearing.

California already prohibits landlords from asking prospective tenants to verify their immigration status, and the San Francisco Rent Ordinance includes some protections against evictions in retaliation to complaints about habitability. But the law does not prohibit landlords from finding out a tenant’s status in another way, or reporting them to immigration authorities. Advocates are concerned with landlords who make assumptions about a tenant’s status and use it to manipulate them.

When Jith Meganathan, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty asked around about immigrants’ relationship with landlords, he received overwhelming response, he said.

“I was flooded with responses of horrific stories of people being threatened with deportation if they reported mold that was causing asthma; electrical wiring… If they protested sexual harassment by a landlord; in connection with gentrification,” Meganathan recalled. “And it was statewide. And it was clear that something needed to be done.”

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