CONCORD, CA (July 14, 2022) — As the City Council approved a new Residential Tenant Anti-Harassment Protection Ordinance, members emphasized their commitment to the greater good.
“I’ve heard too many stories of landlords being bad actors and too many stories of landlords violating the rights that tenants do have,” Mayor Dominic Aliano said on June 14, which marked the return of in-person meetings.
“And, yes, I do understand that there are many good landlords out there,” he added. “But we have to implement something like this to protect our community from certain landlords acting in bad faith.”
“The policy is simple. At the end of the day, it’s be kind to one another, respect one another and be fair,” said Councilmember Tim McGallian, who attended via Zoom.
The council formally approved the ordinance on June 28. The review process included working with tenant advocate groups like Raise the Roof Coalition and the Todos Santos Tenants Union as well as the California Apartment Association.
Almost 850 people participated in an online survey, with respondents indicating their greatest concerns regarding displacement included sudden rent increases and lease terminations – sometimes due to filing complaints or requesting repairs.
“It’s my sincere hope that this will lift the fear from people, and that people will feel comfortable coming forward if their roof is leaking or someone is taking away their parking space,” Councilmember Carlyn Obringer said.
According to city attorney Susanne Brown, the ordinance is a “laundry list of things that automatically constitute harassment” against the 40 percent of city residents who are renters.
The ordinance prohibits:
- Actions that violate or threaten a tenant’s “quiet enjoyment.” This includes conducting elective renovations or interior construction without written tenant permission and interrupting housing services or utilities unless required for safety reasons.
- Inactions that affect habitability. The ordinance lists the failure to perform timely repairs and maintenance to comply with federal, state, county and local housing, health and safety laws.
- Abusing the rights of access. Forbidden actions include entry for inspections not allowed by state law or unrelated to necessary repairs/services, entry outside normal business hours unless requested by tenant, entry despite a tenant’s reasonable request to change the time and misrepresenting entry to collect evidence against the tenant.
- Violations of a tenant’s right to privacy. Landlords cannot request information on things such as residency, citizenship, protected class and relationship status.
The ordinance addresses forced vacation, refusal to accept rent payments and interfering with tenant unions. It also forbids communicating with a tenant in a language other than English or the tenant’s primary language for the purpose of intimidation or confusion.
Help for immigrants
The rules came about as part of the city’s review of its Housing Element. Concord now joins the growing list of California cities addressing landlord harassment – including Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond.
“Concord is one step closer to being a place where immigrants, refugees and low-income neighbors can live in safe, stable homes,” said Debra Ballinger of Monument Impact. She said the Concord-based agency receives about 60 calls a month from tenants in need of support, many because of landlord harassment.
Craig Whittom, the city’s housing consultant, told the council that stakeholders wanted the ordinance to include remedies and penalties for violations.
“This provides authority for tenants to collect financial damages and any other relief that the court deems appropriate in the event a court finds a landlord has violated the ordinance,” he said.
Action was ‘imperative’
During public comment, David Schubb questioned the level of complaints the city has received and warned that the ordinance could lead to fewer rental units.
“When owning property becomes more trouble than it’s worth, it no longer makes sense to keep it. If it becomes riskier and/or punitive to be a property owner, it’s time to go,” said Schubb, president-elect of the Contra Costa Association of Realtors.
But Concord resident Laura Nakamura said the ordinance puts the city on the right track.
“When we heard about the brandishing of a gun in the face of a tenant last April, things took a very serious turn. I think it’s imperative that the voices of those most likely to be impacted by the harassment and the bad actors be the priority in this process,” she said.
Councilmember Laura Hoffmeister acknowledged that the rules will mean more paperwork for all landlords.
“Same thing happened when we came out with the Rental Registry program, and we’ve gotten through that hurdle,” she said. “But ultimately, this is something we can offer to make improvements to those 5, 10 percent of bad actors out there.”
“If you’re a good landlord and do things the right way, I believe you are not going to be truly affected by this,” the mayor noted.
Bev Britton graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota and moved to the Bay Area with her soon-to-be husband Jim in 1986. She was features editor at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek before becoming managing editor of the Contra Costa Sun in Lafayette in 1995. She retired from newsrooms in 2001, but an ad for the Clayton Pioneer drew her back in. The family moved to Lake Wildwood in the Gold Country a few years ago - but working at the Pioneer keeps her in touch with her old neighborhoods in Concord and Clayton.