OAKLAND (KPIX) – Oakland’s housing market is sizzling. There are open houses every weekend. And many of them are filled with tenants who have to awkwardly watch and listen to the people who could take away their homes.
It’s an especially lucrative business model because of what some are calling a huge loophole in the city’s eviction law.
Undercover cameras videotaped, as realtors walked KPIX and a group of potential home buyers through duplexes and triplexes at open houses in Oakland. They coached us as we went along on how to legally kick out everyone living there.
It was a crash course in the business of eviction, all caught on hidden camera.
“You can move in, and then once you have lived in the property, then the umm the restrictions on evictions and stuff go away,” one realtor told us.
The realtors openly explained how to maximize our return and make a career off buying and selling duplexes.
Another realtor put it this way: “A lot of people, that is what they do for a living. They will buy apartments that have below market rate rents, and figure out a way that they can get them up higher so they can sell it for a profit.”
Meanwhile, current occupants of the home were sitting within earshot, knowing whoever buys their place has the ability to drastically change their life.
Morgan West lives in Oakland. We toured her apartment while she was home.
“Honestly kind of awkward,” she said.
The realtor thanked her and wished her a ‘good day’ as we left.
These apartment tours have been part of Love’s life for the past 7 months. She’s been anxiously watching realtors advertise the West Oakland triplex she desperately wants to continue living in.
“I think there’s got to be some level of understanding that when you’re coming in and probably going to push people out of your home, that’s going to be really hard for those people,” says Love. “If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, I think there’s really a problem.”
Love and the other women living in her triplex are all artists. If she loses this apartment she says she won’t be able to afford rent in the Bay Area.
“I think it’s really sad and horrible that folks who are artists are being pushed out,” she says. “I think it’s even more sad and horrible that people who have been in these neighborhoods for generations are being displaced.”
KPIX showed the hidden camera video to Leah Simon-Weisberg, with Centro Legal de la Raza, a tenants’ rights group in Oakland.
She listened as a third realtor showing us Morgen’s triplex told us: “The day you own this property as the homeowner you can give 60-day notices to vacate to all three tenants immediately if you wanted.”
“It’s kind of one of those situations where you’re sad to know you were right,” she says. “We have the worst homelessness that California has had since the Great Depression, and some say since the big earthquake. If we want to live in a civil society and we don’t understand why we have so many homeless families, this is why — because we’ve allowed, we are tolerating that people are making a business model off of this.”
It is business model that is uniquely profitable in Oakland thanks to a loophole in the city’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance. It states that all the tenants living in buildings with three units or less can be evicted as long as the owner occupies one.
“This is your home, this is not like a business, like the guy who has got the 100 unit building. This is where you live,” says Wayne Roland.
He is with the East Bay Rental Housing Association. He says voters passed a ballot measure in 2002 to exempt small landlords from the ‘just cause’ eviction law for a reason.
“It takes 2 to tango,” he says. “You can’t just set up rules that favor tenants and have your concerns always related to the tenants. You have to be concerned about the people who are providing the housing, as well.”
As for the small property owner in Oakland, Roland says “they are providing the lion’s share — the overwhelming lion’s share of the affordable housing, so let’s give them a break sometimes.”
Meanwhile, with every day that goes by, another duplex sells over asking price. Artists like Love live day-to-day in their rented units, hoping for the best but bracing for the worst.
“It’s really, really hard to think that you’re going to be able to survive as an artist, but to know that your entire ability to be stable and find a place to live could be thrown in the trash at the drop of a dime is terrifying,” she says wiping away her tears.
Simon-Weisberg’s tenant’s rights group is proposing a new ballot measure to overturn the old one from 2002 that would give small apartment owners in Oakland the exemption. City council members would have to vote to put it on the ballot in November. If they don’t take action by the end of the month, she says it’ll be too late.
She predicts that by next year, hundreds more Oakland residents will have been kicked out of their homes.