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Tenants Gather Enough Signatures to Put Repeal of State’s Anti-Rent Control Law on Ballot

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Supporters of the repeal of the state anti-rent control law, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, rally Monday in front of Oakland City Hall. Oakland Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan is speaking, and to her right are candidate for governor Delaine Eastin and City Councilmember Dan Kalb. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Hundreds of members of a statewide coalition came together Monday in Sacramento, Los Angeles and the steps of City Hall in Oakland to announce they have collected sufficient signatures to place the repeal of the state’s anti-rent control law, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, on the November ballot.

The coalition announced it has collected 588,542 signatures, a comfortable margin beyond the 402,000 signatures needed to qualify the initiative – the Affordable Housing Act – for the ballot.

Repealing Costa-Hawkins would eliminate one of the primary legal obstacles that keeps local communities from being able to extend rent control laws. Currently, Costa-Hawkins prohibits municipalities from setting limits on rent increases on single family homes, condos and apartments built after 1995.

Landlords, developers and bankers in California and across the country are expected to pour millions of dollars into the campaign to defeat the initiative, which, if passed, could open the floodgates of community resistance to displacement and evictions.

One indication of the influence of the landlord/developer lobby is that few politicians in Sacramento, including most Democrats, were willing to take up the fight against Costa Hawkins, forcing communities to turn to the initiative process.

Speaking at the Oakland rally, Carroll Fife of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), said, “One of three California residents have to pay over 50 percent of their income for housing, and we’re here to say we have to do something about it.”

Said Oakland City Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan, “We have to put a stop to people being displaced …. and put a stop to homelessness. So many teachers (and other workers) can no longer afford to live in the cities where they work.”

The repeal of Costa Hawkins will allow our city to protect renters, she said.

The Affordable Housing Act is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, ACCE Action and the Eviction Defense Network.

Individuals who have backed the initiative include Dolores Huerta, State Senator Kevin De Leon and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as Oakland City Councilmembers Kaplan, Desley Brooks and Dan Kalb.

Over 125 organizations and agencies have endorsed the initiative including the California Nurses Association, ACLU-Southern California, City of West Hollywood, the United Teachers of Angeles, PICO California and San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles tenant unions.

Community

Longtime Landlords to Pay City $3.9 Million for Tenants’ Rights Violations

Parker’s office said the Manns subjected tenants at the six properties to serious health and safety risks. The defendants rented properties in substandard condition, including properties neither intended nor approved for housing, the city attorney’s office said.  

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Permanent Supportive Housing for former homeless people in San Francisco.

Two rental property owners and/or their companies will pay the city of Oakland more than $3.9 million for violating the rights of tenants, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker’s Office announced Monday.

The city of Oakland sued Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder Mann and two of their companies Dodg Corporation and Sbmann2, LLC, according to court documents in the matter.

An Alameda County Superior Court decision September 1 following a trial, forces the defendants to also provide relocation payments to tenants displaced unlawfully from six rental properties, which were at issue in the case brought by the city.

Parker’s office said the Manns subjected tenants at the six properties to serious health and safety risks. The defendants rented properties in substandard condition, including properties neither intended nor approved for housing, the city attorney’s office said.

The defendants rented the six properties to people who were predominantly low-income immigrants and some who did not speak English as their first language, according to Parker’s office.

But following a trial that started in April and the judge’s September 1 decision, the Manns now must comply with health, safety, and tenant protection laws regarding all their properties and pay the city and former tenants, Parker’s office said.

“Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement.

“Tenants’ rights do matter–to the city, to the people, and to the courts,” Parker said. “No longer will businesses like Dodg. Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

The Manns for years owned and operated about 60 residential rental properties in Oakland and owned 70 or more other properties in the city, according to Parker’s office.

City attorneys said the model used by the Manns and at least two of their companies allowed them to profit through renting dilapidated and uninhabitable units to people who were desperate for affordable housing and would be unable to defend their rights as tenants.

The fire risk in some units was severe and imminent, according to the City Attorney’s office.
Parker’s office said the Manns violated the law even further by failing to make relocation payments to tenants who were displaced because their units were unsafe to live in.

Judge Brad Seligman held in his State of Decision, that the Manns and their companies named in the lawsuit, violated Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance, did so in bad faith, and created a public nuisance, according to Parker’s office.

Three attempts to reach Baljit Singh Mann on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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Community

About $200 Million Becomes Available to Bay Area for More Homekey Projects

Earlier this year, Newsom signed a housing and homelessness funding package that provided $12 billion to alleviate homelessness in the state.

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Tents under the Guadalupe Freeway near San Jose Diridon Station, in San Jose on May 25, 2021. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

Bay Area cities, counties, tribal entities, and housing authorities have the chance this year to apply for an estimated $200 million in grant funds for housing the unhoused following the release of $1.45 billion by the state Thursday.

