Eviction without conviction


root - Posted on 02 August 2004

Tenants Outraged By Nuisance Eviction Ordinance as Oakland Strives To Be The City Of Intolerance

by Lynda Carson

Oakland CA--In a move that is certain to please
bankers, realtors, landlords and developers, on March
16, Oakland's City Council moved another step closer
to ensure that the notorious Nuisance Eviction
Ordinance (NEO), may soon be used to weaken long
established eviction protections for all of Oakland's
renters.

The Nuisance Eviction Ordinance (NEO), requires
landlords to evict anyone that is targeted and deemed
to be a nuisance by the City of Oakland. Renters need
not be arrested, cited or convicted of anything to
face eviction under the NEO.

Despite the loud boisterous objections of a well
organized crowd of opponents to the NEO, landlords and
City Officials took pains to create the impression
that Oakland's renters may be a bunch of pimps,
prostitutes, and violent drug dealers before the 6 to
1 vote in favor of the tweaked version of the NEO took
place before an outraged citizenry. The new NEO
version comes back on April 6 before the City Council
for a final vote and passage into law.

As the heated rhetoric over the NEO recently exploded
into a public debate, Deputy City Attorney Richard
Illgen became the front man to promote the NEO by
exclaiming that Oakland's renters have illegal
activities going on all around them and needed
protection. Renters and their supporters opposed to
the NEO responded and challenged City Officials to
address the real needs of society and to stop
pandering to special interests that may profit by
those that demonize the poor.

According to Vivian Lee and Sitara Nieves of Critical
Resistance, "The NEO, as it's currently written,
permits eviction without conviction -- and without an
appeals process. With little due process, evictions
could be initiated by a disgruntled neighbor or, in
the case of landlords, for financial gain. Property
rights advocates should be concerned that landlords
would be forced to evict their tenants based on mere
hearsay from the police or other neighbors," said Lee
and Nieves.

Tuesday's City Hall meeting was packed with a loud
energetic crowd that repeatedly chanted, "No On
N-E-O," before the NEO vote took place, and
Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente on several
occaisions threatened to chase everyone out of the
chamber if they continued their chants. Some were
removed from the council chamber by the Police as the
evening wore on.

At least 35 speakers were signed up to voice their
support or opposition to the NEO, and many represented
progressive organizations on behalf of the renters,
while others represented landlords or different
factions of the Neighborhood Crime Prevention
Council's known as the NCPC's. By far, the majority of
the speakers were opposed to the NEO.

Landlord Sylvester Grisbey, addressed the council to
say, "I support the NEO because it will save me money,
and help clean up the community. It cost me $2,000 to
evict a drug dealer from my property, and the NEO
gives landlords the opportunity to have the power."

Indeed, under the NEO, Oakland subsidizes the eviction
of renters for the landlords. The designated case
manager and the City Attorney's Office will
administratively collect the evidence used against the
renters. They will create files on renters from a
source of snitches and information provided by the
Police or public agencies and may freely offer the
files to the landlords evicting their renters.

The NEO gives landlords the power to get around well
established renter's protections and subsidizes
evictions in the process.

Oakland's version of the NEO is much more draconian
than the version used in Los Angeles (LA), and records
show that most renters that were served eviction
notices under the NEO in LA, never bothered to fight
the eviction and left after receipt of 3 Day, 30 Day,
or 60 Day Notices.

The Nuisance Eviction Ordinance is Oakland's latest
scheme by City Officials to scapegoat Oakland's
renters as a bunch of criminals, and no evidence was
presented at the council meeting to back up their
assertions. The NEO does not apply to homeowners
selling dope from their residence, and the children of
homeowners do not have to fear from being evicted if
their suspected of illegal drug related activity.

It's the newest reason being used to weaken or
demolish a well established body of state and local
renter's protections that have been agreed upon in the
terms of a lease or month to month rental agreement
for renters in commercial properties, condominiums and
apartments.

It is another part of the master plan to gentrify
Oakland on behalf of the monied interests that have
corrupted the balance of power in favor of the
realtors, landlords, bankers and developers.

Ever since Measure EE, Oakland's eviction protections
went into effect on December 27, 2002, Oakland's City
Council has moved as quickly as possible to weaken
eviction protections and rent control for one reason
or another.

Underlying all the different reasons being used to
attack renter's protections, a June 10, 2003 city
staff report gets to the heart of the matter. The
staff report covers the subject of properties that
become exempt from renter's protections. The report
concludes that properties may be sold at a higher
premium when becoming exempt from renter's protections
because it allows purchasers of property to qualify
for higher loans based upon the increased cash flow at
those properties, and will in turn increase the sale
price of the properties.

As stated in the NEO Summary signed by Councilman
Larry Reid, in part it is being sold to the public as
an economic reason to positively impact the value of
Oakland neighborhoods by evicting renters that may be
accused of illegal drug related activity.

