Unlawful detainer (UD) actions against Alameda residents from January 1, 2014 to April 28, 2016 peaked at 12,000 — a blaring mark of increasingly common eviction disputes. The surge in UD actions is a troubling manifestation of the turbulent local market and escalating rental prices.
What’s behind the trend? Landlords are motivated to displace existing tenants in order to rent out the unit to a new tenant at a higher rate, heightening their income. However, the alarming number of UD actions is just a residual stain of the turmoil Alameda residents and landlords have been struggling with for the past few years.
Many of these UD actions are likely the result of no-fault or no-cause evictions — legal evictions resulting from something other than a tenant’s breach of an agreement, failure to pay rent or unlawful activity. For example, in a no-fault eviction, a landlord may evict a tenant so they can occupy the unit themselves or withdraw it from the rental market. In other words, a no-fault eviction occurs as a result of a landlord’s personal intention for the use of a unit, not through any action or fault of the tenant.
A no-cause eviction encompasses a landlord’s termination of a tenancy without needing to state or have good cause. For example, under the current Alameda rent ordinance, landlords may serve notice to vacate upon tenants for no-cause evictions so long as the rent for the successor tenant does not exceed 5% of what the evicted tenant was paying at the time notice was served.
However, tenants blindsided or struggling with relocation costs resulting from no-fault or no-cause evictions sometimes overstay their eviction date, becoming unlawful holdover tenants. (Of course, blatant holdover tenants who breached their rental or lease agreements — such as by failure to pay rent — make up a portion of the UD actions, too.)
In response to the escalating number of evictions, Alameda instituted a 65-day moratorium on no-cause evictions beginning November 4, 2015. However, the moratorium was porous, inadvertently causing severe backlash from local residents when a non-local landlord manipulated a capital improvement moratorium exemption to evict an entire community at Bayview Apartments.
Accordingly, the Alameda City Council attempted to remediate the communal dissonance by approving a modified rental ordinance in March 2016. The new ordinance implemented relocation assistance requirements for landlords enacting no-cause or no-fault evictions. The ordinance also implanted a rental review trigger for rent increases over 5% and limited rent increases to one increase per year.
Under the new ordinance, landlords need to provide relocation assistance equal to one month’s rent for each year the tenant resided in the unit (up to four years) plus $1,500.
Despite the seemingly forward step the ordinance takes in assisting displaced tenants, residents on both sides of the rent check have vocalized opposition to the modified ordinance. Tenants are still upset the ordinance did not instate a rent increase cap; landlords blanch at the prospect of funding considerable relocation costs.
Proposed solutions to Alameda’s crisis
Tenants seeking to combat the dissatisfying ordinance continue calling for rent control measures. The Alameda Renters Coalition (ARC) submitted to the city council a proposed amendment to the ordinance capping rent increases at 65% of the percentage increase in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Consumer Price Index (CPI).
However, rent control is difficult to implement without triggering negative side effects, especially when eviction rates are already high. Landlords shackled by rent control are more inclined to rid their properties of long-term tenants so they can raise rent for successor tenants. (Recall the aforementioned Bayview Apartments eviction.) Thus, rent control doesn’t barricade against gentrification and the premature displacement of tenants.
Also, developers are less likely to build in areas where the amount of rent they can demand is restricted. With no new construction and unsustainable rental costs, displaced tenants will seek refuge elsewhere, eventually enticing businesses to follow their lost employees and customers.
On the other hand, landlords faced with relocation costs are requesting a distinction between larger or corporate rental properties and smaller, locally-owned rental properties. “Mom-and-pop” landlords, including retirees, who may not have raised rents as voraciously as non-local corporations will struggle to afford relocation payments which can easily exceed their net rental income. This is particularly troubling for landlords seeking to inhabit their own property due to escalating costs of living elsewhere throughout the Bay Area.
These landlords want to limit relocation assistance to low- and moderate-income tenants only. Landlords also seek to be exempted from paying relocation assistance when they displace tenants only to occupy the premises themselves — an exemption to which the ARC takes hearty offense. Landlords have been caught abusing owner-occupancy loopholes to increase rent for successor tenants, and may do the same to avoid relocation expenses.
Resolution on the distant horizon
When each step forward prompts one or the other sect of Alameda’s rental community to cry foul, resolution seems impossible. Can’t we all just get along?
Time will tell. For now, the ARC and its supporting residents have to wait until the city’s November ballot to see the enactment of any ordinance modification. Until then, landlords and property managers need to carefully weigh the costs of relocating a tenant against the potential benefits of taking in new tenants at a higher rental rate.
As for the rest of California, take heed: the dire straits Alameda and other Bay Area cities like Oakland find themselves in signify the consequences to come if change isn’t made to accommodate the growing need for more, less expensive housing. Modifications to restrictive zoning codes are tantamount to pave the way for easier permitting and higher density. Expanding residential zoning will establish a much needed balance between the wants of both developers and residents, infusing the rest of the state with greater stability in the process.