Both small property owners and tenants spoke out against Oakland city staff’s proposals for changes to the city’s rent laws on Tuesday night, which City Council unanimously supported during their first of two votes.
The revisions are those that were passed by City Council on Sept. 29 of last year and that are mandated by voter-approved Measure JJ to be enacted by a February 2 deadline.
According to property owners who spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting, the proposed changes to the rent laws ought to be delayed until the city has had more time to communicate with landlords about how they will be officially educated on the updates.
Yet city staff indicated at the meeting that postponing the vote would cause chaos and confusion with changes to the rent law coming into effect without any means of implementing them.
Tenants, meanwhile, asked councilmembers to pass the ordinance, but with crucial changes to the language, which they say still gives landlords an unfair ability to evict renters.
For example, the current language of the proposed changes limits rent increases to 30 percent in any five-year period.
But that would also mean tenants could face a 10 percent rent increase for three consecutive years, which tenants’ rights advocates say would amount to “constructive eviction.”
“Who can afford what at times will be a $200 to $300 increase each year,” James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union, told the Post.
“It’s ridiculous. That person would have to move,” he said.
Another city staff revision would turn the rent service fee that landlords optionally charge their tenants into a part of the overall rent.
As a result, landlords could evict tenants for failing to pay the service fee, which currently costs $15 and will soon increase to $34.
Tenants rights groups contend that the service fee should remain defined as a “debt” to the landlord that could be collected in several different ways and would not threaten the tenant’s residence.
A final reading of the proposed revisions to the rent law will be voted on at the February 7 City Council meeting.
Tulio Ospina is the assistant editor of the Oakland Post and editor-in-chief of El Mundo.