Every month, the City of Oakland's Rent Adjustment Program — which mediates rent disputes between tenants and landlords — receives hundreds of complaints from tenants about landlord harassment. Many of those complaints, however, fall outside of the purview of that office, which generally reviews conflicts over rent increases and evictions. Councilmember Dan Kalb is hoping to address this problem by giving tenants in Oakland a stronger legal recourse to fight landlord harassment with a new proposed tenant protection ordinance.
"The purpose of this is to create a level of strong deterrence so landlords won't be engaging in these types of things," said Kalb, who noted that local tenant advocacy groups are getting an increasing number of calls about landlord harassment. "We need to provide more protection."
, which will go before the city council's Community and Economic Development committee on September 30
, would prohibit certain types of harassing behaviors by landlords and provide for civil and administrative remedies for tenants who have been victimized by landlords (though the proposal stipulates that the administrative remedies would be delayed until the city can secure needed funds and staffing).
The city's rent program office, the ordinance states, "conservatively estimated receiving 100 to 200 complaints each month from tenants claiming landlord harassment, many of which are completely outside the jurisdiction of the Rent Adjustment Program." And the increasing market demand for rental housing in Oakland has created an incentive for some landlords to harass tenants — for example by failing to make repairs in an effort to push tenants out of rent-controlled units, according to the proposal. This imbalance between supply and demand has created an "imbalance between landlords and tenants, which has resulted in many tenants, especially those not in rent controlled units, being unwilling or unable to assert their legal rights," the ordinance further states.
The existing remedies for tenants — including petitioning the Rent Adjustment Program in certain cases or hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit to enforce state laws or provisions of leases — don't go far enough in deterring harassment, Kalb's proposal states.
With only a few limited exceptions, the anti-harassment measure would apply to all rental units in the city, not just those covered by Oakland's existing rent control law. The ordinance spells out a lengthy list of prohibited actions, including interfering with a tenant's right to privacy, failing to do repairs required by the tenant's contract or state and local laws, intimidating tenants into moving out through various threatening behaviors, taking away a housing service (like a parking space) with the intent of forcing the tenant to move out, and much more.
Kalb said that San Francisco, East Palo Alto, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood all have ordinances prohibiting various forms of landlord harassment. "We want to follow the lead of a few other cities that have already done this."
In terms of enforcement, tenants could file complaints with the city, which could then lead to administrative citations. Three or more administrative citations — or cases in which the landlord's violation of the ordinance resulted in a tenant moving out — could then lead to civil penalties. The ordinance also establishes an appeals process that would bring the case before a hearing officer.
In terms of establishing the administrative system, the ordinance directs the city to conduct a fee analysis and propose an implementation plan. The city would not implement the administrative remedies until proper funding and staffing was in place. The city administrator would have to designate staff authorized to issue citations and penalties.
The ordinance, Kalb said, would help curb displacement in the city. "We don't want to lose the economic diversity of the people who live here."
You can read a PDF of the proposed ordinance here