Antioch moves forward with new tenant protections

Antioch moves forward with new tenant protections

In yet another move to strengthen tenant protections, the Antioch City Council this week approved a new set of rules to ensure against landlord retaliation and harassment.

The action came after more than a year of tenants and supporters advocating for help and after the council considered a draft review and later approved a first reading of revised ordinance in July. That version, however, advanced with changes on its second reading with Councilwoman Monica Wilson absent, Councilman Mike Barbanica recusing himself and Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock dissenting, requiring it to return for a first reading.

On Tuesday, though, after hearing more than two hours of public comments and discussion, the City Council voted 3-to-1 to approve the latest version of rules, with Ogorchock dissenting and Barbanica again recusing himself.

“This legislation that we’re voting on today is not the exact same one as it was a few weeks ago,” Thorpe said. “…The implication here is about the landlord’s intent in terms of bad faith. No one is going to jail under this legislation. There is no provision for jail time. … There is no presumption of guilt in this legislation. Absolutely not. We have fixed that…

“This is about the landlord’s intent if it’s in bad faith, which by the way, is on the tenant to prove that,” he added.

City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith said the new rules will address landlord threats of rent increases when tenants request repairs, improper landlord towing of vehicles, landlord verbal abuse and psychological harm while protecting tenants’ rights to organize and requiring notices be given in a tenant’s spoken language.

And, although state law prohibits harassment of tenants with the intent to get them to leave their home, the city’s proposed anti-harassment rule goes further addressing harmful landlord actions done in “bad faith” or for a reason that’s difficult to prove.

“Disappointed we have to do this again, but the silver lining is that we can make a wonderful ordinance even more wonderful tonight,” proponent Ethan Silverstein, a tenant advocate and attorney with ACCE Institute, told the council.

Silverstein urged the council to strike out a provision excluding senior residential home care facilities, saying it’s discriminatory.

“We shouldn’t be in the practice of saying, ‘This law applies to everyone except certain elderly people,’ and certain elderly people who maybe receive health care treatment, which could have some disability implications.”

The right to replace a tenant when one moves out also has been misunderstood, Silverstein said. He noted that it’s already been on the books for a year as part of the rent stabilization rules and urged that it be retained.

“It has nothing to do with a landlord and their right to choose the tenants who move into a vacant unit,” he said. “What it does have to do with is if you have three tenants in one unit, one leaves the tenant has a right to bring one back in.”

Attorney Rhovy Lyn Antonio of the California Apartment Association, though, said that all of her objections heard over the past month still stand.

“The CAA continues to take the position that this ordinance is not necessary as it is duplicative of existing laws that already provide robust protections for renters against retaliation, discrimination and harassment,” she said.

Her group’s objections included a provision that gives nonresidents, such as tenant advocates, the right to access to a property to organize.

“The city would have no control to curb or dictate the conduct of how these groups or individuals would behave when they’re at the property or during their interaction with any other residents or apartment staff,” she said.

Antonio also asked that here is no language in the ordinance about jail time for those who do not comply.

Thirty residents, tenant advocates and landlords also spoke, some asking for more clarity in the ordinance’s language, others sharing stories about being harassed or retaliated against.

“This is a very crucial piece of policy that we all need in the community,” Devin Williams, an ACCE Action community organizer, said.

Williams also had words for the handful of small landlords who showed up to oppose the proposal.

“To the small landlords that come here, your fight is not with the tenants,” he said. “It’s not with us who are organizing. Your fight is with the hedge funds, the corporations that make you guys look bad and scare you guys into submission to the CAA.”

Soli Alpert of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board said Berkeley has a similar law.

“It may surprise you to know the sky did not fall,” he said. “We are not carting landlords off to jail in vast numbers, and hordes of tenant organizers and aren’t storming every building in the city of Berkeley. What this ordinance will do is provide protection for people who are organizing.”

One landlord asked why include seniors when they are already protected by federal laws.

Another landlord complained that if the city makes it hard for them, they will leave, meaning less housing.

During the council discussion that followed, Torres-Walker said she would have preferred that the CAA would have encouraged corporate landlords, rather than small property owners, to come speak to the council.

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“All those people are on vacation right now, while small landlords who are also hardworking – and may not even be impacted by this ordinance –have been dragged to this meeting,” she said.

Ogorchock said she agreed with the ordinance, “but there needs to be some changes,” noting single-family residences and senior care homes should be excluded.

“The exemption means the following rentals are exempt from restrictions and requirements of this chapter,” she said. “They’re safe, the seniors are safe. We added that in here to make sure that the senior rental units and hospital skilled nursing facilities, senior residential home care facilities or health facilities, these don’t apply to them.”

Thorpe asked for clarification of language, so landlords aren’t penalized for towing a vehicle if the owner has violated a law. He also asked that the ordinance be worded so no one misunderstands that the city isn’t forcing landlords to open their property to tenant organizers but if tenants host them, they have to be allowed.

But in regards to the exclusion for seniors facilities, the mayor struck that out when he moved to approve the tenant protections, and audience members cheered loudly in response as they left the meeting.