House in Oakland

A House in Oakland” by andaley

Alex Case has lived in his current home for eight years. When his two former roommates moved out, his landlord took the vacancy as an opportunity to tear his house apart to rent it as separate units at a profit. She ordered him to get rid of furniture, boarded up the living and dining rooms to turn them into bedrooms and even installed a toilet in a bedroom. In the midst of the construction, Case was exposed to lead and chemicals and ended up in the hospital with red, itchy eyes and throat, along with severe breathing problems. And when he confronted his landlord with rights explicit in his lease, his landlord said simply that she had lost his lease, and that he now only rented his room, not the whole house.

“This is an insane story of blind greed in today’s market,” Case lamented.

This is also a story that is becoming all too common as Oakland’s reputation as the uber-hip “Brooklyn by the Bay” precedes itself, and as San Francisco’s castaways drop anchors to the East, flooding the housing market with deep pockets. And it is long-time residents like Case who are paying the price.

From August 2013 to August 2014, rent prices in Oakland jumped 14.4 percent according to Trulia, an online real estate site, making it the third highest increase in the nation. The general response from landlords in the area is to collect on this trend and raise the rent on their units. But with laws in place about how much a landlord can legally raise the rent on an existing lease, many are trying to find ways, sometimes illegal, to get current tenants out and new, higher paying ones in.

This is what Case and many others are experiencing: illegal landlord harassment. Luckily the City of Oakland is trying to do something about this. On Oct 21, the City approved the proposed Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO), which aims to protect tenants from such abuses by landlords.

Dan Kalb, the city council member who proposed the ordinance, summed it up nicely at the Oct 21 city council meeting: “We all know that we have skyrocketing rents in our city and that’s just part of the reason… why protecting our tenants is so important.”

So if you’re experiencing a situation similar to Case’s, the most important thing you can do is to know your rights and know when they are being violated.

 

The Tenant Protection Ordinance

Though the TPO hasn’t not gone into effect yet, harassment occurring now may be used against your landlord when it does take effect. According to the TPO, it is tenant harassment if a landlord does any of the following:

1. Interrupts, terminates or fails to provide housing services required by contract or by state, county or municipal housing, health or safety laws, or threatens to do so.

2. Fails to perform repairs and maintenance required by contract or health and safety laws, or threatens to do so.

3. Fails to complete and/or follow industry standards for repairs and maintenance.

4. Enters the unit without your permission.

5. Removes your furniture and personal belongings without your consent.

6. Attempts to get you to leave the unit by way of fraud, coercion or intimidation. This includes threatening to report you to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

7. Offers you money to vacate the unit more than once in six months after you have told the landlord in writing that you are not interested.

8. Offers you money to vacate with a nice side of intimidation and threats.

9. Threatens you physical harm.

10. Interferes with your lawful right to quiet use and enjoyment of your unit.

11. Refuses to accept or acknowledge your lawful rent payment.

12. Refuses to cash your lawful rent check for over 30 days.

13. Interferes with your rights to privacy.

14. Requests information that is a violation of your right to privacy, including your social security number and citizenship status, except where permitted by state law.

15. Other repeated, substantial acts that interfere with your legal right to comfort, peace and quiet.

16. Removes a housing service in an effort to get you to leave (for example, a parking space or elevator).

 

How to File

Here’s how it will all go once the ordinance takes effect. Before any civil action can be taken, you must notify your landlord of the problem(s) in writing. If they are not corrected within 15 days, you can file a complaint or suit.

The complaint must be filed within 180 days of the violation for it to be valid. If the city sides with you, your landlord will be issued a citation, and can be issued one citation per violation. So if he or she violated numbers five and ten above, that’s two citations.

A landlord may receive a civil penalty if his or her behavior has caused you to leave the unit, or if he or she has received three citations in a two-year period.

If the landlord is found guilty of any of these harassments, he or she may be liable to pay for your damages. If this is the case, the landlord will have to pay up at least three times the actual amount of damages, or $1,000, whichever is greater. The landlord may also be required to pay your attorney fees.

And, of course, the ultimate prize is the peace and quiet your landlord will be required to give you, and the ability to live in your home harassment-free.

 

For more information and/or assistance in dealing with any housing issue, contact the following city resources and tenant advocacy organizations: Housing Services and Counseling, Rental Disputes Center, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Eviction Defense Collaborative, and the East Bay Community Law Center

 

This is part one in an ongoing series about Oakland’s housing laws and tenant’s rights. To read the second article about lawful eviction, click here.

One Response

  1. James

    Is the city going to collect information on how often tenants are harassed or use the ordinance?

    Reply

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