Just cause eviction protections are designed to prevent arbitrary, retaliatory, or discriminatory evictions by establishing that landlords can only evict renters for specific reasons — just causes — such as failure to pay rent. In many cities and states, landlords can evict tenants or simply not renew leases without providing any reason at all. Just cause eviction ordinances (also known as “good cause”) are an important policy tool to prevent displacement and promote tenant stability, especially in neighborhoods where rents are rising and vacancies are low, and where landlords may seek to evict existing tenants to renovate their buildings and attract wealthier renters at higher prices. Just cause also protects tenants who report inadequate housing conditions or request repairs, making it less risky to exercise their right to livable conditions.
Just cause policies have been shown to work: A study of just cause ordinances in four California cities found that the policies were effective in decreasing eviction. In concert with other anti-displacement strategies, just cause policies can help shift the power imbalance between landlords and tenants in the housing ecosystem. Eviction protections promote equity since people of color disproportionately rent and face greater eviction risks: studies have found that Black renters experience evictions at higher rates than other racial/ethnic groups. Just cause policies can help slow the processes of gentrification that can displace entire neighborhoods and maintain neighborhood stability — allowing all residents, regardless of race or income, to stay and benefit from reinvestment and growth. And by stemming eviction, just cause policies can prevent the negative health consequences of eviction including depression, poorer health, higher levels of stress, and higher rates of material hardship, especially among low-income mothers. Cities also have a bottom-line interest in housing stability: when financially insecure residents are evicted from their homes, city budgets pay a big price due to lost tax revenue, unpaid utilities, and the costs associated with services for homeless people.
In addition to PolicyLink resources listed to the right, see Causa Justa/Just Cause, the Urban Displacement Project, Princeton University, and the Right to the City Alliance for more resources on just cause ordinances.
- Elected and appointed state officials can champion and pass enabling legislation to protect the right of local officials to pass their own just cause eviction ordinances and allocate sufficient resources for enforcement.
- Elected and appointed city officials can champion and pass just cause eviction ordinances and allocate sufficient resources for enforcement. In most jurisdictions, an administrative agency, such as a rent board, oversees and enforces any just cause ordinance.
- Tenant associations, community-based organizations, and other advocates can build grassroots campaigns to build public will and advocate for just cause as a key measure to preserve affordable housing, and educate tenants about their legal rights.
Just cause ordinances are often established by city councils or through a ballot initiative process; in some instances, states have also established just cause policies. The key steps to success include mobilizing a strong case and broad base of support, drafting a strong law that can withstand legal challenges, pairing just cause with other rent stabilization efforts, and ensuring adequate enforcement and community education.
Cities seeking to implement a just cause eviction ordinance must consider a range of related legal and logistical questions.
- Preemption: Take into account how state legislatures pass laws that prevent local officials from enacting ordinances to address just cause evictions and advocate for state level protections against preemption.
- Defining applicable cases: Decide what type of rental units or lease terms the just cause protections should apply to, such as those in multifamily buildings larger than four units or those in month-to-month leases. An ordinance can also provide further protections for vulnerable populations like seniors, disabled, or terminally ill people by exempting them from certain allowed eviction causes.
- Defining just causes: Defining "just causes" for eviction is at the heart of just cause ordinances. Seattle's policy includes 18 such causes, while Oakland's includes only 11. Common covered causes are non-payment of rent, continued lease violations after written notice, or substantial damage to the unit. Cities should also carefully define instances where "no fault" evictions are allowed, such as owner or relative move-in, especially given rising accounts of loopholes these exemptions create.
- Protecting renters in foreclosed units: Tenants living in rental properties where the property owner faces foreclosure can end up being evicted, even if in full compliance with their lease terms. Just cause ordinances can define tenancy as surviving foreclosure in order to protect these renters against unfair evictions.
- Support for tenants facing "just cause" eviction: In the case of allowed "no fault" evictions, such as instances of owner move-in, cities can provide supports for displaced tenants. Ordinances should also include a method for tenants to contest evictions with an adequate window of time, and may require landlords to pay relocation assistance for certain evicted tenants.