More money will likely be available next year as part of the state’s overall $2.75 billion expansion package for the Homekey program, which provides money to rehabilitate hotels, motels, and other buildings to provide homes for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The money will allow for the creation of up to 14,000 more permanent, long-term housing units for unhoused Californians or those facing homelessness in the state.

“California is moving with unprecedented speed to house people experiencing homelessness, through Homekey,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “We are going all in on solutions that work — tackling the homelessness crisis head-on with a constructive, compassionate approach and a focus on serving those with the most acute behavioral health needs.”

According to county counts of people suffering from homelessness in 2019, more than 26,000 lived in the Bay Area. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, roughly 162,000 Californians were experiencing homelessness on any given day as of January 2020.

About 52,000 of those were individuals suffering from chronic homelessness, which is homelessness for a year or longer or someone who has a disability and has had at least four bouts of homelessness in three years.

Homekey has been successful in the Bay Area. In Oakland, for example, a college residence hall was rehabilitated for formerly homeless residents, opening around Christmastime last year.

The project was completed more quickly than some people thought possible. Newsom has touted the speed at which Homekey projects are done.

Since July 2020, Homekey has led to the creation of 6,000 affordable housing units statewide, according to Newsom’s office. Ninety-four projects across the state closed escrow last year, the governor’s office said.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed a housing and homelessness funding package that provided $12 billion to alleviate homelessness in the state.

“This administration has set a goal of functionally ending family homelessness in five years, and that’s why investments in programs like Homekey are so critical,” said Gustavo Velasquez, director of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, in a statement.

But Newsom is facing a recall. Election Day is Tuesday. The $12 billion homelessness package was part of his California Comeback Plan, which aims to reverse the effects the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s economy. Newsom has faced criticism by some over the way he has handled the state’s response to the pandemic.

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Community

City Wins Case Against Local Real Estate Empire for Systemic Tenants’ Rights Violations

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

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Barbara Parker

Alameda County Superior Court issued its final Statement of Decision and Permanent Injunction After Trial in People of the State of California and the City of Oakland v. Dodg Corporation, et al., a major win for the city in a case against a local real estate empire for systemic tenants’ rights violations.

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

Not only must the defendants now comply with tenant protection and health and safety laws at all of their properties, but they owe the city and their former tenants significant redress, including financial penalties to the city and compensation to tenants, for their years of unlawful activity.

Said City Attorney Barbara Parker, “Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost. No longer will businesses like Dodg Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

When the City Attorney’s Office brought the Dodg Corp. case in 2019, Oakland had long been facing an unprecedented housing crisis. By 2019, the housing crisis was disproportionately impacting low-income households, with nearly half of rental households in Oakland being rent-burdened (i.e., the household spends over 30% of its gross monthly income on rent).

Because of the skyrocketing rents, many low- and middle-income Oakland residents lived and still live under threat of displacement.

Prior to filing the case, the City Attorney’s Office had already worked with members of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office to pass various important laws focusing on protecting Oakland residents, particularly low- and middle-income residents. 

The City Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Council to adopt the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) in 2014, which was amended in 2020 to strengthen the TPO’s protections. But for some abusive landlords, neither the 2014 TPO nor its recent amendments were enough to stop their illegal activities.

For years, the defendants in the Dodg Corp. case owned and operated approximately 60 residential rental properties in the City of Oakland (and owned at least 70 more properties in the city). The lawsuit addressed their flagrant disregard for the letter and spirit of the law with respect to six specific rental properties, where the defendants subjected Oakland residents to grave health and safety risks. 

The owners’ activities included renting units in substandard conditions — including units never intended or approved for residential use — to tenants who were predominantly low-income immigrants, among them tenants whose primary language is not English. 

This predatory business model allowed the owners to profit from renting uninhabitable or dilapidated units, including units that posed severe and imminent fire risks, to tenants who were desperate to find affordable housing and who often lacked the resources to take legal action to defend their rights. 

When tenants were displaced from their homes because their units were so unsafe, the owners further violated the law by neglecting to make relocation payments required by local law, according to a media release from the City Attorney’s Office. 

The case went to trial in early April of this year. In its September 1 decision, the court held that the defendant corporate entities and individual defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder K. Mann exhibited a pattern and practice of violating the Tenant Protection Ordinance, and did so in bad faith, and that they created a public nuisance.

The verdict requires that defendants pay the City over $3.9 million in civil penalties for their egregious violations of tenants’ rights. Defendants must also provide long-overdue relocation payments to the dozens of tenants unlawfully displaced from the six properties at issue in this case. 

Going forward, defendants also may not operate any of their Oakland-owned residential properties in violation of local or state laws. This means the owners must promptly and competently address existing and future violations that jeopardize the well-being of their tenants.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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