By Ashley Chambers
An ordinance was introduced at the city’s Community and Economic Development meeting this week to provide additional protections for Oakland residents have been harassed or intimidated into not asserting their tenant rights.
Introduced by City Councilmember Dan Kalb, the Tenant Protection Ordinance would offer tenants the ability to protect themselves against various forms of harassment by their landlord, including “failing to provide, or threatening to interrupt housing services required by contract or by law;” removing a tenant’s personal property without prior consent“ and “attempting to influence a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion.”
Coupled with rising rent prices in Oakland, this kind of harassment has displaced many Oakland residents, pushing them out of the city, according to housing rights activists.
“The primary goal of this is to deter these kinds of inappropriate or, in some cases, harassing behaviors that take place from time to time,” said Kalb at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think we have a certain obligation to protect our tenants and protect what we would call the economic diversity of our city and those who want to continue to live and work here,” he said.
A similar law prohibiting landlord harassment already exists in San Francisco, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and East Palo Alto.
Council members heard over 60 speakers on Tuesday, including landlords and tenants who shared their experiences of harassment.
According to Ana Baires Mira, a tenant’s rights attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza in the Fruitvale District, “Of the approximately 480 Oakland tenants who receive legal services at Centro Legal de la Raza, approximately 40 percent face some type of harassment outlined in the ordinance.”
One of Mira’s clients, Maria, an immigrant single mother, was living in “deplorable conditions,” and her landlord refused to make any repairs. Her landlord threatened to evict her if she went to the rent board, Mira said.
Maria still went to the rent board, and her rent was decreased by 40 percent. However, her landlord has yet to make repairs on her apartment.
“Many tenants fear making complaints because of landlord intimidation and retaliation,” said Wendy Georges, manager of the TRUST Clinic with the Alameda County Public Health Department, which supports the proposed ordinance.
Several members of the housing rights organization Causa Justa: Just Cause highlighted the need for tenant protections.
“My landlord has entered my home on many occasions without giving me prior notice,” said an emotional Alice Kennedy, an Oakland resident and member of Causa Justa: Just Cause.
“My electrical wires in my garage have been crossed with my neighbor’s wires, so my neighbor controls my electricity in my garage,” she said. ”I’ve talked to my landlord about the issue, and he says there’s nothing to do about it to reverse what has been done.”
“I believe the tenant protections are needed in Oakland now because they will protect seniors and the disabled from harassment from landlords who violate our rights,” she continued.
The CED Committee is scheduled to vote on the Tenant Protection Ordinance at its Oct. 14 meeting.
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)