San Diego considered a wide variety of new tenant protections Monday at a special meeting as homelessness and economic concerns for renters persist.

As part of the meeting, the city council also worked on a resolution to declare “housing as a human right” — something that received support from various tenant, homeless and environmental groups — but upset some landlord groups.

The council did not formalize anything but held the meeting to consider future action. The new laws and the resolution need to be reviewed by the city attorney’s office and voted on at a later date that hasn’t been set. The governing body also discussed forming a committee to further discuss some of the ideas.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said the meeting was a good first step, and imagined the city would be in a better position today if it had declared housing a right 20 to 30 years ago.

“Do we want the city to be a city that is OK with suffering and indignities on our streets?” he said. “Or do we want to be a city — and willing to go on the record — that says everyone deserves a roof over their head?”

Draft language of the resolution declared San Diego would support policies to keep people housed through affordable, accessible, and habitable homes. Small landlords, and landlord groups, raised concerns about the policies and hoped proposals would be reworked before they are voted on.

Jeff Faller, president of the landlord group Apartment Owners Association of California, argued declaring housing as a right would lead to San Diego trampling on property owners’ rights.

“Housing as a human right should also be known as ‘free housing as a human right’,” he said.

Unlike state law, San Diego doesn’t require landlords to pay one month’s rent, or waive the last month, when a tenant gets a no-fault eviction notice. For that reason, many council members said the city needs to update its laws.

The majority of the meeting was spent on a framework of new laws that would give renters’ stronger protections. Many landlords showed a united front opposing the new proposals, arguing they were not consulted on the framework but offered to make themselves available for future discussions.

“We would like the appropriate time to offer clarity and depth to the concerns we have,” said Lisa Mason, director of asset management at Baldwin & Sons.

There is no guarantee the new ideas proposed would stay the same when, or if, the council votes on them. Some of the new rules the council considered Monday:

Some of the proposals stemmed from issues that came up as the city aimed to prevent evictions during COVID-19. During the pandemic, a landlord was allowed to remove a renter if they planned to move a family member into the property. Some renters argued a family member never moved in. The draft ordinance says if a family member does not occupy the property in 90 days, the removed renter should be given the right of first refusal to go back.

Renters, and advocates, shared stories of the difficulty of living in San Diego with rising rents and difficulty staying in the same unit for long periods of time.

“I’m constantly in fear of losing my housing,” said Safy Hassan, a Somali immigrant who said through a translator that she has lived in San Diego for 20 years.

Rafael Bautista, of the San Diego Tenants United, took advantage of the meeting being on Halloween by wearing a pig’s mask, which he said represented the evils of capitalism. He said no-fault evictions are increasing throughout the region and the tenants union is trying to help by telling landlords when they are in violation.

“We’re talking about property owners that have way too much power,” Bautista said, “that are taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of residents in San Diego.”

Many mom-and-pop landlords called in to say they were dealing with rising costs as well and already felt overwhelmed by a patchwork of state and local laws. Lucinda Lilley, president of the Southern California Rental Housing Association, said property owners work hard to work with tenants who might be struggling with rent and other issues. She said their group was committed to helping the city come up with new laws.

Council members said after nearly four hours of public comments that they were open to working with landlords as they consider new laws to strengthen renter protections.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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