Oakland's trash and recycling contracts are an unfair and improper tax and are therefore unconstitutional under state law, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by landlords in the city.
Wayne Rowland, president of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, whose 1,200 members manage or own 18,500 apartments, condos and duplexes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, said the suit seeks "to right the many wrongs and injustices" in Oakland's trash collection fee system.
"The fees being charged to property owners far exceed the costs of the services being provided," Rowland said. "And as a consequence they're not fees at all; they're a tax."
Attorney Andrew Zacks, who filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court, agreed, saying that under state law, fees for property-related services such as garbage collection aren't supposed to exceed what is required to provide the actual service.
He said the city allowed its collection contractors, Waste Management and California Waste Solutions, to pass a $30 million franchise fee onto ratepayers without justifying the size of the fee or how the money was to be used.
Zacks said the city has admitted that a large portion of the franchise fee is being put into the city's general fund to cover expenses not related to the services provided by the contractors.
Three small landlords are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but Zacks said the suit is also filed on behalf of all property owners in Oakland who are harmed by the contract.
Landlord Robert Zolly, the owner of an Oakland apartment complex, said his most recent statements from Waste Management included a new service fee of more than $300 for pushing and pulling his dumpster.
"They've gone from $736 a month up to $1,562 a month," Zolly said of his bills. "So that translates to a $9,000 increase a year for the same trash and recycle pickup."
Zacks said many of the lawsuit's allegations were confirmed by a critical report issued by the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury last week that raised questions about how the city handled the awarding of the garbage contracts.
The suit seeks immediate injunctive relief and reimbursement of all illegal fees to property owners.
"The city should go back to the drawing board and find a fair and lawful way of assessing services," Zacks said.
The City Attorney's Office said Wednesday it had not yet received the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.