Think wrongful eviction and illegal evictions are allowed in Oakland? Think again.
In the wake of Richmond’s 92-year-old Lela Madison being evicted by Community Funds LLC, even though she claims that she was paying her rent of just over $1,000, and after reports of schemes between realtors and inspectors in The San Francisco Bay Area, this blogger felt compelled to write a post of warning to any land-owner or manager on the fact that wrongful evictions are criminal.
In Oakland, according to OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE §§ 8.22.370(A)(2), 8.22.340., a landlord, an agent, or anyone assisting a landlord can be held liable for a wrongful eviction, according to the law office of Tobener and Ravenscroft in San Francisco. And the law firm reports that actual damages are “automatically tripled” under OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE § 8.22.370(A)(2). And if the landlord knowingly violates the law and causes emotional distress, damages that are to be paid are trippled according to OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE § 8.22.370(A)(2). Moreover, and according to OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE § 8.22.370(A)(2), the tenant who wins in court can recover attorney’s fees. So that’s, in the worst case for the landlord, tribble damages and lawyers fees that have to be paid to the tenant for a wrongful eviction attempt.
And what is a wrongful eviction? Well, one that seems rather popular in Oakland and the East Bay over the last two years, sources tell me, is where a tenant leaves their rent-controled apartment because of an eviction notice – generally a three-day-notice, which is wrongfully believed to be the “get out” note, but it’s not.
Still, while some Oakland landlords have used this “undocumented” path to tenant eviction to some success, all it takes is one mistep, one episode with a tenant that knows his or her rights, or has the right connections, or both, for the landlord to be made to deal with the tenant in good faith, or suffer the path of prosecution.
In The Bold Italic in 2014, Max Cherney explained that “Oakland Illegal Evictions Are Happening” and wrote that according to Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Board, “the vast majority of illegal evictions va, as many as 90 percent, were three-day pay-rent-or-get-evicted situations.”
And that action contributed to a massive uptick in evictions, again, according to Mr. Cherney: Between 2007 and 2013 the number of eviction notices filed was steadily increasing. From 8,848 in 2007 and incrementally going up every year, finally arriving at 13,394 in fiscal year 2013. And I’ll check with the Oakland Rent Board to update those figures for my follow-up on this problem. But there is a problem.
“We’ve seen eviction, harassment and repair issues go up at a rapid, rapid pace,” Princess Beverly, the Oakland tenant lead organizer for Causa Justa/Just Cause, a tenant’s rights advocacy and educational organization, told Oakland Local in 2015. And that was before the latest slate of Oakland laws designed to protect tenants: the moratorium on rent increases and the to-be-pased law forcing owners to pay relocation costs for Ellis Act evictions.
The high cost of housing in Oakland has created an climate were money-taking by illegal eviction is all too common. And the one main byproduct of this activity is the giant number of homeless camps. According to the Lake Merritt Advocates and the Homeless Advocacy Working Group, there are not less than seven homeless encampments dotted around the lake.
That, in itself, should be considered a crisis, and the action should be to make the system stop profiteering off tenants to the point where it creates a giant public health problem. While some may say “the systems” should stop this, it’s not, and that fact is causing an increasing number of homeless people.
That growing number of homeless Oaklanders (and Californians) is creating a climate where laws will be installed that make the property manager stop illegal evictions. At the heart of this new, growing, reactive, social infrastructure is this: know your rights. For example, know what it means to be in a rent-controlled building.
According to the Oakland Tenants Union, (who says “know your rights”), “your rent can only be raised by the annual allowable increase, based on the rate of inflation (CPI). Under certain circumstances rent can be raised by more than the allowable increase” which right now is 2.3 percent annually.
Moreover, landlords can’t harass you, and this get to the answer to the question of what an illegal eviction is. The list of examples of what defines harrassment (provided by the Oakland Tenants Union) by a landlord is very long, and worth noting:
1. Threaten to, or interrupt, or terminate, or fail to provide housing services.
2. Fail to perform repairs and maintenance.
3. Fail to perform due diligence when completing repairs. (For example, not minimizing exposure to noise, dust, lead paint, mold, asbestos, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts.)
4. Abuse the Owner’s right of access to the rental unit.
5. Remove personal property, furnishings, or other items without the prior written consent of the tenant.
6. Intimidate or threaten to report the tenant to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
7. Offer payments more than once in a six (6) month period to a Tenant to vacate.
8. Attempt to coerce a Tenant to vacate with offer(s) of payments to vacate in addition to threats or intimidation.
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 the rental unit.
11. Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of a Tenant’s lawful rent payment.
12. Refuse to cash a rent check for over thirty (30) days unless a written receipt for payment has been provided to the Tenant.
13. Interfere with a Tenant’s right to privacy.
14. Request information that violates a Tenant’s right to privacy.
15. Commit repeated acts to substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet of any tenant.
16. Remove a housing service for the purpose of causing the Tenant to vacate the rental unit.
I must add here that of these, “ Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of a Tenant’s lawful rent payment” is particularly notable. It means if you’re able to pay, and provide the payment, the landord can’t just refuse to accept your rent. Moreover, crafting a story of not receiving the rent is, in itself, criminal.
Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said many landlords in Oakland are responsible and treat people fairly and follow the laws. However, her office will not tolerate landlords who abuse tenants and violate the law. “Everyone who is a tenant in Oakland has a right to decent and humane housing,” Parker said to KPIX in 2016.
This was done to me 11 years ago by Ms. Lillie Jue, who was, at the time, the owner of 378 Van Buren Avenue near Lake Merritt in Oakland. Ms. Jue not only failed to record rent I paid on many occasions, but withheld repairs to the water heater and heater, and when my apartment was broken-in-to in 2007, and someone stole my corporate checks and tried to get cash out of my account, responded upon hearing the news “I didn’t do it.”
After I posted my entry in my blog Oakland Focus (Oakland’s first blog), I received a continuous stream of calls and complaints about Ms. Jue’s actions, over the next three years. Blogging about bad landlords in Oakland is not something I enjoyed or enjoy doing. In fact, to know that there are people, landlords, who would seek to not help good tenants is tearfully upsetting.
Tenants, protect yourself.
Pay your rent via cashiers check, and make sure you get a receipt and also keep your cashier’s check copies. Moreover, use blogs and social media to out landlords who are violators, but also to praise landlords and property maangers who treat tenants well.
And landlords should work with tenants and give them a chance to stay. The reason is simple: the large number of evictions is producing a climate where polticians are hungry to prove they are the most pro-tenant, and will change the laws even more to prove it. The best way Oakland landlords can stop changes in the law are to stop forcing tenants out of buildings.
And with the California Affordable Housing Act on the ballot for November, it’s almost certain passage will be a dramatic change in Oakland’s rent levels, and for apartments around the State of California.
Be a smart, responsible, caring land-owner. If tenants are having trouble getitng gainfully employed, help them by locating good jobs for them – after all, it helps you in the end. If tenants are legally running their own businesses and you, the landlord, could benefit from what they do, figure out a way to do business with them. See people, your tenants, as an asset, and not a liablility, and you, the landlord will florish, and be considered a community hero.
And help people maintain a roof over there heads.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media