Citing escalating rents that tenant advocates call a threat to Oakland’s character, the City Council threw its support Wednesday behind a November ballot measure that would limit property owners’ ability to charge more and carry out evictions.
The council voted unanimously to approve the measure, which was introduced by Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, after a four-hour debate that began Tuesday evening and ended well after midnight.
Some of the more than 300 people who addressed the council grew tearful as they described their fear that they could be forced out of longtime homes. Some landlords grew equally emotional as they complained that they were being vilified for trying to make an honest living.
Soaring rents have become a raw topic in Oakland, a traditionally working-class city that is seeing the first inklings of an economic boom as commercial projects sprout up and Uber prepares to open its new headquarters downtown.
At the same meeting, the council voted 7-0 to pass a companion ordinance to the ballot measure that will take effect immediately. Councilwoman Desley Brooksabstained from voting on the measure, which was proposed by council members Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen and Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
Burden on landlords
Both the ballot measure and the new ordinance require property owners to petition the city for approval of certain rent increases. Oakland’s current laws put the burden on tenants to petition against rent hikes that exceed the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index, which last year was 1.7 percent. The new laws would instead put the burden on landlords to prove that such increases are justified.
“I’ve seen people put in situations where families had to double or triple up in apartments just to afford to live in the cities that they work in,” said Mia Carbajal, a housing activist who grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District, where she said her family faced many of the insecurities now being felt by lower-income Oakland residents.
Some landlords pledged support for the new rent protections, calling them justifiable. Several, including public-school teacher and property ownerStephanie Schaudel, held signs with the slogan, “Don’t trick tenants.”
But others said the new law and ballot measure will unfairly penalize mom-and-pop landlords who have little control over Oakland’s economic fortunes. Some opponents such as Doug Sager, president of the Oakland-Berkeley Association of Realtors, said stronger rent protections could have an adverse effect on Oakland’s rental market by driving small landlords out of business.
“My small-property-owner clients are hard-working folks that have built sweat equity into retiring on a rental income,” Sager said. “Sadly, the distaste for doing business in Oakland has become more and more unbearable. What’s the result? Less rentals and a more unstable market.”
In addition to the landlord petitioning requirement, the ballot measure and new ordinance each include several tenant protections.
The Renters Protection Act ballot measure would expand the city’s just-cause eviction law to multiunit buildings constructed through 1995, meaning that owners of those buildings could evict tenants only for violating the terms of a lease, or by virtue of the state Ellis Act, which allows landlords to leave the rental business. The city’s current law applies only to buildings constructed before 1981.
The new ordinance will limit the amount that property owners can charge their tenants for capital improvements to a building. It will also require buyers of duplexes and triplexes to live in their buildings for at least two years before those buildings are exempt from rent control.
State law exceptions
Neither law would apply to rents on single-family homes or buildings constructed after 1983, which are exempted under a state law that restricts local rent controls.
Kalb said both measures were designed to rein in a small pool of venal landlords.
“By and large, most landlords neither abuse their tenants nor impose unfair rent increases,” Kalb said. “Nevertheless, given the incentive they have to raise rents, and the fact that there are some unscrupulous landlords, we have a strong incentive to enforce tenant protections.”
Schaudel, the schoolteacher and property owner who supports both measures, said they would help maintain Oakland’s diversity.
“Currently we’re seeing a bleeding — a mass exodus — of people all throughout” the Bay Area, Schaudel said. “And the lack of renter protections has everything to do with that.”
Urge City Council to place Kaplan’s Renter Protection Act of 2016 on the November ballot
Tuesday July 19.
After weeks of testimony at City Council meetings of exorbitant rent increases, cruel evictions, and neighborhood disrupting displacement, on April 5, with over 600 residents crowding City Hall, Oakland's City Council finally adopted a 90-day moratorium. The moratorium resolution clearly requires the City to enact programs and policies that will decrease the displacement crisis but the moratorium has now ended and Oakland tenants are again without lasting and strong protections.
The current displacement crisis is not confined to lower income residents, but extends to working families, students, teachers, firefighters, union members and postal workers. Oakland's prized diversity is being seriously dismantled. In the 2000 to 2010 decade, over 25,000 Black residents of Oakland's had been pushed out, dropping from 42% to less than 22% of the city's population. In addition, over 17% of school-age children and their families had also departed Oakland. While the hemorrhaging continues, the disregard of city council to the displacement crisis is painfully apparent. As the moratorium ends, only one of the community's 13 proposed actions -- to require owners, not tenants, to file petitions to increase rent above the inflation rate -- is under discussion, however, nothing has been adopted. It is long past time that City Council must make the displacement crisis a priority and install real, lasting, and permanent tenant protections.
To protect Oakland's workforce and the many residents who help make Oakland the beloved city that it is, the City Council must approve for the November ballot Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s Renter Protection Act of 2016. Councilmember Kaplan’s proposed measure includes real tenant protections, while also assuring rental owners a fair and decent profit. Only a ballot measure can securely establish the tenant protections our City needs for decades to come. Oakland tenants must not again be at the mercy of future City Councils who may be easily influenced to weaken or eliminate just and equitable tenant legislation.
There is no question that Oakland’s current tenant-activated rent program is a mistake. No rationale exists to support the present rent law that requires tenants to petition against unlawful actions of the rental owner, otherwise those actions -- no matter how egregious -- become permanent and can never be challenged.
Last year proved conclusively that Oakland's faulty rent law was incapable of processing petitions from just 1 percent of Oakland tenants. A 1/2% increase in tenant petitions overwhelmed program staff and literally brought the ill-begotten program to a halt. The disaster of 2015 would be even worse if Oakland's 64,000 tenants in program units only knew of their right to petition against unlawful rent increases and no-cause evictions.
Every other city in California with a rent control program requires landlords to petition if they can justify increasing rents above the inflation threshold. These cities see only a fraction of the petition filings Oakland receives, and their systems work much more efficiently. Example: in 2015, Berkeley received only 28 landlord petitions , while the number of tenant petitions in Oakland exceeded 900. It is past time that Oakland must correct this wrong-way process.
In the continuing "hot" Bay Area real estate market, Oakland tenants also need protections against owners who use arbitrary evictions as a tactic to empty rental units to make way for new tenants escaping San Francisco, who can pay much higher rent. Extending "Just Cause" eviction protection to all tenants, or as many as politically possible, is only right, and will help assure that more Oakland teachers, families, elderly, and workforce households will not be unfairly thrown from their homes.
The Moratorium on Oakland rents and arbitrary evictions ended July 5. The City Council must uphold its promise to the people to put permanent tenant protections in place. Councilmember Kaplan has worked closely with the Protect Oakland Renters Coalition to include the Coalition's priorities in a measure that should now go to the voters.
It is the people that make Oakland creative, unique, and much beloved. The City Council must not allow the "soul" of our City to be displaced. The message that must be shouted -- loud and clear -- to the City Council is: "Let The Voters Decide".
All Oakland residents must turn out to the Council meeting, Tuesday, July 19, to convince policymakers that they must approve the Kaplan proposal for the November ballot.