With complaints of abuse by landlords piling up, advocates say it's time for real rent control in Oakland.
The Oakland Rent Board met for the first time in over two months last week. Even with the level of tenant petitions against excessive rent increases at an all time high - the number of petitions this year is double what it was in 2012 - the Rent Board had failed to meet due to a lack of quorum since September. This has led the petition process to drag on for three months on average, and up to six months in many cases. The City's rent law calls for cases to be resolved within 60 days.
While City staff recently proposed an increase in the fee to landlords and tenants that funds Oakland's Rent Adjustment Program (RAP) - from $30 to $110 per year - to address the backlog of cases, housing rights advocates are calling for a complete overhaul of the program. The fatal flaw of Oakland's current program, advocates say, is that the burden is entirely on tenants to enforce the law. If a tenant does not file a petition contesting a rent increase within 60 days, there is no legal mechanism to ensure that landlords follow the law, which stipulates how much rent can be increased for certain types of rental units in Oakland.
As James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union explains, the RAP program was written and passed by a pro-landlord City Council in 1980 in response to a grass roots ballot initiative that would have established a rent control law similar to those in San Francisco, Berkeley, or Santa Monica. Oakland renters have been stuck with the City's flawed law for over three decades as a result of this political maneuvering.
Organizations like Oakland Tenants Union and Causa Justa :: Just Cause have called instead for a real rent control law, meaning that landlords - not tenants - would be responsible for filing a petition with the Rent Board to raise rents above the standard amount allowed under the law (based on inflation). Under such a system, landlords would be responsible for complying with the law and bearing the burden of navigating the City's appeals process, not the very tenants who are facing increasing pressure from the City's housing crisis.
Eviction and Rent-Hike Complaints Skyrocket in Oakland (East Bay Express)