EAST OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Two families in East Oakland are facing eviction because their rent-controlled apartments were turned into condos, or at least that’s what their landlord says happened.

Maria Pelayo has lived in East Oakland for 23 years and in the same rent-controlled apartment for 12 years. Her landlord now says the building is a condominium and she’s trying to evict Maria’s family.

“I would like someone to explain to me what a condominium is and what’s an apartment, and why is there the loss of rent control once it becomes a condominium?” Pelayo said.

In Oakland, landlords can legally apply to convert apartment buildings into condominiums. Once the conversion is approved, tenants living inside lose all protections–just cause eviction and rent control restrictions disappear.

Condos are zoned as single-family homes, so tenant protections no longer apply. Pelayo’s landlord is trying to raise her rent from $900 a month to $2,300. The landlord, May Fong, says the rent increase went into effect in 2017 so she wants more than $19,000 in back pay.

Pelayo’s next door neighbor, Rosa Gaona, is going through the same thing.

“My daughter, she worries and gets nervous and she cries sometimes because she doesn’t want to move out,” Gaona said.

Both Gaona and Pelayo are housekeepers and say they don’t make enough money to afford market rate apartments in Oakland. They’re worried the conversion will render them homeless.

Large-scale condo conversions were a big problem back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. The Bay Area lost thousands of affordable housing units to large-scale conversions during those decades.

Since then, the laws have been strengthened to limit the number of conversions allowed in each city during a given year. These conversion caps make it more difficult to convert large buildings to condominiums in one fell swoop, but Oakland’s law doesn’t take into account small buildings of four or fewer units. City Councilmember Dan Kalb wants to change that.

“If we want to protect the rental stock we have, and protect the renters who live in those rental units, all rental units should be under the same set of rules,” Kalb said.

Landlords who convert apartment buildings with more than four units to condos have to either build the same number of units that were taken off the rental market or pay what are known as conversion credits. Conversion credits are a fee that goes toward building more affordable housing in Oakland.

“When you convert to a condo, you’re taking rental units off the market, and you’re making it harder for those renters to stay in Oakland,” Kalb said.

Pelayo and Gaona’s landlord isn’t paying conversion credits. She claims their building consists of four condominiums.

“In this case, it appears the conversion was done as four units. We believe there were more, which means it’s not done correctly,” said Jackie Zaneri, Staff Attorney with Centro Legal De La Raza.

Land records for the property are messy. Initially, there were five units on the property and utility records show apartments A through E. Zillow lists the building as having sixe units, which is how many families Pelayo and Gaona say live there now, but Fong and her attorney Paul Katz insist there are only four condos, which would make Fong exempt from paying conversion credits.

“Unfortunately, we keep seeing tenants displaced out of Oakland in so many ways, this is another loophole we’re seeing landlords exploiting,” Zaneri said.

May Fong and her lawyer declined to be interviewed for this story.

Kalb intends to introduce the new condo conversion ordinance in the coming weeks.

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