Oakland Tenant Advocates File Ballot Initiative to Strengthen Rent Control and Eviction Protections


Paula Beal speaks about her family members being displaced from Oakland. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • Paula Beal speaks about her family members being displaced from Oakland.
On the same day that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf released her comprehensive plan to address the city's housing affordability crisis, a coalition of tenant advocacy groups filed a voter initiative called the “Renters Upgrade” that, if it qualifies for the fall ballot and is approved by voters, would dramatically strengthen renter protections.

“I am the face of displacement,” said Paula Beal, a member of Causa Justa, Just Cause, one of the groups sponsoring the measure, to attendees of a press conference on the steps of Oakland City Hall earlier today.

Beal said that her children and grandchildren have been displaced from Oakland due to rapidly rising rents and the absence of comprehensive eviction protections. Many of her family members now live in Hayward, Sacramento, Rodeo, and other cities. “For years, the city and county have ignored the housing crisis and done nothing to address displacement,” said Beal.

The groups sponsoring the Renters Upgrade announced today that they are moving ahead with a voter initiative because they don’t believe that the Oakland City Council or Mayor Schaaf will do enough to strengthen rent control and just cause protections.

According to sponsors of the ballot measure, the Renters Upgrade would expand eviction protections under Oakland’s existing Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance so that the rules apply to virtually all apartments in the city. Currently, apartment units built after 1983 do not fall under Oakland’s just cause eviction protections, therefore landlords can evict tenants for almost any reason in those buildings when their lease is up. According to sponsors of the Renters Upgrade initiative, this change would bring 45 percent more of Oakland’s rental housing under just cause protection.

The Renters Upgrade ballot measure would also set a cap on rent increases at 5 percent. Currently, Oakland landlords whose units are covered by the city’s Rent Adjustment Ordinance can increase rent as much as 10 percent in a year. The initiative would still allow landlords to increase rent more than 5 percent in cases where the landlord can demonstrate that it is necessary to provide him or her with a fair return on investment.

The ballot measure would also overhaul the existing Housing Residential Rent-Relocation Board, the appointed city board that hears appeals made by tenants and landlords regarding decisions issued by the rent adjustment program’s staff, and which also deliberates on changes to Oakland’s rent adjustment program and just cause housing laws, among other things. Currently, the rent board is composed of seven members: two landlords, two tenants, and three who are neither. The Renters Upgrade ballot initiative would reorganize the Rent Board so that tenants are a majority of the board’s seven members.

The Renters Upgrade initiative would also establish a maintained and publicly accessible database for all rent increases to ensure that the city and public can track rents. This would effectively establish true rent control in Oakland because under the current ordinance there is no tracking mechanism to ensure that all landlords whose units are covered by the rent adjustment ordinance only increase rents by the legally allowed amount each year. Currently, the city and public only become aware of rent increases that exceed the legally allowed amount if a tenant files a petition with the rent adjustment program to contest the increase. The database, which would be housed in the rent board office, would be available for members of the public to search, but it would not be posted online, said James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union, one of the sponsors of the ballot measure.

“On behalf of Oakland tenants who have struggled for over thirty years with a landlord-written ordinance, this is a proud day to finally look forward to a measure that will ensure justice and fairness,” said Vann.