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Tenant Rights Movement Wins New Law in Oakland

A Step Towards Healthy Housing for Oakland’s  Tenants
By Robbie Clark

ACPHD staff member speaking on the health impacts of displacement. Photo courtesy of APCHDOn November 5, 2014, the Oakland City Council approved the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO), a landmark policy victory that will protect thousands of Oakland’s tenants from landlord harassment.
The TPO resulted from the work that Causa Justa::Just Cause (CJJC) has been doing with the Alameda County Public Health Department’s (ACPHD) Place Matters program. It was a key policy solution highlighted in CJJC’s Development Without Displacement report released earlier this year. (See http://www.cjjc.org/en/publications/report)

Dan Kalb, councilmember for District 1, sponsored the ordinance, which was approved by five out of eight councilmembers last November.

The TPO is a major win for the Bay Area tenants’ rights movement and a critical step forward in ensuring that Oakland’s longtime residents are not displaced by new development. It’s part of a growing tenant justice movement, which includes establishing a rent cap and limiting rent increase pass-throughs for Oakland’s tenants. It was also the first tenant protection policy to be approved in Oakland in more than a decade. Previous protections, such as the rent stabilization program and just cause evictions, only applied to tenants in units built before 1983. The TPO extends to all rental units built up until 2014, with the exception of owner-occupied buildings and nonprofit-owned housing.

The TPO is also a win for immigrant rights and the fight for healthy housing conditions for all because it specifies 16 categories of harassment, including threatening to report tenants to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and refusing to make basic repairs deemed critical for the health of tenant families, seniors, and immigrants. The TPO includes attorney fees for tenants forced to take landlords to court and obliges landlords to pay damages if found in violation of the ordinance. It also requires the City of Oakland to track tenant complaints across the board in order to accurately assess the scale of the issues faced by Oakland tenants.

The fight for healthy housing for Oakland tenants is far from over, but the TPO is a good start.  We will continue to demand that the city prioritize resources for enforcement of tenant rights and establish an administrative program to directly fine landlords who harass Oakland tenants and violate the existing tenant protection laws.

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