Ellis Act Evictions on the Rise in Oakland

Monday, December 7, 2015
Steve Tavares
East Bay Express

The number of Ellis Act evictions in Oakland has more than doubled in the past six months, according to the city’s rent adjustment program manager. And without greater compensation awarded to tenants to relocate to another apartment in Oakland, renters may not be able to afford to remain in the city.

Last Thursday, the Oakland City Council scheduled a proposed amendment to the city’s Ellis Act ordinance to be heard on December 15 in the community and economic development committee. The amendment would require landlords who evict tenants under the Ellis Act to pay displaced tenants about $8,000 a unit, plus $2,500 for homes with minor children, seniors, and disabled people. Currently, only low-income tenants in Oakland evicted under the Ellis Act receive relocation payments.

The proposed payment structure, according to a city staff report, will help displaced renters cover the first and last month’s rent for new apartments — which now average about $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom unit — and help with other fees and expenses associated with moving in to a new place. The amount, if approved, would be far higher than neighboring San Francisco, where landlords pay $5,555 per unit in relocation fees, along with an additional $3,700 for each tenant that is a senior or disabled. Landlords in Berkeley pay $8,700 per unit, along with another $5,000 if the tenant has lived in the apartment since before 1999. An additional $2,500 is also applied for homes that include seniors, disabled people, or minors.

The Ellis Act is a state law that allows a landlord to evict all the tenants in an entire building when the landlord intends to change the use or description of the building — for instance, converting the property from a rental building to condominiums. However, the law is often used in places like San Francisco to clear out rental control-protected tenants in order to attract new renters willing to pay far higher market-rate rents.

Connie Taylor, the manager for the city’s Rent Adjustment Program, told the Oakland City Council Rules Committee that the inclusion of all tenants in the city ordinance is overdue and should have been amended years ago. No additional payments are required for tenants who are seniors, the disabled, or families with children. And no moving costs are available for tenants. “With what’s going on with high rents, people displaced this way, need to have a chance to, at least, have enough money to move to another place,” preferably to remain in Oakland, said Taylor. “I have to do my best to keep people from being displaced.”

In most years, the program typically handles about four Ellis Act evictions for the entire fiscal year, said Taylor. But, this year fiscal year, ten are pending since July 1. “Whenever I see trend like that,” Taylor said in an interview, “it makes me very nervous.”

But some councilmembers, including Larry Reid and Lynette Gibson McElhaney, expressed concern about moving the proposal forward, noting that Mayor Libby Schaaf’s special cabinet on housing is due to make a series of recommendations on housing sometime in January. Initially, the council pushed the Ellis Act amendment to an undetermined date next month, but Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan clarified that the housing cabinet’s recommendation is to move to January a different Ellis Act-related proposal, including new regulations, for instance, when owners move in to their own units. Reid, who is also the chair of the community and economic development committee, reluctantly agreed to schedule the item during what appears to be a lengthy end-of-the year meeting next week.



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