Although we are heavy consumers of housing news curated around the Bay Area, we sometimes get interjected into the stories we read. Such was the case with this San Francisco Chronicle article that reported Oakland City Council’s recent vote to place a measure on the November ballot that would peel back protections for small property owners who are exempted from just cause eviction rules.

While most Oakland buildings that obtained a certificate of occupancy prior to December 31, 1995 are subject to Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance, a glaring exception is made for duplexes and triplexes where the landlord lives in a unit. Yet one of the last bastions of small rental property owner rights is being assailed as part of Oakland’s continued trek down a slippery slope toward more cumbersome rent control measures.

Before we chime in, take a look at the storyline leading up to the city’s pushing of the so-called “duplex loophole” to the November ballot.

Redefining property ownership

At the risk of semantics, it’s interesting that the conversation begins with the term “loophole,” which seems to be a code word for anything that protects the rights of property owners. Like pass-throughs and other laws that might be viewed as favorable to landlords, the first inclination is to call any measure that benefits owners a loophole. This argument ignores one of the fundamental tenets of ownership – the owner can live in the property and decide what goes on there. 

In an earlier article, we quoted Wayne Roland, who said “it takes two to tango.” The President of the East Bay Rental Housing Association notes that not every initiative should set up rules that favor tenants. “You have to be concerned about the people who are providing housing, as well,” he states.

More often than not, the political rhetoric falls squarely on the side of tenant rights and the interests of landlords often take a back seat, if glazed over at all. Yet, we should give credit where it is due and appreciate Otis R. Taylor Jr’s willingness to hear us out in the Chronicle’s recent article and give us the opportunity to be the voice of landlords in a fair and balanced discussion.

Daniel attempted to make the distinction between deep-pocketed real estate investment companies and small owners who rely on rental income for their subsistence and predicted that if the owners who live in their duplexes and triplexes are hamstrung with additional regulations, it will both reduce the quality of life for residents and negatively impact the property value in a lose-lose situation. 

So what it does is it becomes a disincentive to improve housing stock… While large real estate investment companies may have the ability to handle the complexity of the ordinance, small owners are confronted with a tremendous new regulatory regime that they simply don’t have the money nor experience to handle.

The debate should be settled.

Although most economists generally agree that rent control does more harm than good and there are arguments that expanded rent control will only aggravate the affordable housing shortage in the Bay Area, we need not be in academia or an ivory tower to see it.

With “boots on the ground,” Bornstein Law has already encountered nervous rental property owners who are contemplating raising the rents in anticipation of measures coming down the pike, making substantial repairs to avail themselves of just cause eviction exemptions before they are gone, and otherwise taking advantage of current laws before they are axed.

We can confirm the argument then, that if the tenants’ right agenda comes to fruition, it will be self-defeating. We are strong advocates for housing stability, but there is a right way and a wrong way to accomplish this.

While there is a large chorus of voices for tenants’ rights, the rights of rental property owners seem to be drowned out, but Bornstein Law fills the void. Contact our office for proper counsel. 

Bornstein Law