Long-time community activist’s fight against eviction highlights loophole in tenant protections
on March 9, 2018
On a chilly Wednesday morning outside the Hayward Hall of Justice, a group of about 100 people gathered in support of long-time community activist Frances Moore, affectionately known as Aunti Frances, who has been feeding homeless and low-income people in North Oakland since 2009.
Outside the courthouse, a group of Oakland activists set up two tables filled with fresh vegetables, fruit, pastries and coffee. Their rally in support of Moore began at 8 o’clock in the morning, just as the courthouse opened its doors to the growing line of people waiting to get inside.
“We’re here to support a friend who’s being evicted unjustly,” said Sara Linck-Frenz, as she handed a pamphlet to someone waiting in the long line outside the courthouse.
Linck-Frenz, wearing a brown leather jacket, her hair pulled back in two long blonde braids, with a constant smile on her face, was one of the rally’s organizers. “Our demand today is really straightforward: for them to drop the eviction,” she said.
Moore has lived in Oakland for half of her life, and in her triplex in North Oakland for almost 9 years. She’s been fighting her eviction since the house she rents was purchased by new landlords in June, 2016. Moore claims she received a 90-day eviction notice a week after her new landlords purchased the property. But Moore’s eviction is particularly unique under the law, simply because she lives in a triplex.
Moore’s eviction battle hinges on an exemption in Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance, which was established to protect tenants from being evicted “without good or just cause,” such as the non-payment of rent, or property damage. Under the ordinance, owners are also allowed to evict tenants if they intend to move into the unit, unless the tenant is disabled, catastrophically ill or over age 60. Moore would ordinarily be protected because she is over 60 and disabled.
However, an exemption regarding duplexes and triplexes allows owners who have moved into one unit on the property to evict the remaining tenants more easily. According to Leah Simon-Weisberg, managing attorney for Centro Legal de la Raza, and one of the attorneys working on Moore’s behalf, once the landlords moved onto the property, after evicting a tenant in another unit in the triplex, they were able to evict Moore despite the other protections.
Simon-Weisberg says she’s seen a trend in owner move-in evictions that began last March. “At Centro… almost half the people coming in were coming in with notices that were related to evicting them from triplexes and duplexes,” Simon-Weisberg said.
Under this exemption in the Just Cause ordinance, owners are not required to pay for tenant relocation once they move into a unit on the property. Simon-Weisberg believes this “loophole” has exacerbated the trend, with landlords pretending to move in to duplexes and triplexes in order to evict tenants more easily, then putting units back on the market at higher rates than they were previously renting for.
Currently, Oakland has no law requiring landlords to submit proof that they are living in units after conducting owner move-in evictions. Thus, there is no way of tracking the number of property owners who evict tenants based on the owner move-in exemption without ever having lived on the property.
According to Simon-Weisberg, Moore chose to fight her eviction because she didn’t believe her landlords were actually living on the property, and that they were trying to get her to move because she is a long-term tenant whose unit is covered under rent control.
Moore said she saw her eviction as an opportunity to serve as an example to others who are in the same position. “My fight was to show people, or to be an example,” Moore said. “We’re going to keep the fire lit, and we’re going to help some more people.”
Daniel Cheung, the attorney for Moore’s landlords, said he could not comment on how the Just Cause ordinance is related to Moore’s eviction, due to a confidentiality agreement that was ultimately reached by both parties.
The night before the courthouse rally for Moore, a number of her supporters spoke during the public comment period at Oakland’s city council meeting, urging the council to change the duplex/triplex exemption in the Just Cause ordinance. Several speakers asked the council to put a temporary hold on evictions enabled by the exemption.
“I literally just got an eviction notice today for me and my mother to move out,” said Raynett Nottie, who lives in a triplex that has been inhabited by her family since her grandmother moved in in the 1970s. “I’m here to ask that you guys close the loopholes and eliminate the triplex and duplex [exemption], because I mean, we’re literally homeless once this is done.”
“I know that I also am at risk for eviction at any time,” said Eleanor Liu, who lives in a triplex in Oakland. Liu asked the council to put a measure on the ballot to close all “loopholes” in tenant protections. “We know that laws that actually prioritize people’s right to safe and stable housing would not be full of loopholes like this,” Liu said.
Before the floor was opened for public comment, District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb spoke about a newly-proposed ordinance that had been moved back in the schedule for approval. The “Tenant Move Out Agreement Ordinance” would require landlords to inform tenants of their rights and also compensate them for moving out of a unit. This ordinance could also serve as a protection for tenants against the existing exemption to the Just Cause ordinance. Kalb said that the vote was being pushed back by a couple of weeks because he, District 2 Councilmember Abel Guillen and the city attorney were working to enhance the ordinance to further protect tenants.
Kalb could not be reached for comment before publication.
The morning after the council meeting, Moore appeared at the courthouse, a look of astonishment instantly crossing her face as she realized a rally was being held on her behalf. People held signs that read: “You can’t evict community power,” “Oakland loves Aunti Frances,” and “Don’t evict the heart of our community.”
“I am overwhelmed and totally surprised,” Moore said, stating that she had come to the courthouse not only to fight her own eviction, but “to be an example for other people who are going through the same type of situations, being evicted and being displaced, so they can lift up their voices and be heard.”
Before starting the Self-Help Hunger Program in 2009, which serves food to North Oakland’s homeless community every Tuesday afternoon in Driver Plaza, Moore was homeless, herself. She credits her inspiration to create the program to her prior experiences working with the Black Panther Party. “I had been feeding the people since I was 8 years old,” Moore said. “Its in my blood, its in my movement, so I put my money together” to start the Self-Help Hunger Program.
Activists stood outside the courthouse until Moore finished the meeting with her landlords to negotiate a settlement. While no agreement was reached that morning, the parties came to an agreement the following week.
Cheung, the landlords’ attorney, said that he could not comment on the settlement due to the confidentiality agreement. But according to the activist website DefendAuntiFrances.org, under the settlement Moore will move from her home in North Oakland, but will be given more time to move and assistance with relocation costs.
Moore said her fight to change city eviction rules is nowhere near over. “As long as there is a fight to be fought, it won’t be the end of that fight,” Moore said. “There are other people going through the same thing.”
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