Tenants Fearing Eviction After Oakland Warehouse Fire Meet With Civil Rights Attorney John Burris

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Creative people and others who live at warehouses and are worried about being evicted in the wake of the deadly fire at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse in Oakland’s Fruitvale district two weeks ago came to a community meeting Friday to learn about their rights.

Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

Speaking at a community building near the site of the Dec. 2 fire at 1315 31st Ave., civil rights attorney John Burris said he organized the meeting because “people called us up because there are clear issues that they’re concerned about.”

Burris said tenants have legal questions, such as who’s responsible for keeping their buildings safe, but also “are worried about their futures at warehouse facilities and whether they could be evicted.”

Burris said he’s concerned that development and rising rental prices already have forced many black people to move out of Oakland and he’s now worried that “the creative community could be phased out and another class of people will be put in danger.”

Burris said he wants to make sure that Oakland’s rent control and just-cause eviction laws are being followed so that people aren’t arbitrarily evicted.

Anne Omura, an attorney with the Eviction Defense Center, said, “There’s been a huge spike in the number of calls we’ve had from tenants in live-work buildings. I’m afraid there will be a push to evict artists and low-income people.”

Omura said Oakland has laws to protect tenants without due process but she said, “We need the city to tighten up rent control before it’s too late.”

Many speakers at the meeting, which was attended by nearly 50 people, said they fear that landlords will use the warehouse fire as an excuse to force out low-income tenants and bring in tenants who can afford to pay higher rents.

“I feel like Oakland is under attack, really,” Omura said.

City Councilman Noel Gallo, who represents the district where the fire occurred, said he and several other council members are working on drafting a path to compliance for property owners to legalize warehouse living units similar to what New York did in 1982 with its loft laws.

Gallo said the city also has imposed a moratorium on displacing people who live at warehouses.

“We don’t want to displace anyone,” Gallo said.

An aide to Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said Kaplan plans to submit an ordinance that would enact more protections for tenants.

At the end of the meeting, Gallo told the artists and other tenants who attended, “I’ve been taking notes and I’ll reach back to you. We’re going to have public hearings about this.”

Burris told reporters after the meeting that he learned, “There’s a lot of pain and a lot of concern about people’s living situations and that landlords will evict people because they see the fire as an opportunity.”

But Burris said he hopes the fire “will cause the city, landlords and tenants to reach some kind of accord that people will not be displaced.”

He said, “There should be some kind of fund to have landlords improve their properties (so they comply with safety codes) while people continue to stay there.”

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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