Antioch Council adopts tenant anti-retaliation, harassment ordinance on split vote

Including two amendments by Thorpe, one by Ogorchock but she vote no

By Allen D. Payton

During their meeting Tuesday, July 25, 2023, the Antioch City Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting retaliation and harassment against residential tenants on a 3-1 vote. District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica who is a real estate broker and owns a property management company said, “upon advice of the city attorney I’m going to recuse myself from this item.” District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock was the lone vote against the ordinance.

The ordinance is in response to requests by multiple residents at previous council meetings beginning last year.

Mayor Lamar Thorpe temporarily handed the gavel to Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker to run the meeting. While he limited public comments to 90 seconds on other items, he said he couldn’t do that for this item as it was a public hearing which allows for five minutes per public speaker.

According to the City staff report regarding the associated costs, “adoption of the ordinance will have direct and indirect fiscal impacts if the City engages in enforcement of the ordinance, either through the code enforcement process or through litigation. The proposed Ordinance may be enforced by an aggrieved tenant, an organization or other entity that represents the interests of aggrieved tenants, or the City.

At a minimum, an assistant city attorney or deputy city attorney position plus administrative support would be necessary for the City Attorney’s Office to provide support services to the public for this ordinance.”

According to an attorney who spoke as the proponent, the ordinance includes three things.

“It needs a reasonable standard for the violation. This ordinance includes things that are unique to Antioch including towing cars. Finally, it has a third element, remedies that can be used when the landlord violates the ordinance. They include attorney’s fees so tenants don’t have to pay out of pocket.”

“Here, there are aspects to the landlord. Any violation has to be done in bad faith,” he continued. “Bad faith conduct is the base line.”

“If it’s frivolous the landlord can collect attorney’s fees from the tenant,” the attorney added.

“You’re going to hear it’s unnecessary, it’s duplicative and doesn’t do anything,” he stated.

“There’s a talking point that tenants just need to be educated and I find that offensive,” the attorney continued. “The tenants know their rights. These tenants know the law and they know their living conditions. Thank you for putting on a great ordinance, tonight.”

The opponent was a representative of the California Apartment Association, that represents property owners in Antioch and Contra Costa County.

“It does fail to recognize some existing anti-harassment that are codified in state law,” she said. “We are redefining harassment and creating landmines.”

Speaking of one portion of the ordinance she stated, “there is a presumption of guilt. This provision blurs the burden of proof. It’s contradictory.”

One section she claimed was a backdoor to rent control as it allows for the claim any rent increase could be considered harassment.

“We ask you to reject this…and move forward with an inclusionary process,” she concluded.

Public Comments

During public comments several landlords spoke against the proposed ordinance in its current form and asked for changes before the council adopted it.

The first speaker was Joe Stokely, Sr., a rental property owner in Antioch. “I stand here before you confused and irritated. What is being proposed will produce a complete opposite affect than what the council is trying to accomplish. Why would anyone want to invest and want to continue owning rental property in the city facing a hostile environment.“You presume…all landlords are bad.”

“Please don’t make me have to go through the process at my age of selling my properties and invest elsewhere,” he concluded.

Another speaker, Ranae Callaway, branch manager of a mortgage company and representing the Delta Association of Realtors. She pointed out the “severe fines against landlords” included in the ordinance. “The ordinance does not provide a clear definition of bad faith or who will define it.”

Another speaker named James, said “My family has lived here for 100 years. For over 60 years we have provided below-market rate rentals in District 1. During those 60 years we’ve had four evictions.”

He asked for a progressive ordinance that respects both landlords and tenants. Let’s take the opportunity to collaborate…to develop an ordinance that works for everyone.”

Aeysha Corio, a Realtor, landlord and a City of Concord Planning Commissioner, spoke next saying, “I went over this ordinance. I do believe there needs to be protections for tenants. But it is incredibly unbalanced.”

“You got to find another way to deal with people who are violating people’s rights,” she continued and said, “I feel like this polarization of tenant vs. landlord needs to go. We should be working together.”

Antioch landlord and Realtor, Scott MacIntyre spoke next saying, “We already have laws in California. I myself am a very ethical housing provider. I follow the law and expect the city to follow the law, too. There are 14,000 homes in Antioch that are rentals. Don’t lump us in with a few very bad landlords.”

“It’s very ambiguous…very broad interpretation. I agree with it. Just want to see it tightened up,” he added.

Millie Phillips, a faith organizer that does tenants’ rights work in Contra Costa County, thanked the council “for an ordinance we can support.”

“They’re not saying every landlord is the same. They’ve talked about very specific landlords,” she stated. “All over the state there are laws that protect tenants that are working and are not affecting people who are not harassing. So, I don’t see the issue. Don’t do that kind of behavior and this ordinance will never apply to you. This is directed at the bad actors.”

