Oakland City Council member Larry Reid says many of the homes in the East Oakland neighborhood he represents have bars on the windows and doors because violence is so rampant.
“Seniors can’t sit out front on their porches and kids can’t play outside because drug dealing is going on all the time,” he said. “People are living in fear.”
Reid hopes the city’s Nuisance Eviction Ordinance, which takes effect Tuesday, will offer hope by making it easier to evict tenants engaging in criminal activities, such as selling drugs or owning illegal weapons.
The ordinance, modeled on a 1997 pilot program in Los Angeles, permits city officials to tell landlords to oust problem tenants.
Eric Moses, a spokesman for the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, said about 40 such notices are issued a month. Most people who get a notice do move, he said. “Any time nuisance neighbors are removed from an apartment building, the other tenants feel empowered,” he said. “It improves quality of life.”
Under Oakland’s law, officials will review the police records of those accused of engaging in illegal activities and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to evict. If landlords don’t act, they are subject to a fine of $1,000 a day.
Supporters praise the new law, which the City Council passed 6 to 2, as a way to force out drug dealers and gang members without long court battles. But critics say the law is overly broad and violates civil rights.
“It’s horrible. It’s unconscionable,” said Anne Omura, a managing attorney at the Eviction Defense Center in Oakland. “We feel that it just really tramples on the rights of tenants and doesn’t give them a lot of due process.”
She said the law was vague and could be used as a pretext to evict long-term tenants with low rents.
Arturo Sanchez, a lawyer who works for the city administrator, will be in charge of implementing the ordinance. He said his office and the city attorney’s office will review all the evidence and arrest reports carefully before they act. “It’s not the intent of this office to order the eviction of first-time offenders,” he said. “We’re not trying to get the average here. We’re trying to get the worst of the worst.”
But Omura said it is not enough for Sanchez and others implementing the law to promise that they will be careful.
“That’s great they’re saying they’re using their discretion wisely,” she said. “Why not have the law reflect that wisdom?”
Clifford Fried, a landlord attorney, said the ordinance punishes landlords by slapping them with steep fines. “I see property owners as victims just as much as other people in the neighborhood,” Fried said. “There needs to be some route to deal with social problems and not place the burden on property owners.”
Steve Edrington, director of the landlord advocacy group Rental Housing Assn. of Northern Alameda County, agrees that the law is hard on landlords. But he supports the ordinance and says his group and others will watch carefully how it is implemented.
Edrington says the potential exists for the city to go overboard in fining landlords. “But most people at the city attorney’s office are going to do the right thing and not be cowboys,” he said.
Deputy City Atty. Richard Illgen, the primary author of the ordinance, said landlords and tenants can fight evictions if they think there is insufficient evidence.
“Nobody wants to evict,” he said. “It’s not fun. But at some point, you have to decide if you are endangering other people on the property.”