Antioch councilwomen claim tenants are being harassed, face eviction, want new protection ordinances

Antioch District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker speaks as Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson (far right) and others, including representatives of Contra Costa County’s chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment listen at the press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. Photo from her official Facebook page.

Hold press conference to ask Mayor Thorpe to place tenant anti-harassment and just cause for eviction policies on next meeting agenda; fail to invite local media; council members and mayor refuse to answer questions about the proposals

By Allen Payton

On Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson and District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker held a press conference to highlight claims of Antioch renters getting harassed by their landlords and facing eviction, and call on Mayor Lamar Thorpe to place both an anti-harassment and a just cause for eviction ordinances on the next council meeting agenda. The councilwomen did not invite local media to attend.

A KTVU FOX2 news article from the press conference reports, “they were joined by members of Contra Costa County’s chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which has campaigned for similar tenant anti-harassment ordinances in other cities.” A similar anti-harassment ordinance was adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in June. According to the ordinance, “violation of the ordinance can be either a criminal misdemeanor (up to 6 months in jail or a $1,000 fine for each offense), or a civil violation (damages, rent refunds for reduction in housing services, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, fine of up to $10,000 per violation, or tenant relocation)”.

Tenant protections against eviction, rent increases and late fees ended in Contra Costa County on Sept. 30. The Board of Supervisors on a 2-3 vote chose not to extend the protections. (See related article)

The state’s protections also ended Sept. 30.

KTVU also reported Thorpe said, “I personally have concerns with Antioch tenants being harassed, especially during the pandemic, so conceptually, I agree with these protections.”

On her official Facebook page, on Oct. 12, Torres-Walker posted the following statement about the effort with photos from the press conference, including three people who spoke, besides the two councilwomen.

“Antioch had the highest rate of evictions out of any Bay Area city during the pandemic, and researchers are predicting it is likely to be a hotspot for evictions after the statewide eviction moratorium lifts. Sadly the highest concentration of evictions in Antioch has been in District 1.

In September I requested that an anti-displacement policy be brought to the council for immediate action as Statewide and County-wide moratoriums were coming to an end and renters facing eviction were calling on us as city leaders to do something. I was honored to have the support of mayor pro tem Monica Wilson who back up that request last month stating that she as well wanted to see policies around anti-landlord harassment and just cause evictions to be brought to the council.

In July I met with over 20 residents in the River Town [sic] area who were facing eviction and devastated about their family’s future I met with even more residents in the Sycamore community who had the same concerns that their families would end up on the streets.

The government assistance that was promised to make renters and landlords whole has been slow to reach the ground, slow to meet the need, and moratoriums have only been a band-aid for a larger issue around housing access and affordability in the region.

Proposed policies:

Anti-Harassment Ordinance

An anti-harassment ordinance defines certain bad-faith landlord behaviors as unlawful harassment. Tenants can then enforce their rights against landlords who engage in these behaviors. Harassment can include lack of repairs, a landlord not taking care while doing construction or other repairs, discriminatory behavior like sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or disability discrimination, a landlord threatening to report tenants to immigration authorities, a landlord threatening violence, and other behaviors designed to make tenants’ lives more difficult or cause them to leave their homes. If a tenant wins in court, their landlord will pay damages and their attorneys’ fees.

Harassment of tenants is a way for some landlords to circumvent other legal tenant protections. When some landlords can’t legally evict a tenant to raise the rent, they will instead harass the tenant until they have no choice but to leave their home. This makes existing tenant protections less effective.

An anti-harassment ordinance removes the financial incentive for harassment by adding penalties for bad actor landlords. Landlords who don’t harass tenants don’t need to worry about the anti-harassment ordinance because they won’t need to change their behavior to comply with it. Instead, an anti-harassment ordinance promotes neighborhood stability and safe and healthy housing.

Just Cause Supplements

Tenants also need effective eviction protections to remain in their homes. The statewide just cause for eviction law, AB 1482, contains several eviction loopholes that allow landlords to evict tenants for ‘no-fault’ reasons and then re-rent the unit at a higher rent once the tenants have been forced out. To prevent unscrupulous actors from using these ‘building clearing’ loopholes, a city can pass a “just cause” supplement.

‘No fault’ evictions can happen to tenants who are paying their rent and complying with their lease. ‘Substantial renovation’ and ‘removal from the rental market’ are examples of two ‘no-fault’ types of evictions that, unless regulated, can result in tenant displacement.

Under the substantial renovation loophole, a landlord can evict a tenant under state law to remodel their unit, and the tenant has no right of return. In contrast, under a local just cause supplement, a tenant may only be required to temporarily move out, once the landlord has secured all necessary building permits, and can return at the same rent amount once the repairs are made.

Similarly, under the ‘withdrawal’ loophole, state law allows a landlord to evict a tenant to remove a property from the rental market for an unspecified amount of time. But under a local just cause ordinance designed to prevent unfair evictions, the removal must be long-term (ten years), give the tenant additional notice, and allow the tenant to return at the same rent if the property is re-rented.

These ‘building clearing’ loopholes, when used by unscrupulous actors, can put entire neighborhoods at risk. However, the loopholes can be easily closed under an ordinance to stop pretextual evictions and prevent displacement.”

Questions for Councilwomen, Mayor

Questions were sent to the councilwomen and mayor early Friday morning asking, what landlords are harassing tenants? In apartments or single-family residences? How many and which tenants were or are being harassed? What do they mean by harassment? Requiring they pay their rent or face eviction? Or was their rent raised or late fees assessed illegally up until Sept 30 when the county protections for tenants ended? Did any of you, including Mayor Thorpe, speak with any of the landlords to get their side of the story? Was it anything to do with COVID that the tenants couldn’t pay their rent or some other reason the tenants were facing eviction?

In response to Torres-Walker’s Facebook post more questions were asked, including, what can the City of Antioch actually do to enforce such an ordinance? Can a general law city, like Antioch, adopt and enforce a just cause evictions ordinance (like Los Angeles, which is a charter city)? Do you have a sample of one you can provide? Would the city sue the landlord or help the tenant sue their landlord? Can the city fine the property owner?”

In addition, Saturday night, questions were posted below the photos on Torres-Walker’s Facebook post asking who are the other that spoke during the press conference and appear in the photos and what did they say.

Thorpe responded Friday morning, but only with “Please remove me from this discussion. This press conference was put together by these two Council members not me. They have requested these items come before council so let’s be cognizant of the Brown Act.”

The same questions were then immediately resent to just the two councilwomen, and a separate email was sent to the mayor.

The questions were resent, again early Sunday morning, Oct. 17 to the councilwomen and mayor, in two separate emails. As of Sunday night, none of the three had responded to the questions from the Herald.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.

the attachments to this post:

Torres-Walker speaks at press conf. 10-12-21

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