The November 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

AFSC Honors War Resisters

David Harris: A Stirring Call to Conscience

Leonard McNeil: Resisting 'Rich Man's Wars'

Karen Meredith: A Mother's Plea for Peace

Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar

Massive Police Sweeps in Contra Costa County

Housing First for Poor Families

Landlords Sue to End Just Cause

Struggle to Save the Free Box

YEAH! Shelters Homeless Youth

Gentrification in Berkeley

New Home for East Bay Law Center for Poor

Wal-Mart Pushes Philanthrophy

Sutter Health's War Against Health Workers

Growing Gulf Between Rich and Poor

Inequality in America

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Forgiveness


ARCHIVE

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September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


 

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Oakland Landlords Attack Eviction Protections

Tenant activists fight a lawsuit aimed at killing Oakland's Just Cause measure

by Lynda Carson

During the long struggle to win protection against unjust evictions in Oakland, tenant activists held many rallies at City Hall and won an election for a Just Cause measure. Now they face a struggle against landlords who filed suit to overturn the measure.

On Wednesday, October 26, Oakland tenants did not let a cool rainy day keep them from showing up at the Alameda County Superior Court in support of Oakland's Just Cause eviction protections, known as Measure EE.

"I think that the attorneys defending Measure EE from the landlords' lawsuit against it did very well in court today," said Adam Gold of Just Cause Oakland.

"I was happy to see the number of tenants that showed up at the hearing in support of Measure EE, and hope that Judge Steven Brick will not rule in favor of the landlords that are trying to kill eviction protections in Oakland," said Sue Doyle.

Measure EE has been under attack ever since Oakland voters approved the Just Cause ordinance in the November 2002 election. The Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County is doing everything possible to make sure that tenants will lose their right to fight unfair evictions in Oakland.

Since December of 2002, Measure EE has saved thousands of people in Oakland from being evicted by greedy landlords wanting to use no-cause evictions. The City of Oakland is required to enforce the voter-approved ordinance.

Years of struggle for Just Cause

It took years of struggle and several campaigns for Oakland anti-eviction activists to get an ordinance in place that would protect renters from unfair evictions in a corrupt system favoring the rich and powerful.

During their victorious campaign to pass the ordinance, Just Cause Oakland took to the streets and collected more than 36,000 signatures to get Measure EE on the November 2002 ballot. The campaign then made a massive, and successful, effort to get out the vote.

Landlords became furious over these developments, and did their best to convince renters in their buildings to vote against Measure EE. Landlords and realtors spent over $500,000 in a vicious smear campaign meant to frighten Oakland voters into voting against Measure EE, yet they failed to do so.

The heated battle for a Just Cause ordinance was narrowly won by tenant activists. They had to overcome the well-funded opposition of the landlords, who increasingly resorted to scare tactics and outright defamation of Oakland renters in the final weeks of the campaign.

The landlords then refused to accept the will of the voters who passed the Just Cause eviction protections on November 5, 2002. Measure EE went into effect on December 27, 2002.
Immediately afterwards, landlords filed suit against the City of Oakland on January 31, 2003, in an attempt to overturn provisions in Measure EE that restrict unfair evictions and allow tenants the right to a jury trial and damage awards. Landlords claim that Measure EE supersedes California state law and violates the property rights of property owners.

Attorneys Steven S. Rosenthal and Jonathan Seigel sued the City of Oakland over Measure EE on behalf of two landlords and the Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County. The lawsuit is known as Kim, et al. versus City of Oakland, et al.

Oakland tenants have been trying to keep track of when this crucial hearing would finally take place. After a recently delayed hearing that was supposed to take place on October 12, 2005, the hearing finally occurred on October 26, in the courtroom of Judge Steven Brick.

About 30 supporters of Measure EE showed up at the hearing in Department 19, and some supporters had to be turned away from Judge Brick's courtroom because the room was too small to accommodate everyone. A number of local landlords and a class of students from Boalt Law School were also seated in the courtroom to observe the legal proceedings.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs tried to convince Judge Brick that all of Measure EE's procedural hurdles are superseded by a California Supreme Court case, which would render Measure EE's local procedural requirements unconstitutional. They want Measure EE thrown out in its entirety.

Evictions for profit

Just Cause eviction protections are laws intended to protect renters by ensuring that landlords may only evict with proper due cause in such cases as a tenant's failure to pay their rent or for the destruction of rental property, and a number of other reasons such as drug dealing or nuisance violations.

Before Measure EE took effect in Oakland, tenants were being evicted by the thousands each year for no reason at all, with 30-day no-cause evictions. It was known as the eviction-for-profit system. Landlords kept evicting low-income renters in hope of finding wealthier tenants to exploit.

Between September 1998 and December 1999, no-cause evictions increased by 300 percent in Oakland, according to Sentinel Fair Housing, with 75 percent of those evictions being brought against people of color.

Mass evictions and rent hikes

During 1999, there were so many loopholes in Oakland's rent control laws that, according to city estimates, rents increased by 20 to 30 percent. Within a few years, the landlords were doubling the rents at many properties in Oakland, and there was no end in sight to the mass evictions and the never-ending rent increases that landlords were free to impose after evicting renters.

Rents shot up so high in Oakland since 1998, that the latest survey of metropolitan areas by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition reveals that Oakland is in fifth place as one of the least affordable cities to reside in.

"Since Measure EE took effect, the main reason for evictions in Oakland are for nonpayment of rent," says Anne Omura, executive director of the Eviction Defense Center. The Eviction Defense Center has been on the front lines in protecting low-income renters from evictions in the Oakland area, and has saved thousands of renters from homelessness.

According to the California Administrative Office of the Courts, there were approximately 192,591 evictions in California between 2002 and 2003, with about 23,815 of those evictions occurring in the Bay Area, and around 5,879 evictions in Alameda County.

Just Cause eviction protections have been established in such cities as San Francisco, San Jose, West Hollywood, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Seattle, Washington. In each of these cities, landlords also claimed that Just Cause eviction protections were unconstitutional, and the courts have ruled that these types of tenant protections are constitutional.

Surveys reveal that the main causes for evictions during the past few years are high rents, low vacancy rates, a lack of affordable housing units, and a lack of income to cover never-ending rent increases. In addition, it cannot be ignored that landlords are doing more evictions during the past few years because of their relentless search for the higher-income renter.

In seeking a ruling from Judge Steven Brick that would allow them to move forward with their lawsuit against the City of Oakland and Measure EE, the Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County and landlords are trying to kill eviction protections in Oakland.
Oakland renters and the attorneys defending Measure EE are seeking a ruling from Judge Brick that would support Measure EE in its entirety, and stop the lawsuit dead in its tracks.

Judge Brick is expected to make his ruling within the next 90 days. Regardless of how the judge rules, an appeal by either side of the battle over Measure EE is expected to occur in the future.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com


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