September 2016 Volume 16, Issue 7
Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker 
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In this month's newsletter:

Oakland - and California - must do more to protect renters; Updates on actions against abusive landlords; and as always, City Attorney in the Community.
 
As always, I look forward to your questions and comments about the work we are doing on behalf of the people of Oakland.

 
 
  Barbara J. Parker
 Oakland City Attorney
 
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Oakland - and California - Must Do More to Protect Renters 
     
Like many Oaklanders, I moved here because of our city's vibrant diversity - the diversity of ages, races, sexual orientations, incomes and professions that gives Oakland its unique and extraordinary character.

But the diversity and character that set Oakland apart from other big cities are facing an existential threat from the ongoing housing crisis and skyrocketing rents that are rapidly gentrifying Oakland's neighborhoods and forcing out so many of our neighbors, friends and family members.

Renters, who make up about 60 percent of Oakland residents, are particularly vulnerable. Many, many families are being priced out of Oakland, in more and more cases leading to homelessness.

Oakland has to do much more to protect renters and to maintain the diversity that benefits and enriches the lives of all of our residents. Unfortunately, state law - the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act ("Costa-Hawkins") - precludes Oakland and other municipalities from enacting rent control for buildings constructed after 1983 and for certain single-family homes and condominiums. 

Right now, Oakland's laws cap the percentage by which owners of Oakland properties that are covered by rent control can increase rents.

However, Costa-Hawkins exempts approximately one-third of Oakland's residential buildings from rent control, and that percentage will only continue to grow over time as new housing comes online. Costa-Hawkins also allows owners of rent controlled properties to set the rent at any level after a renter voluntarily vacates the unit.

Overturning Costa-Hawkins would allow Oakland to apply rent control to all rental units and to prohibit landlords from setting rents at market rates when tenants voluntarily vacate. This would be a game-changer for Oakland. According to a recent national rent report, rents for one- and two-bedroom homes in Oakland increased more than in any other U.S. city over the last year. This makes Oakland the fourth most expensive rental market in the U.S. for a one-bedroom apartment behind only San Francisco, New York and Boston.

Too often in our community, this translates to rent increases for elderly residents, students, teachers, artists, low-income and non-English speaking tenants of 40 percent, 50 percent, 100 percent - increases that are simply evictions by another name. Because of historical and systemic discrimination, these displaced tenants are disproportionately African American and other people of color.

Many Oakland residents are hoping for market corrections and for this latest bubble to burst. But given Oakland's ideal climate, its natural beauty and its location in the center of the Bay Area, any market "corrections" will temporarily adjust prices downward, but not to levels that will make Oakland affordable for many current and former residents.

To address the out-of-control rent increases, it is imperative that we have the ability to apply rent control to all residential properties. Unfortunately, without changes to Costa-Hawkins, Oakland's hands are tied.

I want teachers, gardeners, professors, students, elderly people, children, artists and musicians to be able to remain in or move to our city. Oakland's diversity is what makes our city unique and generates our thriving economy. All of us will suffer a grave loss if Oakland becomes indistinguishable from any hyper-expensive neighborhood in San Francisco or San Jose.

As an Oakland resident for 35 years and as a landlord, I support overturning the provisions of Costa-Hawkins that prohibit Oakland from applying rent control to all residential rental properties.

Without a change to Costa Hawkins, the Oakland we know and love will survive only as a cherished memory.

Updates on Actions against Abusive Landlords

City of Oakland v. Kilpatrick

At the end of August, the Alameda Superior Court granted a preliminary injunction motion filed by the tenants and the City of Oakland in a case against the owners, landlord and property managers of a Single-Room-Occupancy ("SRO") building in downtown Oakland.

The ruling orders the owners to stop their campaign of harassment of the tenants, which included demolishing shared kitchens and bathrooms, installing security cameras in the shared living spaces and taking tenants' property including a child's bike.

The tenants in this case are represented by Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus and the housing and civil rights law firm Sundeen Salinas & Pyle.

Plaitiffs filed the lawsuits filed on June 17. The complaint charges the owners of the building on 8th Street with making living conditions unbearable in an effort to force tenants out, renovate the building and make way for higher rents.

The majority of the tenants are monolingual Chinese immigrants and many of them are elderly. Like other low-income working families or fixed income seniors, these rent-controlled SRO units are one of the few affordable housing options available to them.

The owners, who purchased the property in 2015, have publicly expressed the hope that remodeling the building will draw a "new demographic" of tenants including tech workers, and will allow the owners to rent the units with in-unit bathrooms at a premium.

In this case and other cases I have filed to protect tenants' rights, the courts are holding abusive landlords accountable with adverse rulings, injunctions and significant fines and penalties. We are giving abusive landlords notice that our City will not tolerate violations of tenants' rights and Oakland's laws.

More info


City of Oakland v. Jaber

On August 31, the City Attorney's new Community Lawyering and Civil Rights Enforcement Unit filed a lawsuit to remedy numerous health and safety hazards at 1620 Fruitvale Avenue, a 30-unit apartment building with predominantly low-income and non-English speaking tenants.

The City and the County have documented major problems at the property including raw sewage underneath the building, faulty plumbing, water leaks, infestations of bedbugs and other vermin, broken windows, lack of heat, lack of fire extinguishers and mold.

The owners and managers of the building have allowed these problems to continue, and tenants have been forced to live in apartments that present health and safety risks to themselves and their children. The defendants' refusal to address tenants' complaints about the unlivable conditions at the property demonstrates a pattern and practice of violating Oakland's 2014 Tenant Protection Ordinance ("TPO"). We filed the first TPO lawsuit last year to improve deplorable conditions at the Empyrean Towers building in downtown Oakland, and we have filed several since then.

In this case, City of Oakland Code Enforcement and Alameda County Vector Control have cited the defendants numerous times, and given the defendants a number of 30-day deadlines to treat apartments for bedbugs and fix the building's many structural problems. As of last month, the owners had failed to do the work required to address habitability and safety issues at the property.

The lawsuit asks the Court for injunctive relief and appropriate damages and penalties.

More info

City Attorney in the Community

On September 19, I attended the Sixth Annual Clergy Appreciation Dinner hosted by the Oakland NAACP and the Chapel of the Chimes.

This is always a very special event that recognizes pastors for their work in our community. This year's Clergy Appreciation Honorees were: Pastor Russell Duley of Kaleo Christian Fellowship in Oakland, Pastor Cornell Wheeler of Missionary Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Berkeley, Pastor Carol Estes of Elmhurst United Methodist Church in Oakland, Pastor Michael Wallace of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland and Pastor Leon Staton of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Oakland.

Thank you to George Holland of the NAACP and the other hosts for their support of our local clergy, and thanks to the pastors for their continued good works in our community

Also in September, I attended the 100th Anniversary Gala celebrating a century of the Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center, delivering on "the promise of justice for low-income people" since its founding in San Francisco in 1916.

The LAS - ELC provides free legal services to about 3,000 people every year, with a focus on civil and employment rights.

In recent years the organization has won major victories for the rights of undocumented workers, female athletes and students with physical impairments.

The event on September 22 was a very classy affair with a beautiful performance from jazz singer Paula West and a special public service award given to actor George Takei of Star Trek fame for his social justice activism.

It is amazing that this organization has been on the front lines of progress in our country for generations, fighting for a more just and fair society. Here's to another 100 years.

Phone: (510) 238-3601

Email: info@oaklandcityattorney.org

 

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