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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oakland Will Now Force Landlords to Evict Sex Workers

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 9:33 AM

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Oakland can now force landlords to evict sex workers from their homes under new changes to an existing Oakland law. 

At the recommendation of Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker, the Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to expand The Nuisance Eviction Ordinance which requires landlords to evict certain tenants over allegations of drug dealing or weapons crimes, and gives the City Attorney's Office the power to order such evictions. 

But the City Council is has now expanded its eviction powers to include "prostitution-related crimes," gambling, and the possession of certain ammunition. If the city orders an eviction, the landlord must pay for it — and can be cited by the city for maintaining a nuisance if he or she does not move to evict the tenant. 

Troubling as it is, the law does not specify whether a tenant must be convicted or merely accused of a prostitution-related offense, infringing on Oaklanders' due process rights. Landlords already have the power to evict tenants accused of using their units for illegal activity, but the ordinance gives this power to the city as well. City officials rely on police records to determine which tenants should be evicted, meaning a tenant may have been arrested for a prostitution-related crime but never convicted. In a letter to the City Council regarding the amendments to the ordinance, Parker acknowledged that, previously, her office would have to seek a court order to demand that a landlord evict a tenant. The amended ordinance eliminates this court oversight; however, the eviction would still have to proceed through court if the tenant decided to fight it.

The amendments target individuals who work as prostitutes more severely than those who gamble or possess ammunition. Among the reasons the city can force a tenant's eviction are "making contacts on the premises with 'Johns' and prostitutes for prostitution activity off-premises" and "keeping profits on the premises from off-premises from [sic] acts of prostitution." However, the law does not state that calling someone to arrange a gambling session or keeping gambling profits at home are grounds for an eviction. 

Once the city orders a landlord to evict a tenant, the landlord has 25 days to act. The city will provide the landlord with information about the tenant's alleged crimes (either the landlord or the tenant can request to view the evidence, but it is not released unless requested). Landlords and tenants alike can appeal to the city if they believe there is not enough evidence to force an eviction.

The Nuisance Eviction Ordinance was enacted in 2004 and modeled on a similar Los Angeles pilot program. At the time, the law was criticized for its vagueness. Anne Omura, an attorney at Oakland's Eviction Defense center, told the Los Angeles Times that the ordinance was "unconscionable." Omura said, "We feel that it just really tramples on the rights of tenants and doesn't give them a lot of due process."

On Sept. 15, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a similar law for Alameda, Sacramento, and Los Angeles counties that requires evictions based on weapons or ammunition charges in Oakland, Sacramento, Long Beach, and Los Angeles. The expansion comes at a time when rising rent prices and Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco have triggered a middle-class exodus to Oakland, causing prices to rise in the neighboring city as well. 

In today's rental market, tenants need all the protection they can get. But Oaklanders are getting a little less.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that, although the City Attorney no longer needs to seek a court order to demand that a landlord evict a tenant, a court would still oversee the eviction process itself. 

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Kate Conger

Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.

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