A search of the records show that violent crime levels
in Oakland are down by 8% during the past year. Drug
related arrests have consistantly dropped from a high
of 11,405 arrests in 1990 to a low of under 4,000
arrests during February of 2003 through February of
2004. Since 1969, burglary and robbery have been at
their lowest levels during 2000 through all of 2002,
and theres no evidence or statistics showing that
evicting renters is a deterrent to murder.

Northern California ACLU staff attorney Julie Moss
said,"The language of the ordinance is so vague that
tenants will not know what they have to do to avoid
having eviction proceedings brought against them. You
don't actually have to be engaged in illegal drug
activity, you only have to have activity that usually
accompanies drug activity in order to say you have a
drug related nuisance. So, people not involved in drug
activity could get caught up by this ordinance."

"People that are not creating a nuisance, but may be
dealing with a drug addiction in the privacy of their
own apartment are also included in this ordinance, and
the ACLU urges the council to vote against the NEO,"
said Moss.

The NEO takes away well established renter's
protections, and even goes as far as to offer cover
for wrongful evictions because Section J says
evictions are deemed to be done in good faith. The
latest version of the NEO being trotted out, offers
one new exception, and if the tenant being evicted can
prove that the landlord withheld evidence showing
their innocense, then the tenants may have the right
to sue the landlord for a wrongful eviction.

Adam Gold of Just Cause Oakland denounced the NEO
before the council vote took place and said, "We're
tired of the council carting out these trojan horse
ordinances that hurt the tenants. We can't put our
faith in an ordinance that can be used to abuse the
rights of Oakland's renters and we oppose the NEO."

Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) member
Gloria Jeffrey said, "I represent the Mac Arthur NCPC
and we have a bunch of neighborhood commitees, groups,
citizen bands, and NCPC's collecting evidence. Thats
what we've been doing. We are on the streets, we're
the ones that are filling up books and books and
books, and are taking pictures of criminal activities
happening out on the streets."

Councilwoman Jean Quan is all for the NEO and insulted
the community by stating that people should have read
the ordinance before speaking out against it. She then
lamented that she knows people in the NCPC's that are
being threatened for their activities (snitching on
neighbors) in Oakland. She went on to mentioned a
woman she knows in the NCPC that has people showing up
on her portch to intimidate her family, and that
someone else she knows in the NCPC had a daughter
threatened while in the laundry room of their building
by one of their neighbors.

Rose Braz of Critical Resistance said, "We just heard
from a woman talking about neighbors snitching out on
each other. This ordinance relies on neighbors
snitching out each other to be effective! It turns
people in communities against one another.
Homelessness does not build safer communities. Housing
is not easy to find in Oakland, and you need to create
more access to housing instead of creating more
homelessness with the NEO."

Councilwoman Nancy Nadel said this ordinance does
nothing to affect the problems of poverty that force
people into criminal activity just to survive and that
all it does is punish them.

Steve Edrington of the Rental Housing Association of
Northern Alameda County said, "I support the NEO, and
if your causing trouble in Oakland, you gotta go! Not
every one deserves the right to have protections in
Oakland."

Jonah Zern a school teacher that is with the Education
Not Incarceration (ENI) Coalition said, "Closing
schools and kicking people out of their homes is the
same issue. Listen to the message of the ENI. We're
asking for social programs for our community. We're
asking you to create an inclusive community, not a
divisive community that kicks out the poor for the
well being of the wealthy."

At times, thunderous applause came from the packed
chamber as one speaker after another got their point
across to the councilmembers, and at times Councilman
De La Fuente appeared to do his best to frustrate some
of the speakers or use up their time to antagonize
them.

Judy Appel from the Drug Policy Alliance was cut short
by De La Fuente several times as she said, "This
problem cannot be solved through a law that is fraught
with constitutional and statuary pitfalls, and the
Drug Policy Alliance opposes the NEO." The crowd
yelled out in a roar several times by saying, let her
speak when De La Fuente tried to stop her in mid
stream.

Olivia Prater of the Black Student Union at Laney
College said, "I feel that this is a conservative Jim
Crow law, and I also feel that the school system is a
conservative Jim Crow program. People need a good
education and you should consider that, because now I
see all of you with white sheets over your head."

The Councilmembers appeared to be unmoved from their
position as the majority of speakers denounced the NEO
and rose to the occaision in opposition to this
ordinance that appeared to be promoting homelessness
as a means to solve Oaklands problems.

As it turned out, Councilwoman Jane Brunner leapt from
abstaining on the NEO during the February 17 vote, and
came around to supporting it this time around.

Jorge Aguilar of the Eviction Defense Center said, "It
is unconscionable! It's unfair to tenants, overly
broad, and likely to be unconstitutional."