- Effective enforcement: Cities should define and enforce meaningful penalties for landlords who illegally evict tenants, which may include fines paid to the city, restitution paid to the tenant(s), and the reinstatement of tenancy. Policymakers should lay out a clear and expedited legal process for tenants to fight unjust evictions and require an adequate notice period for tenants to exercise their rights.
- Tenant education: When just cause eviction ordinances are passed, outreach to existing and future tenants can help ensure that they understand their rights and the legal means to contest unjust evictions.
- Establishing complementary tenant protections: Whenever possible, just cause policies should be coordinated with other tenant protection policies, such as rent stabilization or vacancy control laws; otherwise, exorbitant rent hikes can serve as an effective means of displacing tenants without resorting to an official eviction process that would be governed by the just cause ordinance. It is critically important that policies include protections such as relocation assistance and right to counsel as well.
Grassroots campaigns across the country are calling for just cause ordinances to protect tenants from arbitrary, retaliatory, and discriminatory evictions. These ordinances are most effective when matched with rent control policies and part of a larger ongoing strategy to protect tenants' rights.
- Baltimore City Councilmembers passed a lease renewal bill in July 2022 in response to a rise in landlords using a loophole in the state eviction moratorium to evict tenants via lease non-renewals. Now, landlords must provide renters with the opportunity to renew their leases unless a “good cause” exception exists, such as a substantial breach of lease or the landlord wanting to recover the property for a relative as a primary residence, permanently remove the property from the rental market, or needing to conduct repairs that cannot be done in otherwise occupied properties. As of August 2022, state legislators are trying to pass a bill to resolve conflicts between existing state and local laws surrounding landlords’ right to terminate tenancy by authorizing counties to adopt local laws that prohibit residential landlords from failing to renew a lease or evicting a holdover tenant without good cause.
- The Washington legislature passed a statewide just cause eviction law in 2021, requiring landlords to provide a valid reason - such as failure to pay rent, unlawful activity and nuisance issues, as well as cases in which a landlord intends to sell or move into a rental - for ending certain leases with tenants. The main exception is that landlords can still end a tenancy at the end of an initial lease without cause if the initial rental term is between six months and one year and the tenant is given 60 days notice. Landlords who violate the law may be subject to a penalty of up to three months’ rent, attorney fees and costs.
- In 2018, City Councilmembers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania nearly unanimously passed a “good cause” bill, which requires landlords to give an approved reason for evicting a tenant. Currently, the law applies to tenants who have lease terms less than 12 months long, which are concentrated in the bottom of the rental market where protections are most needed. This campaign was led by a coalition of renters, legal and advocacy organizations who simultaneously ran a successful campaign for right to counsel, which Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed in 2019 and went into effect early 2022.
- In 2018, Portland, Oregon passed an ordinance requiring that landlords pay renters’ moving costs if they are evicted without cause or are forced to move because of a rent increase of 10 percent or more. In 2021, The Oregon Supreme Court upheld Portland's renter relocation policy.
- The City of Oakland passed its Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance in 2002, which includes 11 legally defined "just causes." Within weeks, the Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County filed a petition seeking to invalidate several provisions. The most significant provision, prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants without cause, was upheld. The case was unsuccessfully appealed, and several advocacy groups came together to reach an agreement with the Rental Housing Association. In recent years, average rent in Oakland more than doubled due to the Bay Area housing crisis. Facing unprecedented displacement pressures, voters passed Measure JJ in 2016 to strengthen the city's just cause protections and expand coverage to about 12,000 more units. The city council is currently considering actions to end fraudulent owner move-in evictions.
- In 2017, San Jose took action after decades of community activism to enact the Tenant Protection Ordinance implementing just cause protections. Amid soaring Silicon Valley rents and a shortage of affordable housing, the city council required landlords to cite one of a dozen reasons for eviction, distinguishing between "just causes" based on tenant actions and "no-fault just causes," which would require relocation benefits paid to tenants. The ordinance covered existing rental agreements and was initially set to take effect after 45 days. However, shortly after the ordinance passed, at least 30 families received no-cause eviction notices. To curb these last-minute evictions, the council passed an urgency ordinance within weeks to enact the previous ordinance immediately. The protections, which apply to all rental units, are expected to impact 450,000 renters citywide. Like Oakland’s just cause policy, San Jose’s legislation was further strengthened by the passage of California’s Just Cause for Eviction law in 2019.