Oakland ‘Closes the Loophole’ on Tenant Inequality June 5, 2019 --
At a late-night session, Tuesday, the Oakland City Council by a unanimous 6-0 vote (1 excused; 1 recused), adopted an ordinance to “Eliminate [Rent Increase] Exemptions for Owner-Occupied Duplexes and Triplexes. Unlike some cities, Oakland does not have traditional “rent control” -- but a form of “rent stabilization.” At an impromptu victory rally outside the council chamber, James Vann, Cofounder, Oakland Tenants Union, stated: “For the first time since 1980 when Oakland adopted its Residential Rent Arbitration Program (RRAP), all covered rentals in the city will be subject to a uniform set of laws, regulations, eviction proceedings, no-fault relocation payments, and annual rates of permissible rent increases.”
For many years, Oakland’s exemption of owner-occupied 2-unit and 3-unit rentals was unique among cities that regulated rental properties. This restriction, together with others such as exemptions for ‘substantial rehabilitation’ and ‘Section 8 voucher rentals’ required tenant activation among other provisions unique to Oakland, which were direct reflections of the city’s more conservative, pro-business, pro-development governments of previous years.
For tenant justice advocates, who turned out en masse at Tuesday’s meeting, this victory culminated a long series of struggles that have gradually expanded since 2002 when a successful ballot measure won “Just cause eviction rights.” In the ballot of November 2016, the Measure JJ victory finally flipped the rent program from tenant initiation to requiring landlords to petition for rent increases above the ‘by-right’ inflation rate. This was followed by a ballot victory in November 2018 that removed the prior exemption from “just cause for eviction” protections for owner-occupied 2 & 3-unit rentals.
“The 2018 victory,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, Head Tenants Rights Attorney at Centro Legal, “had the unfortunate effect of incentivizing investors and unscrupulous landlords to double and triple the rent of existing low rent-paying tenants to be replaced by gentrifiers who could afford much higher rent, thus fueling Oakland’s excessive eviction and displacement crisis.”
After several years of organizing, lobbying, and testifying at committees and hearings, tenant justice activists, with the assistance of Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo, were finally able to convince council members to remove the owner-occupant exemption on uncontrolled rent increases thereby closing the final loophole. Speaking at the victory rally following the vote, Camilo Sol Zamora, Housing Director Causa Justa::Just Cause, energized the crowd stating: “This is a tremendous victory. What we accomplished tonight will permit many tenants, for the first time, to feel secure knowing the morning won’t bring with it a huge rent increase, against which the tenant was formerly helpless. Tonight,” continued Camilo, “many tenants will have a restful and peaceful night of sleep.”