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Oakland passes anti-harassment ordinance to protect renters
The TPO is based on similar anti-harassment policies in cities that prohibit various forms of harassment including San Francisco, East Palo Alto, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, in the effort to curb landlord harassment. The TPO prohibits 16 types of harassment in Oakland that a landlord may use to bully or harass tenants out of their housing!
Oakland passes anti-harassment ordinance to protect renters
By Lynda Carson - November 9, 2014
Oakland -- On November 5, an anti-harassment policy called the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) was passed by the city council in an attempt to protect renters from greedy landlords that may try to bully and harass renters out of their housing. All too often tenants are being harassed out of their housing by landlords who are trying to find higher income renters.
As tenants are fleeing San Francisco and moving to Oakland due to the extremely high rents caused by the tech industry, the rents are skyrocketing in Oakland and have increased by 12% in 2013, and as much as 15% in 2014 according to the East Bay Express. According to additional reports, rents in Oakland are presently rising five times faster than they are in San Francisco.
Oakland activists, Causa Justa/Just Cause and the Oakland Tenants Union have teamed up together to convince city officials that something has to be done to stop the displacement of existing renters from the flow of new higher income renters moving into the city, astronomical high rents and massive gentrification schemes being planned by the city. The West Oakland Specific Plan (WOSP), other specific plans meant to gentrify portions of Oakland and the Coliseum City area plans will have a major negative displacement effect on Oakland's low-income renters once the gentrification schemes move forward.
The TPO is based on similar anti-harassment policies in cities that prohibit various forms of harassment including San Francisco, East Palo Alto, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, in the effort to curb landlord harassment. The TPO prohibits 16 types of harassment in Oakland that a landlord may use to bully or harass tenants out of their housing (See 16 types of harassment listed further below).
Imbalance Of Power Between Landlords and Tenants
Due to an imbalance of power between tenants and landlords in Oakland, tenants have been complaining to different organizations and agencies that landlords have been trying to bully and harass them out of their housing. The landlords are trying to displace many of Oakland's existing renters and are using every trick in the book to push them out of their housing including threats of physical harm, invasion of privacy, depriving tenants of their right to the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their housing, and threats to call immigration on many families.
The Rent Adjustment Program office has testified that they are receiving around 100 to 200 calls a month from tenants claiming landlord harassment. Data from the East Bay Community Law Center and Centre Legal de la Raza indicate that some of their clients reside in substandard housing and experience landlord harassment. Additionally, during fiscal year 2014 around 40% out of 480 tenants who receive legal services at Centre de la Raza faced landlord harassment according to reports.
Oakland's Compromised Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO)
As a policy against tenant harassment the TPO has been compromised and has become weakened from its original intent by the time the TPO was finally passed by the city council a second time. The TPO offers legal protections to some but not all tenants in Oakland. For those protected by the TPO they have an opportunity to fight back against landlords that may try to bully and harass them out of their housing. If the tenants are lucky enough to find an attorney to represent them and sue the landlord for harassment they can roll the dice and see what happens in court in the effort to seek civil remedies against the bad landlord.
If the tenant wins a case of harassment in court against the landlord, the landlord may have to pay a price and may even have to pay the attorney fees of the tenant. But if the tenant loses their case in court against the landlord for harassment, the tenant may have to pay the attorney fees for the landlord in addition to what they may owe to their own attorney. Low-income renters do not have that kind of money sitting around to take such a risk. Additionally, since most landlords have insurance against lawsuits and often prevail against tenants in court due to an unjust legal system in favor of landlords, the imbalance of power still exists because the TPO fails to level out the playing field between landlords and tenants in the legal system.
The TPO has additional shortfalls and fails to offer any protection to tenants residing in transitional housing. Tenants in so-called affordable housing developments owned by wealthy nonprofit housing developers including Bridge Housing and Mercy Housing which are billion dollar corporations, are not protected by the TPO because nonprofit housing developers are totally exempt from the TPO in Oakland.
Oakland may have as many as 7,000 to 10,000 so-called affordable housing units that are exempt from the TPO that are filled with thousands of tenants that will have no protection from nonprofit housing developers that may try to bully and harass them from their housing.
With the GOP (right-wing extremist Republicans) taking total control of Congress on January 1, 2015, it has become evident that nonprofit housing developers that are a part of HUD's subsidized housing programs are already moving quickly to raise the rents as high as possible on the poor in their subsidized housing projects.
The nonprofit housing developers want to lock the low-income tenants into the higher rents before the Republicans start cutting the budgets and funding to all of HUD's subsidized housing programs. This will force the low-income tenants to cover the shortfalls out of their own pocket when the expected budget cuts occur after the Republicans shred HUD's subsidized housing programs when they take full control of Congress.
The result is that the so-called nonprofit housing developers will not be affected by the budget cuts as much, because the low-income tenants will have to make up the difference when the budget cuts and subsidized housing shortfalls occur in the so-called affordable housing projects subsidized by HUD.
