After listening to a long stream of renters, housing advocates and others urging the city to extend tenant protections, the council directed staff to draft a potential law to do just that.
With moratoriums ending and positive COVID-19 cases still high, renters facing evictions and rent increases asked the council on Tuesday to enact an ordinance that would control rents, protect tenants from landlord harassment and require a just-cause provision for evictions.
The council, on a 3-to-2 vote with Councilmembers Mike Barbanica and Lori Ogorchock as opposed, agreed to move forward with crafting potential ordinances to be voted on at a future meeting.
The action came as other cities across Contra Costa county and the state — including Richmond and Los Angeles – have passed strong tenant protections as the pandemic continues to ravage working-class families.
The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which led the charge, said the goal was to curb rising homelessness and protect tenants, who make up a third of Antioch’s residents, many paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
“If the City Council passes the three ordinances proposed, my family will finally be able to sleep without the threat of homelessness looming over our heads,” Carmen Ponce, an Antioch renter and Alliance member, said in a statement.
Devin Williams, an Antioch Alliance organizer, said he’s spoken with many tenants who are dealing with “landlord abuse or mismanagement” issues.
“The tenants are facing the same problems, whether it will be the lighting going out in the complex where people feel unsafe, or there’s mold growing in certain units and no one’s coming to fix them,” he said. “I urge the council and the mayor to support rent control and just cause for eviction protections for tenants.”
But during a presentation by the California Apartment Association and Delta Realtors Association, representatives for both said protections were already covered by state law.
Rhovy Lyn Antonio of the California Apartment Association pointed to the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, or state AB 1482, which caps rent increases , prevents landlords from evicting tenants without a legal cause and allows for relocation payments for those who are evicted due to no fault of their own, such as when a building is undergoing a structural remodel or being sold or demolished.
“So, in Antioch, for example, you can officially say that Antioch has rent control and just- cause eviction laws because it falls under AB 1482,” Antonio said.
She also pointed to the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act, which prevented evictions in 2020-2021 due to nonpayment of rent because of COVID-19 hardships. State law also has harassment and retaliation protections for renters, she said.
But the most significant resource for renters and property owners during the pandemic is the statewide Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, she said. “These were state and federal funds that were available to cover rental debt.”
James Britto of the Delta Association of Realtors agreed that the current protections are adequate and said that most landlords are not rich, money-hungry or greedy.
“We talked a lot here about the tenants’ rights,” he said. “There’s more than enough on the book right now. We don’t really need more regulations.”
But the next 30 or more speakers disagreed, saying some of the state laws have significant loopholes and do not apply to all renters or all properties.
“We need to really be about local control,” Jim Becker said. “We cannot allow a state or national trade association to take away our local control. What we want, as residents of Antioch, is affordability and we want sustainability.
Deepa Varma of Tenants Together, said she has been working with communities to help them pass local protections.
“A tenant is very vulnerable and is not an equal footing to a landlord,” she said. “For a landlord, even for the smallest landlords out there, this question of tenancy is about a business, and for a tenant, it’s about their home.”
Hard hit by the pandemic, tenants have had “a very precarious few years,” she said.”They’re very scared; harassment (from landlords) went way up during COVID. We saw our calls on our statewide hotline quadrupling, (with) many, many calls from Antioch and surrounding areas in Contra Costa.”
Ilaff Esuf, economic policy analyst at United Way Bay Area, said the pandemic’s financial burden on low-income communities has not disappeared.
“This pivotal time represents an opportunity for you to reevaluate and develop equitable policies that could support communities in staying housed, which is a pivotal tool to maintain financial stability and community health,” she said.
Leah Simon-Weisberg of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment said that the state law would not preempt any local ordinance on rent control and tenant protections.
“There will be loopholes that may not have been obvious at the time the (state) law was passed, but unfortunately, many landlords would look around and find ways to essentially circumvent the law,” she said.
However, Carol Manning, an affordable housing real estate agent, cautioned not to lump all landlords together.
“The solution is not taking away additional rights from landlords or looking at landlords as all one and painting them all with a broad brush,” she said. , The solution is building more housing.”
Councilman Mike Barbanica said landlords are already throwing in the towel without rent coming in during the pandemic. And, as far as troublesome landlords, he said the number is small.
“What we’re talking about here is a very small percentage of landlords abusing a system,” he said. “And we’re going to penalize the people that are stepping up and making sure people have homes.”
“I think as a city we can step up and help out,” Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock said, noting the city staff can educate renters and property owners about programs that can help.
But Councilwomen Tamisha Torres Walker and Monica Wilson, who originally asked the council to consider tenant protections last fall, both wanted to move forward with drafting a local ordinance.
“We want to keep people in their homes, or apartments, or rentals,” Torres Walker said. “So I hope that we can come to some type of agreement on what we actually value in this city. As we’ve heard many stories – both sides of the story – but I’ve personally seen people being pushed out of this community each day either through a lack of affordability or the desire to just leave because they can’t stand the harassment. “
“I know it’s going to be very tough and this is something that we need to tackle and we need to face it head-on and we need to make sure all residents of Antioch are looked after,” Wilson added.
Mayor Lamar Thorpe said he was still undecided about the proposals but wanted to see more details when the drafts return to council.
“So, it seems to me that this is all about the fine details of any of these types of ordinances because they can obviously have a positive impact or they can have a negative impact,” he said.