A new ordinance requires Oakland landlords to tell tenants their rights before paying or giving them other compensation to move out.
The ordinance, approved by the City Council on Feb. 6, aims to regulate so-called “move out” agreements that are often done to circumvent state and local legal requirements and restrictions. It requires landlords to submit the agreements to the city’s rent adjustment program.
“Oakland’s rising rents have exacerbated tensions between property owners and tenants residing in units that are rent-controlled or covered by Oakland’s just cause for eviction ordinance,” a report by the city attorney’s office says. “By emptying their units, property owners can attempt to increase their return on their investment by selling the property or re-renting the units at a higher rate. Property owners who seek to expedite this process may enter into move-out agreements with tenants who are not aware of the full extent of their legal rights under state and local law.”
The ordinance is supposed to go into effect May 1, though city administrators may extend the date if the city’s forms will not be available by then. The ordinance does not apply to existing move-out agreements.
Councilman Dan Kalb, who co-sponsored the legislation with Councilman Abel Guillen and the city attorney’s office, said giving tenants a list of their rights and allowing them to back out of the agreements within 30 days “evens the playing field.”
“To have a sense of balance between landlord and tenant, each party must have all the information available as to what the rules are,” Kalb told the Oakland Tribune. “If one side doesn’t have as much information, that’s a competitive disadvantage. We want to make sure people are fully informed, and this ordinance is a way to make sure that happens.”
In a form prescribed by the city, landlords will be required to disclose the following information:
- That a tenant has the right to refuse to enter into a move-out agreement.
- That the landlord is not allowed to retaliate against a tenant for refusing to enter into a move-out agreement.
- That a tenant can choose to talk to a lawyer before entering into a move-out agreement.
- That if the landlord offers to pay the tenant to vacate the unit more than once in the six months after a tenant refuses to enter into a move-out agreement, the landlord would be considered harassing the tenant.
- That a tenant has 30 days after the move-out agreement is made to back out of it, unless a new tenant already has right to occupy the unit or if the decision to rescind the agreement is not unanimous among the unit’s other tenants.
- The tenants’ eligibility for relocation payments, and how much they are entitled to.
- That a tenant can find more information about tenants’ rights and tenants’ assistance organizations at the city’s rent adjustment program office or website.
- That market-rate rents in the area may be significantly higher than what the tenant was paying, and the tenant may want to check rental rates for comparison before entering into a move-out agreement.
Landlords who fail to comply with the new ordinance are subject to penalties. The penalties will be higher for landlords of tenants who are elderly, disabled or “catastrophically ill” — both disabled and suffering from a life-threatening illness.
Landlords are expected to keep records of the move-out agreement and disclosure form for five years. If the tenant entering into the agreement is fluent in Spanish or Chinese and cannot proficiently speak English, the owner is expected to make copies of the disclosures in their preferred language.
The ordinance also requires the move-out agreements to offer tenants more money than the amount they’re entitled to under state, local or federal relocation payment laws.
If the tenant later finds that the agreement fails to comply with the ordinance, he or she may rescind the agreement for up to six months. The landlord must either offer the unit back to the tenant within five days of receiving a rescission notice, or respond to the tenant with reasons why the agreement may not be rescinded.
Anyone who fails to comply with the ordinance may be issued an administrative citation for a first offense. A landlord who violates the ordinance multiple times may be subject to civil penalties for each violation.
A tenant, as well as the city attorney’s office, may sue the landlord for violating provisions of the ordinance.