Lease Loophole Demands Charter Amendment

Lease Loophole Demands Charter Amendment


Discussion of ordinance continues with rebuttal to commentary last week

Paul Foreman’s commentary last week on my July 14 letter about the fixed-term lease loophole (“’Loophole’ a Clear Policy Decision, July 21) is emblematic of a widespread insensitivity to the vulnerability of renters.

First, I never said the City Council was “too lazy.” I did, however, question their competence and integrity. Either City Hall is numb to the plight of a substantial majority of the people they represent or they’re pretending ignorance on behalf of a small minority of commercial interests — landlords, property managers, Realtors. The former questions their competence; the latter reeks of deception.

Foreman wrote, “Current tenants are protected because they don’t have to accept the offer of a fixed-term lease.” In a hyped-up residential rental market such as today’s there’s no such thing as an arms-length negotiation. Once the family and all their worldly goods have been moved into an apartment, what head of household would dare challenge any lease the landlord offered?  Foreman’s fix would be disclosure paragraph in bold-face type. Hogwash. The desperate renter would still sign.

The solution to the fixed-term lease loophole is a one sentence amendment: a tenants’ right to relocation fees irrevocably accrues and vests with the duration of tenancy irrespective of the form of rental contract.

Last week I presented evidence to the City Council that fixed-term leases are becoming standard in Alameda, as predicted in my Feb. 28 email to the council. Yet the fixed-term lease loophole persists, five months after I complained about it, an indictment of City Hall’s favoritism. 

Friday a councilmember acknowledged that I “raise a good point about fixed term leases that merits further consideration ... after the November election.” In a brazen display of favoritism, the council voted last week to amend the ordinance on Aug. 8 in favor of commercial interests, yet they will not consider removing the loophole at the same meeting.

The other loophole you can drive a tank through Rent Review and Advisory Committee (RRAC) a tribunal of mayoral appointees. What chance do renters have before appointees that owing allegiance to a mayor whose landlord bias is a matter of record? During my eight weeks petitioning on the streets of Alameda it became clear that the vast majority of renters are afraid to go before the RRAC. It’s a landlords’ court.

I also learned that most landlords don’t exploit renters but there are plenty, including a large property manager, who do. Only a few drivers break traffic laws, but the laws are for everyone. Would you like to go before a tribunal of political appointees when you get hit by a speeding car?

The city’s Swiss cheese rent ordinance is like a magician’s shell game: now you see it--now you don’t. It’s an open door for an Attorney General investigation or a class-action lawsuit.

This week three more families at 470 Central Ave. got no-cause eviction notices. This is how the Bay Area’s burgeoning homeless population got built. (And it’s going to get worse because affordable housing isn’t increasing fast enough.) Mike got one of those notices. I bet nobody at City Hall knows Mike, but I bet a lot of them are on a first-name basis with developers and Realtors.

Community means families, not buildings. Our legacy awaits. Alamedans must choose between dignity and disgrace.

Monty J Heying has lived in Alameda for 16 years.