The TPO also fails to offer any help to tenants residing in owner occupied three unit buildings, in addition to newly built rental housing that will be exempt from the TPO for a minimum of 15 years after tenants move into the newly built rental housing in Oakland. This flawed compromise in the TPO is an open invitation to developers that will want to be exempt from the TPO when building new rental units in Oakland in future years.
Another major compromise occurred when an amendment removed "administrative remedies" from the TPO which would have given tenants a place to go to lodge complaints against BAD landlords trying to bully and harass them from their housing. Without "administrative remedies" tenants will have to sue their landlords to enforce the law because they will not have a city administrative process in place to be able to review the complaints, so the landlords may be fined for violating the TPO.
The TPO is a start in the right direction but needs to be improved to protect all renters from harassment, unlawful evictions, never ending rent increases, and greedy landlords in Oakland.
In addition to the city council passing the TPO recently, in an extraordinary legal maneuver that may be unconstitutional the city also moved to expand the Nuisance Eviction Ordinance (NE0) recently in an effort to force landlords to evict alleged sex workers, prostitutes, pimps, and gamblers in Oakland from their housing. The expanded version of the NEO targets alleged prostitutes and sex workers for eviction from their housing, but does not target the Johns and Sugar Daddys for eviction from the housing despite their involvement in the sex trade. The expansion of the NEO additionally fails to make a distinction between the victims being forced into the sex trade, and the sex workers that freely choose to be a part of the sex trade in Oakland.
The crisis leading to a shortage of low-income housing units in the Bay Area continues to evolve as public housing is rapidly being privatized locally and across the nation through the Rental Assistance Demonstration program known as RAD. As the poor, disabled and elderly are being squeezed out of their housing, so-called affordable housing projects generally have minimum income requirements that discriminate against the poor leaving many low-income families desperate with no place to call home.
16 Types Of Harassment Prohibited By The Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO)
A. No Owner or such Owner's agent, contractor, subcontractor, or employee,
shall do any of the following, in bad faith.
1. Interrupt, terminate, or fail to provide housing services required by
contract or by State, County or municipal housing, health or safety laws, or
threaten to do so;
2. Fail to perform repairs and maintenance required by contract or by
State, County or municipal housing, health or safety laws, or threaten to do so;
3. Fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance
once undertaken or fail to follow appropriate industry repair, containment or
remediation protocols designed to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead paint,
mold, asbestos, or other building materials with potentially harmful health
4. Abuse the Owner's right of access into a rental housing unit as that
right is provided by law;
5. Remove from the Rental Unit personal property, furnishings, or any
other items without the prior written consent of the Tenant, except when done
pursuant to the procedure set forth in Civil Code section 1980, et seq.
(disposition of Tenant's property after termination of tenancy).
6. Influence or attempt to influence a Tenant to vacate a Rental Unit
through fraud, intimidation or coercion, which shall include threatening to report a
Tenant to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, though that prohibition
shall not be construed as preventing communication with U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement regarding an alleged violation;
7. Offer payments to a Tenant to vacate more than once in six (6)
months, after the Tenant has notified the Owner in writing the Tenant does not
desire to receive further offers of payments to vacate;
8. Attempt to coerce a Tenant to vacate with offer(s) of payments to
vacate which are accompanied with threats or intimidation. This shall not include
settlement offers made in good faith and not accompanied with threats or
intimidation in pending eviction actions;
9. Threaten the tenant, by word or gesture, with physical harm;
10. Substantially and directly interfere with a Tenant's right to quiet use
and enjoyment of a rental housing unit as that right is defined by California law;
11. Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of a Tenant's lawful rent
payment, except as such refusal may be permitted by state law after a notice to
quit has been served on the Tenant and the time period for performance
pursuant to the notice has expired;
12. Refuse to cash a rent check for over 30 days unless a written receipt
for payment has been provided to the Tenant, except as such refusal may be
permitted by state law after a notice to quit has been served on the Tenant and
the time period for performance pursuant to the notice has expired;
13. Interfere with a Tenant's right to privacy;
14. Request information that violates a Tenant's right to privacy,
including but not limited to residence or citizenship status or social security
number, except as required by law or, in the case of a social security number, for
the purpose of obtaining information for the qualifications for a tenancy, or not
release such information except as required or authorized by law;
15. other repeated acts or omissions of such significance as to
substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet of any
person lawfully entitled to occupancy of such dwelling unit and that cause, are
likely to cause, or are intended to cause any person lawfully entitled to
occupancy of a dwelling unit to vacate such dwelling unit or to surrender or waive
any rights in relation to such occupancy;
16. Removing a housing service for the purpose of causing the Tenant to
vacate the Rental Unit. For example, taking away a parking space knowing that
a Tenant cannot find alternative parking and must move.
For more details about who is protected by the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) that allows some renters in Oakland to sue their landlords for harassment, feel free to contact Causa Justa/Just Cause in Oakland:
Tenants in Oakland facing eviction from their housing can also seek legal help at the following:
The Eviction Defense Center:
East Bay Community Law Center:
Centre Legal de la Raza:
Alameda County Legal Aid:
Also available are various pro-tenant attorneys listed in the phone book or online.
Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com