Tenants Up the Ante in Fight for Renter Protections

Oakland Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Dan Kalb (standing behind Kaplan) spoke Tuesday at a rally in front of City Hall to demand legislation to increase tenant protections. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Post Staff

Oakland organizations that represent tenants are increasing the pressure on city government to pass legislation to close “destructive loopholes” in city law that allow landlords to displace long-term and low-income tenants.

“While there were large gains after the passage of Ballot Measure JJ (a tenant protection measure) in November of 2016, there remain loopholes, and speculating landlords have quickly exploited these,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, managing attorney of the Tenants’ Rights Program at Centro Legal de la Raza.

Among the groups’ top issues are an “unprecedented” number of tenants who complain they are being evicted by landlords to move into the duplex or triplex where they live. Tenants are also complaining that landlords take advantage of a “substantial rehabilitation exemption” to raise rents significantly, even though the repairs were nothing more than normal building maintenance.

The tenants’ rights coalition held a rally Tuesday in front of City Hall to present a list of legislative demands to close these and other legal loopholes. Joining the organizers were City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Dan Kalb.

The coalition includes Centro Legal de la Raza, Association of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Causa Justa/Just Cause, East Bay Community Law Center, Eviction Defense Center, Oakland Warehouse Coalition, East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) and JDW Tenants’ Association.

One demand is to close the Substantial Rehabilitation loophole that allows landlords to exempt units from rent control after alleging they have substantially improved the property.

Said Marlon Jones, a tenant who is a member of the JDW Tenants’ Association, “I have lived in my apartment for 38 years.  My landlord purchased the property way under market during the foreclosure crisis.  He has completed some repairs, but the unit was always occupied and was never in such bad conditions that we could not live here.

“There is no reason that I should lose rent control and just cause protections.  If this property is exempted, I will become homeless.”

Another legislative demand would amend the law that creates an owner-occupied duplex/triplex exemption from Rent Control and Just Cause Protection.

Josephine Hardy, long-time tenant of an Oakland triplex said, “I have lived in my unit for 46 years.  Once the landlord moves into the triplex where I live, he will be able to evict me requiring no just cause, and he does not even have to provide any relocation.”

The coalition also wants to change existing law so landlords are required to pay relocation assistance for all no-fault evictions, including when a landlord raises the rent above 10 percent and the tenant is forced to move within 12 months of the increase.

“My landlord owns eight single family homes that he purchased.  We have had no repairs, and last month he served us all 60-day notices stating that he was going to double our rent as of November 1, 2017,” said Norma Sanchez, a member of ACCE.

According to Jonah Strauss, executive director of the Oakland Warehouse Coalition, action must be taken not just to pass new ordinances but also to ensure that city departments, the City Administrator and the City Attorney enforce them.

Pointing to the growing problem of landlords evicting tenants by “falsely claiming” owner occupancy, Councilmember Kaplan said, “It is incredibly important that we continue to push. Both to make sure that the laws we pass are implemented and make sure that we close loopholes that are being abused.”

She said she wants to modify the law so that claims of owner occupancy “have to be documented.

“We have to do what we can to close the loopholes, said Councilmember Kalb. “What you are hearing now is a commitment of at least some of us on the council … to get these new amendments passed as soon as possible. We can do it over the next few months.”

Published October 1, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post