The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee delayed a decision Tuesday on a proposal to increase relocation payments to tenants who are pushed out of their apartments through Ellis Act evictions.
The Ellis Act is a state law that allows evictions when landlords choose to take properties off the rental market. This law has become infamous in San Francisco, used to displace hundreds of tenants by property owners who wished to convert rental units to market-rate condominiums.
Though the Ellis Act has not been used widely in Oakland, filings under the act this year have quadrupled to 12 evictions, up from four last year.
The city proposal would extend relocation payments to all tenants subject to the Ellis Act, whether or not they are low income, and would increase payments to $8,000 per rental unit, plus an extra $2,500 per unit to “vulnerable tenants,” such as seniors, disabled tenants and renters with minor children.
The affected tenants would receive half of the payment at the time of the notice and the other half on their move-out date.
Similar relocation payment ordinances are already in place in various cities across the Bay Area, including San Francisco and Berkeley, where the fees are $5,500 per tenant and $8,700 per unit, respectively.
Currently, Oakland’s relocation payments for Ellis Act evictions are restricted to low-income tenants and are limited to two months of tenants’ rent at the time of the eviction notice.
“With rising rents in Oakland, under the current ordinance, people who are evicted do not have the compensation they need to relocate,” said Connie Taylor, manager of Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program, speaking at the CED meeting.
Other speakers at the meeting raised a variety of concerns about the proposed ordinance.
Property owners, representing the East Bay Rental Housing Association, did not object to relocation payment expansions but expressed concern about the ordinance possibly allowing tenants to legally challenge an eviction after they had received their first relocation payment half.
In response, Vice Mayor Kaplan, who backed the ordinance, said that by accepting the first payment, tenants would be signing off on their right to legally contest an eviction.
Meanwhile, tenants’ rights groups such as the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and the Oakland Tenants’ Union said the proposal goes a long way in bringing Oakland’s Ellis Act ordinance up to par with the rest of the Bay Area but falls short in enforcing that tenants will receive their full relocation payments.
“The ordinance does not require posting of relocation funds with any city agency like other cities do to ensure fees are received,” said Ubaldo Fernandez, a staff attorney at the EBCLC.
Councilmember Lynette McElhaney also had concerns about the current proposal, saying that there needs to be a way “to add protections around low-income landlords evicting higher-income tenants and having to pay.”
McElhaney said she was worried that ordinances like these, though well-meaning, could be further aiding displacement by encouraging low-income property owners—those most likely to charge below market-rate rent—to sell their properties to businesses more likely to charge higher amounts.
“We need to do some additional analysis to see,” she said.
Meanwhile, councilmember Larry Reid favored putting off the proposal to a later date, questioning whether there is any urgency in passing the ordinance.
Pastor Sandhya Jha, director of interfaith programs at East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), said these Ellis Act protections are urgently needed.
“As somebody who has watched a third of my faith community get pushed out of Oakland—hard-working folks who wanted to remain a fabric of this city—this matters to me as a person of faith and somebody deeply committed to preserving what is great about this city,” she said.
City staff will report back on the Ellis Act ordinance on Jan. 12 of next year, after considering the public input raised at the CED meeting.