Sanctuary Cities Aim to Force Landlords to Ignore Immigration Law
By David Jaroslav | October 31, 2018
In October, two cities whose law-enforcement agencies already adhere to strict sanctuary policies considered legislation that would essentially require private residential landlords to do the same and “protect” their illegal-alien tenants. Washington, D.C.’s penalties would be harsher, but Los Angeles’s would potentially cover far more people.
Courts have been much more skeptical of state and local laws that attempt to restrict private parties from assisting or cooperating with federal immigration enforcement, than laws that restrict law enforcement or other public employees from doing so. For example, even the federal court that upheld California’s two other sanctuary laws said its law telling private businesses they couldn’t consent to searches by immigration authorities was unconstitutional because it “impermissibly discriminates against those who choose to deal with the Federal Government.” Both these new local laws raise similar questions and could be subject to court challenges on similar grounds.
Since the end of June, a bill has been pending before the D.C. city council called the “Protecting Immigrants from Extortion Amendment Act of 2018.” The council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety held a public hearing on it on October 4.
Proposed by Councilmember Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), the bill would expand the District’s definition of extortion to include “wrongful actual or threatened notification of law enforcement officials about ... immigration status.” Extortion under D.C. law is a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison, and Councilmember Todd has boasted that the bill will “double down” on D.C.’s status as a sanctuary city.
The D.C. Criminal Code Reform Commission (CCRC), an agency tasked with “prepar[ing] comprehensive recommendations for the Mayor and Council on reform of the District’s criminal statutes,” submitted testimony at the October 4 committee hearing. The CCRC “generally supports the aim of the bill”, but criticized its current language as “potentially confusing” and said that “by expanding only the District’s extortion statute and not repealing or changing other statutory provisions, [it] may both go too far and not far enough.”
The committee did not vote on the bill at its October 4 meeting, and so far no future date has been set to hear it again. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has recently been conducting numerous operations in the nation’s capital, which are invariably met by local condemnation of the agency for enforcing the law and public pressure on the council and Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to “do something.” This suggests the bill is likely to be taken up again sooner rather than later.If the D.C. City Council passes and the Mayor signs this bill, Congress would have 60 days to block its enactment under District of Columbia Home Rule Act.
On October 10, by a vote of 13-0, the Los Angeles City Council passed a new ordinance, “to establish legal protections against the disclosure of a tenant’s information or citizenship status to third parties,” and on October 15, Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) signed it into law.
L.A.’s new ordinance is less severe in its penalties than D.C.’s because a violation is only a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. But it also potentially covers far more behaviors and therefore more potential landlord defendants, because it prohibits a wider variety of acts. The Los Angeles ordinance forbids any landlord, or the “agent, employee or contractor of” a landlord, from:
- Asking about the immigration status of tenants, prospective tenants or other occupants;
- Requiring tenants, prospective tenants or other occupants to make statements or certifications regarding their immigration status; and
- Disclosing or threatening to disclose information about the immigration status of tenants, prospective tenants or other occupants “to any person or entity[.]”
It makes exceptions for good-faith compliance with rental agreement terms and for verifying eligibility for housing benefits.
The City Attorney’s office was apparently asked by the council about possibly including more severe penalties in the ordinance, but California law makes city-ordinance violations misdemeanors unless a city specifies that violating a particular ordinance is a non-criminal infraction. State law does not empower local governments to make violations of their ordinances into felonies.
A California state law enacted in 2017, Assembly Bill (AB) 291, already restricts landlords from raising immigration issues regarding their tenants, but violations under that law are grounds for civil lawsuits or for defenses in such suits, not for criminal penalties.
The Los Angeles Department of City Planning, in its 2010 Citywide Demographic Profile (based on the 2010 U.S. Census), indicates that 24 percent of the city’s population was foreign-born non-citizens, although it doesn’t distinguish between legal immigrants and illegal aliens. It also indicated that 62 percent of the city’s residential housing units were renter-occupied, as opposed to owner-occupied or vacant. Nationally, according to the Census Bureau, that percentage is only 31.3 percent. And based on the Census data, the Migration Policy Institute has estimated that 1,060,000 out of Los Angeles County’s estimated population of 10,163,507, or a little over 9.5 percent, are illegal aliens.
In other words, Los Angeles has roughly twice the proportion of residential rental units nationally as other cities, some significant (though unknown) percentage of which could be occupied by illegal aliens. Therefore, the new ordinance could have a very widespread impact.
The Los Angeles ordinance goes into effect on November 25.