The Oakland City Council capped a contentious, 11-hour meeting Tuesday night by unanimously voting in support of a proposed ballot measure that would protect thousands of tenants from no-cause evictions. The issue will now be decided by Oakland voters in November.
Dozens of tenants and housing advocates cheered as the vote was announced close to 2 a.m.. The measure, proposed by council members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo, would extend “just cause” eviction protections to tenants living in owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes throughout the city.
“I believe that the law we’re proposing makes sense for our city given the situation we’re in and given how many renters are at risk of being displaced, including in these small buildings,” Kalb said. “I know people are concerned how it’s going to impact them if they live in that building and they own it, and I get that, I just have to fall on the side of protecting as many renters as possible.”
Under current law, landlords can only evict Oakland tenants for specific reasons, such as failure to pay rent or violating sections of a lease. Tenants in duplexes and triplexes, however, are exempt from such protections if their landlord lives in the same building, according to Oakland’s current Just Cause ordinance.
Supporters of the exemption argue it gives property owners who live in their own small building more control over the tenants they live in close proximity to. Additionally, some argue the exemption protects small property owners from lengthy legal battles when attempting to evict tenants for legitimate reasons.
Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney was the lone councilmember to express reservations about removing the “just cause” exemption, but she ultimately joined the rest of the council in supporting the reform effort. She worried the proposal would negatively impact long-time, working-class landlords, and said she preferred a more “surgical” solution to prevent real estate speculators from getting away with fraudulent evictions.
“I am concerned that this medicine doesn’t hit the disease that’s afflicting us,” she said.
While tenants can legally be evicted if their landlord wants to move into the unit, past NBC Bay Area investigations revealed a lack of oversight and widespread abuse in neighboring San Francisco, which allowed landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants purely to find new tenants willing to pay higher rent prices.
In Oakland, tempers flared as supporters and opponents lined up to address council members and debate the merits of the ballot measure in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Nearly 100 people signed up to comment on the proposal, but only 55 stayed long enough to actually have their voices heard.
Elise Ackerman, the owner of an Oakland duplex, asked the council not to scapegoat small, longtime property owners for the actions of unscrupulous new investors who abuse the system.
“We are homeowners and we share our homes,” Ackerman said. “You call us landlords, but we are not landlords. We are something different.”
Oakland resident Mara Randle exhorted the city council to strengthen tenant protections, especially in the face of Oakland’s homelessness epidemic.
“We have more homelessness in the street than I have ever seen,” Randle said. “And when I’m looking at the homeless, they look like me. They’re young. We’re also facing elderly issues, too. What are you guys doing?”
The debate now expands to Oakland voters. Landlords and renters across the city will have the opportunity to weigh in on the controversial proposal in the November election.
Before the proposed ballot measure made it to the full city council, landlords and tenants squared off during a committee meeting on Thursday, July 19.
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Watch the entire series in this NBC Bay Area investigation:
• Part 13: Oakland Housing Director Defends Department
• Part 14: Oakland Housing Chief "Fired," Says Source