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Santa Monica City Council Enacts New Chinese Exclusion Law

By Mathew Millen

On September 8, the City Council enacted a new ordinance governing the rental of housing in Santa Monica ("Santa Monica Council Approves Measures to Spur New Housing," August 26, 2020).

Under the ordinance, "a landlord and tenant may enter into a lease only if the tenant will use and occupy the rental housing unit as the tenant’s primary residence."

The new law also requires that the lease be for at least one year and prohibits a property owner to lease furnished housing, a feature college students and medical interns at our hospitals frequently look for.

In effect, rental housing providers can no longer rent to foreign students under the ordinance. They have a residence abroad which they have no intention of abandoning, and they are coming to the United States to reside temporarily.

They cannot possibly comply with the new ordinance that their Santa Monica residence is their "one primary residence."

As China remains the largest source of international students in the United States, Santa Monica's racist law is the equivalent of a new Chinese Exclusion Act. But it applies to all foreign students.

These students are caught in a legal bind: their Santa Monica Apartment must be their primary residence, but this is in direct conflict with the terms of their admission to the U.S.

As a foreign student, they must reside in the U.SA. temporarily with a residence abroad they have no intention of abandoning.

The new Santa Monica law requires a tenant to provide documented proof that their Santa Monica apartment is their primary residence with at least two of the following: motor vehicle registration, driver’s license, California state identification card, voter registration, income tax return, or a utility bill.

They cannot provide evidence of voter registration. If they do register to vote, they will be prosecuted and deported.

They may not have money to buy a car, or obtain automobile insurance, so they cannot provide a drivers license.

They cannot work, so they do not have an income tax.

If property owners rent to foreign students, or foreign workers on a "work visa" that requires they have "a residence abroad they have no intention or abandoning" or U.S. citizens whose primary home is with their parents, where they return between semesters, or anyone else coming to live in Santa Monica temporarily, such as a medical intern or resident at one of the hospitals, rental housing providers will be subject to criminal prosecution.

Under the ordinance: “Any person who violates any provision of this Chapter shall be guilty of … a misdemeanor, which shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not exceeding six months or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

Based on Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999) and Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886), the ordinance is clearly unconstitutional. I am shocked, shocked the City Attorney approved the form of the ordinance and our City Manager, a former City Attorney, did not advise the City Council it was unconstitutional.

Mathew Millen is a Santa Monica landlord and immigration attorney.

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