"I think this is awful public policy, said Sitara
Nieves. Nieves who has a Bachelors Degree in
Comparative Religions, is one of the organizers from
Critical Resistance that helped to fill up the council
chambers with people in opposition to the NEO. "This
will make Oakland less safe and it's not a solution to
Oakland's drug wars," said Nieves.

In contrast to many others, Michael Collins said, "The
residents of the Oaks Hotel are all prostitutes, pimps
and drug addicts, and everyone should drive over to
15th and Jefferson Streets to see all the action
happening over there."

Like a pit bull ready for a fight, macho Layla
Montarch marched up to the podium and she said, "I
represent alot of neighborhoods and I do alot of work
in this area of drug abatement. Evidence is coming
from my neighbor people who are out there with log
sheets and cameras to record the activities. We're not
going to have drug dealers anymore in Oakland," she
said, as she swaggered away from the podium like an
angry Drill Sergeant with a bad hangover.

Local figure Hugh Bassett, said, "I must be getting
old because I used to be on the same side as all the
people here that are in opposition to the NEO. I'm a
homeowner now, and I support the NEO."

"I live in a neighborhood with drugs and criminal
activity," said Demetria McCain-Higgins.
McCain-Higgins exclaimed that she has relatives that
have fallen into the hands of those dealing drugs and
have had friends that have been improperly arrested,
tried and convicted, and she opposes the NEO. "I'm
against the NEO because I understand from reading it
that it's fraught with problems. Your the government
and you only get one bite, and you don't get two
bites. Let the criminal justice system take it's
course. If the tenant gets arrested they have a fifth
amendment right, but you want them to defend
themselves in an administrative setting. This is only
going to throw people on the streets, and not solve
any safety issues." Vote no on the NEO," she said.

Periodically, Councilman De La Fuente would start
calling out names again to get speakers lined up to
speak their piece, and then he would go back to
interrupting them as the clock was quickly ticking by,
and the crowd would start up again with another chant
saying, No On N-E-O, No On N-E-O, NO On N-E-O, No On
N-E-O.

Dorcey Nunn had his turn and said, "I oppose the NEO
because theres not any real evidence and it's based on
allegations and not convictions. Your getting ready to
deny people housing in Oakland without having a
conviction! This is outrageous behavior, and will push
people of color out of Oakland."

Elder Freeman says, "We need to deal with the source
of the drugs coming into the community, not to go
after it once it's been spread throughout the city.
Talk to Bush and his daddy, their dope dealers."

Linda Evans from the All Of Us Or None Organizatiion,
said, "We are an organization of people coming out of
prison. We know we have to fight for our rights
because on every front we are being subjected to
terrible discrimination. I think that the NEO is just
one more example of that kind of discrimination. It
allows people to be evicted because of an arrest,
because of hearsay, and it is unacceptable for people
trying to integrate themselves back into their
communities and families. I think you should seriously
consider opposing this ordinance."

The council members have been trying to sell the NEO
as a tool needed to protect the renters from criminals
in their midst, but not even one tenant showed up to
speak up in support of the NEO.

John Murcko of the Eviction Defense Center was a fire
cracker when he spoke and he stirred up the crowd by
saying,"This law is a sham! The source of the problem
most tenants live with is not crime. It's the
condition they live under. I've represented thousands
of tenants, and their exposed to rats and roaches,
leaky roofs and sewers backing up into their homes,
and no heat in the winters. We should be passing laws
against the landlords for allowing these conditions to
affect the community."

Doris Stancil a former member of the Rainbow Push
Coalition said, "If any of you really think that the
solution to Oakland's problems is to toss our
grandchildren out into the streets when they get into
trouble and expect the system to take care of them,
then your a damn liar!"

James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union believes
eitherway, that if it's not a conspiracy, it's a
deliberate plan to take away the rights of the tenants
and their eviction protections. At the podium Vann
said, "This is bad law. This is terrible law. It
tramples on civil rights. It tramples on human rights.
It tramples on everything we're supposed to believe
in."

When all was done and said, Councilman Larry Reid
refused to allow any amendments being pressed by
Councilwoman Nancy Nadel that were meant to make the
NEO a bit more compassionate. All the other
councilmembers stepped in line to pass the NEO, except
for Councilwoman Desley Brooks who failed to appear at
Tuesday's meeting.

Once again, the NEO is coming up for another vote for
it's final passage on April 6 at Oakland City Hall.
Activists are urging people to keep hope alive and to
keep on fighting this ordinance until hell freezes
over.

My apologies to all the others that have not been
quoted for in this story, but have made the selfless
effort to oppose the NEO.

Best wishes to Father Donald Weeks and his Housing
Program for his strength and compassion in standing up
against the bully that threatened 30 people with an
eviction, just to get at one of them.

Critical Resistance may be reached at 444-0484

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