A little over a decade ago, the city of Oakland launched the Nuisance Eviction Ordinance--a law that gave the city the right to pursue eviction proceedings on renters based on drug or weapon charges. The new legislation was modeled after a pilot program adopted seven years prior by Los Angeles, which allowed the City Attorney to evict for arrests and illegal weapon possession. This past Wednesday the Oakland City Council unanimously approved a series of new laws proposed by City Attorney Barbara Parker, including one giving her--as well as landlords--the right to swiftly evict suspected sex workers.
While the reasoning behind the new ordinance may seem well-founded, critics worry that the new law--much like similar laws passed before it--neglects due process, lacks transparency and oversight and carries with it few protections for parties who have been wrongly evicted. Kriston Capps, who broke the story for CityLab, writes, “The bill does not describe the burden of proof the city needs to meet in order to apprise a landlord that a tenant has ‘engaged’ in an illegal activity. Nor does the bill stipulate whether this evidence (presuming some is required) is to be shared with the tenant.”
In other words, the suspected sex worker may not even be accused of practicing his or her trade on the property--merely the suspicion of keeping earnings on the property could be grounds for eviction. Wednesday evening’s vote also saw an expansion to the definition of “nuisance,” so that it now also includes gambling, prostitution and solicitation, leaving the door wide open for evictions based on weak or even entirely circumstantial evidence.
Though most of the pilot program originally adopted by Los Angeles in 1997 has now become state law, some fear that the Oakland City Attorney has expanded her powers for a slightly less honorable intention: gentrification. Strengthened by the recent passing of AB 2310, evictions could threaten tenants who have been charged with a past crime but later had charges dismissed or were proven innocent. In an interview with CityLab, supervising attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center Marc Janowitz told Kriston Capps, “Let’s face it, we’re talking about lower-income tenants who are most vulnerable, who have least access to legal services [...] By the city getting involved, it can only exacerbate an already very difficult situation for this population [...] I would be very surprised if the ordinance had any noticeable effect on diminishing the conduct at which it’s directed.”
Are you a renter? How would you feel if you could be evicted without due process? Could these laws have been enacted with the hope of pushing out lower-income tenants? If you happen to be a landlord, do these expanded state laws make you feel better about the ability to evict a problem tenant?
Kriston Capps, Staff Writer with The Atlantic’s sister publication CityLab. He broke the story.
Richard Illgen, Supervising Deputy City Attorney of Oakland
Tim Iglesias, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco School of Law (Specializing in fair housing)