The past year has brought new fears and challenges for immigrant and undocumented members of our community. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that all undocumented immigrants are subject to arrest, detention and deportation, whether they have a criminal history or not. Raids, arrests, and deportations have since skyrocketed, and the heartbreaking stories have included parents being arrested while dropping their children off at school.

Many children have been left behind after these arrests, while even more have been separated from parents arrested at the border. This has led to the mass detentions of thousands of children and even confusion over the whereabouts of many more.

For the members of any immigrant household in Los Angeles County, these developments make life much more harrowing. The arrest of one person, even a documented immigrant, can lead to the arrest and deportations of his friends and family who are not documented.

But there is yet another ugly dynamic here for immigrant tenants who have unscrupulous landlords: exploitation. Some landlords aware of the crackdown see it as creating a new vulnerability so a tenant will never complain or assert her housing rights. The California legislature collected recent reports of landlords threatening to report immigrant tenants to ICE if they refused to pay more rent, or refused to have sex with the landlord, or persisted with complaints about sub-standard housing conditions.

After citing the new ICE policies and examples of exploitation, California late last year passed the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act (ITPA) to protect tenants against unscrupulous landlords.

Effective January 1, the ITPA (now Civil Code §1940.05) prohibits a landlord from several types of exploitation based on a person’s immigration or citizenship status. Under the law, immigration or citizenship status includes the following:

  1. a person’s actual immigration or citizenship status;
  2. a perception that a person has a particular immigration or citizenship status; or,
  3. a person is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, a particular immigration or citizenship status.

The third type of status is to prevent landlords from threatening to report a tenant’s family member or friend, even if they do not live in the unit.

The types of landlord conduct now prohibited include the following:

  • asking tenants about their immigration status.
  • threatening to disclose immigration status of anyone in unit or anyone associated with tenant in an attempt to induce tenants to move out.
  • threatening to report or report immigration status in retaliation for complaint.
  • evicting based on anyone’s immigration status.
  • reporting tenants’ suspected immigration status.

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s office is taking ITPA complaints from either victims or witnesses. For those hesitant to file complaints, the ITPA allows non-profits such as the Western Center on Law & Poverty (wclp.org) or the Americans Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org) to file such cases against landlords.

If you have any questions about the ITPA or other housing rights, call the City Attorney’s Office at 310-458-8336.

Gary Rhoades is a Deputy City Attorney in the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division

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