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Thursday, May 11, 2017

'The time for Just Cause is now': Alameda is poised to enact stronger tenant protections

Alameda renters rallying last fall for greater
tenant protections.
ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL
During a Alameda City Council meeting in April, island renters thought they were nearing approval for one of their top objectives over the past two years, enacting Just Cause eviction protections for tenants in Alameda. It didn't happen after Councilmember Jim Oddie, believed to be on of three votes needed for passage, pulled back from the proposal that would allow landlords to evict tenants only for transgressions such as non-payment of rent and nuisance violations.

Alameda Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft's mouth was agape by Oddie's stance and a member of the Alameda Renters Coalition shot off an angry email to Oddie from his seat inside the council chambers. Oddie quickly read the email from the dais and immediately called it "political blackmail." But Oddie smoothed over his comments during the next meeting three days later and created an opening that Just Cause might be acceptable in Alameda, after all.

Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie's recent
comments suggest he now supports Just Cause.
Now there are strong indications that the Alameda City Council will follow other Bay Area cities that have approved Just Cause regulations recently, including San Jose last month.

At an Alameda Renters Coalition meeting last weekend, Oddie reportedly told the grassroots group, "The time for Just Cause is now." The declaration received wild applause.

Assuming Ashcraft and Coucilmember Malia Vella, the other member of the council that typically votes with a progressive lean, maintain their stated support, the votes appear solid for approving Just Cause in Alameda next Tuesday.

But the likely approval will continue to elicit strong opposition from property owners who have long contended the overwhelming defeat suffered by the renters' Measure M1 rent control initiative reflects public opinion opposing greater restrictions on rentals.

Measure M1 garnered only one-third of the vote. The same initiative also contained language to enact Just Cause protections. A competing rent-related initiative in Alameda, Measure L1, ostensibly a reaffirmation of the current City Council ordinance scheduled for review next Tuesday night, meanwhile, won 55 percent of the vote last November.

But tenant activists note the city's rent stabilization ordinance, passed in March 2016, always included an intention to review its efficacy after one year, while reserving the council an opportunity to make changes later.

Other changes to the rent stabilization ordinance recommended by the city staff include closing a so-called "loophole" in the ordinance that allowed landlords to avoid paying relocation fee payments to renters upon eviction by offering fixed-term leases.

In total, there were 23 reported cases of no cause evictions last year in Alameda. In early April, the council asked for additional information on each instance. According to data collected by the city, 15 of the 23 no cause eviction cases were due to the landlord taking steps to sell the property. (There were 24 previously reported no cause evictions, but the city now says one of them was later rescinded by the landlord).

The numbers appear to bolster Oddie's comments at an April 8 meeting when he sought discern whether Alameda renters were being evicted due to their own misconduct or profit-seeking landlords. “If the 24 cases are nuisance [evictions], then the landlords made their point,” said Oddie. “If they don’t, then maybe their argument doesn’t hold water.”

A letter from the Alameda Rental Providers Association says many of the property owners reported dissatisfaction with the city's rent stabilization ordinance and subsequently led them to get out of the real estate business.

Rental activists in Alameda have also long questioned its Rent Review Advisory Committee (RRAC), specifically, the lack of information related to tenants whose cases have been privately settled.

Forty tenants chose to bypass the RRAC and settle their rent disputes, according to data compiled by the city. But of those, 39 were renters at one apartment complex, the Southshore Beach and Tennis Club. Of the 40 cases, 28 reportedly accepted rent increases up to 5 percent; 8 moved out; and 4 accepted month-to-month leases that include rent increases between $231 (9.1 percent) and $538 (26.1 percent).

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