California housing lawyers have seen a spike in incidents of landlords across the state allegedly threatening to report their immigrant tenants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as a negotiating tactic. The surge in instances of intimidation has been attributed to the Trump administration's strict stance on immigration enforcement.
Legal experts in California have seen a surge in cases of their clients citing intimidation from their landlords. In these cases, renters who are in the country illegally or families with mixed legal status assert they have been threatened with deportation during housing disputes, City Lab reports.
"We have stories of this happening in every part of California," said policy advocate Jith Meganathan of the Western Center on Law & Poverty. "The Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, rural areas like the Central Valley and the Central Coast."
Meganathan believes there is a correlation between the rise in incidents and the election of President Donald Trump.
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"The scale at which it's happening has increased dramatically since the November election," Meganathan added. "We have somewhere between 2.5 million and 3 million undocumented individuals living in California, most of whom are renters."
Among the cases include instances of some landlords asking their tenants to sign more expensive lease agreements or simply move out without disputing their eviction on the threat that they will be reported to ICE officials.
Senior attorney Navneet Grewal of the Western Center on Law & Poverty noted that there has been an uptick in landlords broaching the possibility of referring tenants to immigration officials on a casual basis.
"What we used to see is, when there was a building of folks who had habitability concerns, you'd see things like a landlord threatening to report the building to ICE," Grewal said. "What I hear from people now, there is an attitude of, 'Why go through the eviction process when I can just call ICE to do the sheriff's job?"
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Shirley Gibson of Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County noted that she had previously advised her clients that ICE agents were unlikely to respond to random tips from landlords. Under the Trump administration, she no longer offers that reassurance.
"Now, who knows?" Gibson said. "I can't say to people that won't happen."
Under state law, landlords in California are legally barred from asking their tenants for their immigration status.
On Feb. 3, Democratic state Assemblyman David Chiu introduced legislation that would prohibit landlords in California from disclosing their tenants' citizenship status to ICE agents, The Associated Press reports.
The bill is titled the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act of 2017.