Joe Stokley, Jr., of Stokley Properties with over 100 rentals in Antioch said if the council passes the ordinance, he would sell his properties and invest elsewhere.

Almost all of the remaining speakers were tenants in favor of the ordinance, including several members of Rising Juntos (formerly known as East County Regional Group) and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action.

“You should take this up with corporate landlords who are making you look bad,” said another speaker to the landlords in attendance.

Speakers also asked for the council to adopt a Just Cause Eviction ordinance in September.

Council Discussion and Decision

During council discussion of the item Ogorchock spoke first saying, “My heart goes out to some of you who have to live in these conditions. But with this ordinance I do have some questions.”

She spoke of the difference between corporate ownership of rental property versus single-family homes.

“Bad faith needs to be defined because it’s in here, a lot,” she stated.

Ogorchock also spoke of part of the ordinance applying to single family homes and people who rent out rooms.

“Under presumption of guilt there’s no due process,” she continued.

“I don’t see in here anything about senior home care facilities,” Ogorchock stated.

“There is a lot of good, in here. But these are some of the things I’m pointing out,” she said.

“I also wrote in here, Measure O. Did we list any of these people paying under Measure O, did we advise them of these meetings?” Ogorchock asked.

She said the burden of proof shouldn’t all be on the owners and the fines in the ordinance were excessive.

“The complaints are mainly about the corporate owners,” Ogorchock explained. “Maybe we should be looking at changing some of the language in here, so it applies to corporate owners.”

She asked “for an ordinance that we can all live with.”

Torres-Walker said, “this is a hard decision to deal with. We have been dealing with this for three years. Mayor Thorpe attempted to have a meeting with landlords, non-profits. For some reason we couldn’t come to agreement at that point.”

“Not all landlords are slumlords,” she continued. “I’m one mortgage payment away from losing my house.”

“I feel like landlords abandoning their business in Antioch over public policy is trying to censor renters,” Torres-Walker continued. “I would hope those that do would work with first-time homebuyers.”

She then made a motion to approve the ordinance waiving the second reading with District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson seconding the motion.

Before the vote Thorpe asked questions about the sections of the ordinance

“I’m going to rent my guest room to a friend for six months. Does this mean I have to rent the room to someone else?” he asked.

“It’s providing a right to a renter to sublet to another,” City Attorney Thomas L. Smith said.

“What this is saying if I rent my home to a family, they can go sublet, even if I say they can’t do that?” Thorpe asked.

“A right to one-to-one replacement of a tenant. If you are a renter in a place and you have a roommate in a place, you would have the right to replace that roommate…with another person,” Smith responded.

“My concern is if I’m renting my house and I’m renting it to a family, and I say I just want this family…they have that right to rent out a guest room without my permission?” the mayor asked.

“It’s not that simple. You have a contract,” Smith explained. “It’s your contract that governs. But I will say with this provision your concern is who has that right. It is a fair concern to have.”

“I don’t think that’s right and the first thing I’m going to say is this is going to be a friendly amendment to change that provision,” Thorpe stated.

“Some of the landlords are concerned about subletting would automatically find the landlord out of compliance,” he then said.

“The housing services part was a concern if the definition allowed for unlimited subletting. If your amendment goes through it would be a moot point,” the representative for the California Apartments Association responded.

“The issue that was trying to be prevented, here is the landlord rents out to four people and two move out and the landlord requires the remaining tenants to pay the entire rent,” said the other attorney. “Generally, it’s one lease per rental unit. In a house you’ll have several tenants on one lease. This is not making landlord rent their guest rooms. This means one leaving one coming in.”

“The one-to-one thing, I’m still going to stick with my amendment,” Thorpe said.

“Oh, refuse to accept or acknowledge tenant’s payment. There were some valid points made here, today. We’re not supposed to accept rent during the eviction process,” he stated.

“You could add some language clarifying when landlords are going through the eviction process,” Smith responded.

“That will be my second amendment,” the mayor shared.

Ogorchock then asked Thorpe to add senior home care into the exemptions, to which he agreed.

“They would qualify under…hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, so it would make sense,” he stated.

Torres-Walker asked, “why” and “they’re renters?”

“Yes,” Ogorchock responded and explained how homes have five or six tenants, plus caregivers and live-in nurses.

Smith suggested a substitute motion with the mayor’s amendments which Torres-Walker did, seconded by Wilson and it passed 3-1 with Ogorchock voting no.

Torres-Walker then thanked Barbanica for recusing himself from the process, “which was absolutely the right thing to do.”

The audience erupted in cheers as they left the Council Chambers.

the attachments to this post:

Tenant anti-Harassment & Retaliation for Rent Sign

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