Ballinger vs. City of Oakland Lawsuit Wrongly Challenges Tenant Protection Ordinance

Oakland “Love Life” Sign At Bancroft And College StolenOakland “Love Life” Sign
(Last Updated On: December 3, 2018)

The City of Oakland’s newish law protecting tenants in the event of landlord takeover of their place to live is being challenged in the case of Ballinger vs. City of Oakland. The suit is being filed by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of Lyndsey and Sharon Ballinger.

According to the website of the Pacific Legal Foundation:

When the Air Force reassigned Lyndsey and Sharon Ballinger to Washington DC, in 2015, they kept their house in Oakland, California, renting it on a month-to-month lease so they could return to it. When the couple and their two small children came home this spring, a new city law forced them to pay their tech-sector tenants $6,500—for the right to move back into their own home. The law aims to help residents affected by soaring housing costs. But because the law’s good intent comes at the expense of their constitutional protections, the Ballingers filed a federal lawsuit.

The Pacific Legal Foundation completely misunderstands Constitutional Law as it applies to property. The concern of the application of the U.S. Constitution with respect to property has been in the area of eminent domain, not a tenant’s right to appropriate resolution of a living situation. The conservative advocacy group is obviously confused between what is the law and what it allows, and what they think the law should allow. That much is clear on the webpage of the case the Institute has established.

First, it reads “The Constitution grants all Americans the right to make reasonable use of their property. Local governments can’t trample these protections to solve a housing crisis created by government policies.” That’s a statement of one part fact, the “ reasonable use of their property” and one part opinion, “ Local governments can’t trample these protections to solve a housing crisis created by government policies”.

Second, it reads “People who want to move back into their own homes should be able to do so without paying for their tenants to go elsewhere” and “Bureaucratic overreach disguised as good intent cannot come at the expense of our constitutional protections”. That’s opinion, and in no way expresses any understanding of tenant’s rights law.

Also, the Pacific Legal Foundation arguably deliberately mischaracterized the City of Oakland compensation law as paying the tenants for the right to move back into their own place. No, that’s not the way the City’s law works: the legal intent of the ordinance is to pay the tenant to make it easier for that person to move from the landlord’s property without being made homeless in the process.

Thus, the entire intellectual argument of the Pacific Legal Institute is laughable at best. The organization would do well to read the Supreme Court of California 1985 case of Kendall v. Ernest Pestana. The upshot of the resolution of that case was this: asking a tenant to move out without compensation, move the tenant’s furniture or otherwise accommodate the landlord’s plans is a breach of what is called “the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” The key word that applies to Ballinger vs. City of Oakland is “ asking a tenant to move out without compensation.”

Also look at the success of Portland’s version of the Oakland law. It is now permanent, and has withstood considerable legal review.

“The Portland City Council this morning unanimously expanded and made permanent the requirement that landlords pay between $2,900 and $4,500 in tenant moving expenses in some instances.”

And the City of San Leandro, next door to Oakland, has its own Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance. The city law is spreading like wildfire and for a good reason: as a response to the many examples immoral actions of some landlords that have contributed to this homeless crisis.

This lawsuit also shows the folly of basing a legal attack on a conservative political agenda, and not moral fairness. The Pacific Legal Foundation does not at all refer to any moral rights of the tenant, and presents an argument that seems to belittle the right of the tenant.

This lawsuit should be a clear winner for the City of Oakland. The Pacific Legal Foundation should stop trying to bend the law to fit conservative ideas and focus more on the classic moral rights of life, liberty, and happiness that the Constitution defends in America, regardless of political positions or party concerns.

The City of Oakland’s moto is “Love Life” – that’s for a good set of reasons, as the Pacific Legal Foundation will learn.

UPDATE:

In the comment section below, someone who goes by the common name of Jasmine Zamora on Disqus, and who apparently represents a public relations effort as the person has a track-record of only commenting her opposition only to the Prop 10 rent control law that failed in the November election and on this Oakland issue, none-the-less raised a good question:

In the case at hand, the City of Oakland took over $6000 from a veteran couple and put that $6000 in the hands of two software engineers. How much do veterans earn? How much do software engineers earn? Do you think this arrangement under the ordinance is just?

Oakland At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan has said that the law does have a provision for an owner that’s a “hardship” case, but it was designed with the assumption that the owner has the money to pay the amortized tenant relocation assistance payments.

Also, I checked the “Frequently Asked Questions” part of the Oakland Rental Relocation Assistance Ordinance, on the matter, and learned something else.

The Oakland City Attorney’s FAQ reads that, if the owners did live in the place of residence and are seeking to move back in, and informed the tenant that they planned to do so and the rights of the owners are in the agreement, then no relocation payment is to be made.

That begs a new question: is the couple indeed able to answer the question did they “live in the place of residence and are seeking to move back in, and informed the tenant that they planned to do so and the rights of the owners are in the agreement”? If the answer is yes, then they don’t have to pay the relocation agreement.

If the judge finds that they don’t have to pay the agreement, then there’s no need for a lawsuit to strike down an ordinance because of “payment barrier” issues.

Stay tuned.

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Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media

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Zennie Abraham
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media