Reason Roundup

City That Forced Landlords To Evict Tenants Suspected of Crimes Will Pay $1 Million To Settle DOJ Lawsuit

Plus: Elon Musk bans Twitter account that tracks his private jet, Iong permit waits to build new apartment buildings in San Francisco, and more...


A California city will have to spend nearly $1 million remedying the harms of its allegedly illegal and unconstitutional "crime-free" rental housing program. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement agreement with Hesperia, California, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department that unwinds the last vestiges of a local program that required landlords to evict tenants suspected of committing crimes—regardless of whether they'd been convicted or even charged with anything.

The settlement will require the city and sheriff's department to spend $670,000 compensating people harmed by the ordinance. The defendants will have to spend another $300,000 in fines and on community programs and marketing to promote fair housing.

"'Crime-free' ordinances may also constitute a discriminatory solution in search of a problem and run afoul of the core goals underlying the Fair Housing Act," said the DOJ's Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke in a press release announcing the settlement.

The original crime-free program passed by the Hesperia City Council in 2016 required landlords to evict whole families upon notification by the sheriff's department that someone in the household had committed a crime.

Additionally, it required rental property owners to register their units with the city, submit the names of all adult tenant applicants to the sheriff's department for criminal background checks, and to include crime-free addendums to lease agreements. Property owners also had to submit to annual police inspections.

Noncompliant landlords were threatened with fines and, in at least one case, criminal charges.

At the time, city leaders said the ordinance would "improve our demographic" and keep out nonnatives who come "from somewhere else with their tainted history." One council member equated the law to pest control, saying "you would call an exterminator to kill roaches."

The Hesperia program was bad enough to unite some strange bedfellows in opposition. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Trump-era DOJ both sued Hesperia in 2016 and 2019, respectively. The former alleged a number of violations of the equal protection guarantees of the California and U.S. constitutions. The DOJ lawsuit accused the city and sheriff's department of Fair Housing Act violations.

The DOJ lawsuit notes that one woman who called the police on her abusive husband was forced to be evicted under the ordinance. In another case, an elderly couple was forced to be evicted after their adult son—who didn't live with them—was arrested.

The California Apartment Association, a landlord trade association, also said the Hesperia law was unconstitutional.

The ACLU lawsuit forced major changes to Hesperia's rental housing program. In response to the suit, the city begrudgingly made landlord registration and evictions for alleged criminal activity voluntary in 2017.

Ideally, it would be up to property owners to decide who they want to rent to and on what conditions.

Some cities have restricted landlords' right to make those decisions with laws banning them from screening tenants' criminal backgrounds. Proponents of those policies argue that without these protections, former convicts won't be able to find safe and secure housing.

Hesperia had the opposite concern, believing that people convicted (or just suspected) of crimes were having too easy of a time securing housing on the private market. Its crime-free housing program attempted to put a stop to that. The city would have saved itself a lot of trouble, and legal fees, had it just let willing landlords and tenants make whatever kinds of arrangements both parties could agree to.


A Twitter account tracking Elon Musk's private jet has been suspended. In the latest dust-up at Musk-run Twitter, the company also axed the account of college student Jack Sweeney, who ran the ElonJet account that used public flight data to keep tabs on the billionaire's air travel.

In tweets on Wednesday night, Musk appeared to blame Sweeney's account for an incident in which a "crazy stalker" followed a car containing the billionaire's son X. Musk said the pursuer blocked the car and climbed on the hood. He's threatened legal action against Sweeney.

Axios reports that the unapologetic Sweeney is taking his operation over to Mastodon. Musk has said that sharing someone's location on a delayed basis will still be allowed, but real-time sharing of someone's location will be considered prohibited doxxing.


It takes two years to get approval for a new apartment building in the nation's "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) capital. A new analysis from the San Fransisco Chronicle shows that the typical applicant waits 627 days in order to get a building permit for a multifamily development. A single-family development takes a whopping 861 days.

"The biggest impact is cost," one architect told the Chronicle. "This costs money for everybody in the city. It affects the quality of life for everybody, because everybody lives somewhere."

Delays often kill new housing entirely. Developers will apply for permits for a project that pencils out under one set of economic conditions, and then not receive approval until after construction material and financing costs have made building anything infeasible.

State law requires San Francisco to reduce constraints on new housing. If it doesn't come up with a plan to do that within the next few months, the city could be effectively stripped of its power to enforce its local zoning code against new housing. The city's frustrated builders are positively salivating at the potential projects this would allow.


• The Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates by 0.5 percentage points in an effort to combat stubbornly high inflation. Markets retreated afterward slightly following the announcement, reports The Wall Street Journal.

• The Biden administration announced that it will restart a program that provides free at-home COVID-19 tests to head off a winter surge of the virus. Federal public health officials are once again recommending people wear masks in cities where reported COVID-19 cases are increasing.

• They don't make monarchical power struggles like they used to.

• The Washington Post has confirmed that it will be laying off staff to cope with declining subscriptions.

• France beats Morocco in 2–0 World Cup match.

• Russia warns the U.S. to not provide more missiles to Ukraine.