Bay Area City Sides With Tenants in Rent Fight

     HAYWARD, Calif. (CN) — In a slap at the Alameda County Superior Court, the Hayward City Council on Tuesday voted to clarify its rent control ordinance to bring it in line with the city’s interpretation of the law.
     The vote came on the heels of a petition filed by two Hayward tenants earlier Tuesday asking an Alameda County Superior Court judge to vacate a June order denying their motions for summary judgment in their eviction proceedings.
     The petitioners had asked the court to find that the city’s rent control ordinance applies to their apartment building after their landlord, Upside Gading, went to court in March to evict them for not paying the rent increases they say it wrongly imposed on them.
     According to the petitioners, they could be homeless if they have to wait for a trial and the appellate process to resolve the case.
     “If tenant petitioners have to wait for direct appeal post-trial, they will suffer irreparable harm,” they said. “An eviction judgment is likely to be enforced, and tenants evicted, long before any appeal would be heard.”
     At issue is an exemption in the city’s rent ordinance excluding from rent control multifamily housing projects that receive government funding, if they’re subject to rent control because of that funding. The ordinance did not distinguish whether that exemption applies only to currently funded housing projects or also to housing projects that no longer receive government money but did in the past.
     In its complaints against its tenants, Upside Gading claims the rental units in question are exempt from rent control because the building used to receive government assistance.
     But the Hayward City Council introduced an ordinance on Tuesday clarifying that the exemption only applies to rental units currently receiving government funding.
     Despite the ambiguity in the language, the Hayward City Attorney’s office — which formally administers and interprets the ordinance — has always interpreted it to apply only to currently funded housing projects. In April, the City Attorney’s office sent a letter to Upside Gading confirming that the units in its rental building aren’t exempted from rent control because the building isn’t currently financed by the government.
     The building stopped receiving government funding in 2000, and is still subject to some rent controls under a use agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
     In denying the petitioners’ June motion, the trial court said it had given “little to no deference” to the City Attorney’s interpretation of the rent ordinance because “there is no indication that this interpretation was made by the Hayward City Council or the Hayward Rent Board.”
     However, Hayward does not have a rent board. Instead, it has a rent review division within the City Attorney’s office, and the city attorney administers and enforces the ordinance, Hayward Assistant City Attorney Rafael Alvarado Jr. said in an email.
     The City Attorney’s office filed a letter in the case addressing the trial court’s decision to override its interpretation of its own ordinance.
     “Our letter seeks confirmation from the appellate court that the trial court erred in disregarding our office’s interpretation of the exemption,” Alvarado said.
     Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker expressed similar concerns in a letter filed in the case, according to the petition.
     “The trial court would likely have deferred to [the city attorney’s] interpretation, if it had not mistakenly concluded that a rent board existed separately from the City Attorney’s office,” the petitioners said. “The appellate division should correct this mistake.”
     The petitioners say the case will affect 61 low-income families living in Upside Gading’s apartment building, and that low-income tenants living in other Hayward buildings that used to receive government funding could face the same legal issue.
     “The court’s ruling will impact the ability of local governments to stabilize our communities, in the face of rapidly escalating rents,” the petitioners said. “Because of rising rent prices, many Bay Area families are forced to move from the area, and even out of the state. This displacement disproportionately impacts low-income communities.”
     The petitioners are represented by Jesse Newmark and Shira Levine of Centro Legal de la Raza, and by Chris Beatty of the Law Offices of Andrew Wolff, both in Oakland.
     Neither the petitioner attorneys nor Upside Gading responded to requests for comment on Thursday.

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