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After contentious meeting, Tenant Protection Ordinance will advance

on October 15, 2014

Emotions ran high as tenants, landlords and council members discussed whether or not to pass the Tenant Protection Ordinance during a Special Community and Economic Development Committee meeting in Oakland’s City Council chambers on Tuesday afternoon.

About 18 members of Causa Justa (Just Cause), a tenants’ rights organization, attended the meeting to urge the committee to pass the ordinance, which would prohibit 16 kinds of harassment behaviors by landlords. These behaviors include verbal or physical threats and intimidation to get tenants to vacate a rental unit, failure to perform repairs and maintenance, and the interruption or termination of housing services required by health and safety laws.

“We are a tenant majority city, and there needs to be more protection for tenants on the books,” said Robbie Clark, housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa. “There are more and more people being pushed out because there are no adequate protections in place.”

Landlords spoke against the ordinance at the meeting, as well, including Carmen Madden, who said that landlords who abide by the laws, such as herself, would be targeted with frivolous lawsuits and that it would become harder to evict problem tenants. “We do not need another ordinance,” said Madden. “We need more education. Both tenants and landlords need to know the laws.”

District 4 councilmember Libby Shaaf, who is also a mayoral candidate, said she supported the ordinance, specifically a provision that would help protect immigrants. Under the ordinance, threats by landlords to report a tenant to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would send a landlord to court. It would also punish landlords for failure to provide clean and safe living conditions, a situation that is sometimes faced by undocumented tenants, who may fear reporting bad conditions. “I have seen examples where unscrupulous—that rare unscrupulous landlord—has purposely rented to an individual that they know will not complain to the government,” said Shaaf.

“This morning in our finance committee, we saw a huge flood of immigrant children who are coming to our city,” Shaaf said. “That is a very tangible reminder that this type of protection is important.”

But councilmember Patricia Kernighan of District 2 said she is concerned that low-income, non-English speaking populations may not even be aware of the ordinance if it passes. Kernighan suggested alternate solutions to avoid long legal cases. She said the city should change its current practice of inspecting rental units only when a complaint is filed by a tenant. “I strongly advocate that we change our system from complaint based to regular annual or two year inspections of units,” Kernighan said.

Kernighan also proposed that the city keep better track of the 100 to 200 phone calls the Housing and Community office receives every month from tenants with complaints.

Three of the four councilmembers on the committee were present during the vote. Lynette Gibson McElhaney of District 3 and Schaaf supported the proposed ordinance. Kernighan abstained. The 2-1 vote allowed the ordinance to go to the City Council for further consideration after councilmember Dan Kalb of District 1, who drafted the ordinance, agreed to make two major amendments. (Kalb, who is not on the committee, was there to present the ordinance to them.)

The first amendment would remove administrative remedies—actions a tenant can take rather than going to court—from the ordinance but will keep legal action as an option for tenants who want to file a complaint against their landlords in court. Kalb said the city administrative staff felt uncomfortable with keeping the administrative remedies because it would make a lot more work for the city staff, and the details had not been worked out yet.

The second amendment will exempt any new construction that has not been built from the ordinance for 20 years after construction finishes. Only landlords of existing rent controlled and non-rent controlled units will need to abide by the ordinance if it is passed. Kalb and Kernighan reached this compromise after disagreeing on which landlords should be exempt. Kernighan said the ordinance should only apply to rent-controlled buildings, while Kalb said tenants in non-rent controlled buildings, or those built after 1983, need protection, too.

Vice Mayor Larry Reid of District 7, who is part of the committee, voiced his opposition after arriving late and demanding a revote. Some members of the audience were upset by his request and insisted that the committee move on. The committee denied Reid’s request since the vote was closed minutes before his arrival.

The revised Tenant Protection Ordinance will be reviewed next Tuesday, October 21 during the City Council meeting at City Hall.


  1. Mary on October 16, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Wait. What about those of us here legally? Who pay our taxes? Those of us who make $40k or below who are being pushed out as well? Maybe council should focus on those as well? Forgive me, but where are we in all this?

    • Jake G on October 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      As a US citizen, taxpayer and renter in Oakland, I see benefits for me. My landlord won’t fix the leaky plumbing that is making the whole building moldy, the more tools we have to pressure them the better. I get that the article, and Just Cause seem to focus on the immigrant angle, but this looks like it will benefit lots of renters in the city to me.

    • CM Berger on October 17, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      Did you help write the amendment?
      Did you organize a group of tenants to get together and write a positions paper?
      Did you support whatever you like or don’t like in the proposed legislation publicly, individually, as a group?
      Did you elect someone who represents you?
      Did you raise money to support your organization so that you could have a voice in the matter?
      Sounds like you have your W-O-R-K cut out for you.

  2. David Stephenson on October 16, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Another useless piece of bureaucracy. We can only hope the full council votes this unnecessary legislation down on Oct. 21.

  3. Henry Zublis on October 17, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Glad this important tenant protection might pass. Maybe now landlords who harass tenants into moving out of their rent-controlled apartments because they want to make the big bucks on the influx of rich tech folk can be stopped.

    • CM Berger on October 17, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      Yes, but only if tenants step up, take the time to get educated, take the time to fill out court paperwork, take the time to write a paper trail to the landlord.

      Take the time to educate themselves about their rights and responsibilities. Take the time to actually pursue the legal avenues of the courts. One tenant drawback not addressed is that under law, tenants do NOT have access to public defenders in this state. That is another wrong that needs rectifying – another battle in the War on the Poor.

  4. Jill on October 28, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Anybody have any information on length of time for repairs? Such as landlord is suppose to repair carpet every 7 years, etc. My landlady refuses to replace a small kitchen floor that is old and in need of repair – 15 years old. There are many small issues just like this.
    I’ve lived in the same place for 22 years.
    Please advise

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