Group of tenants suing real estate company Mosser over Oakland pandemic protection test

The ACCE believes it has a strong case, in part thanks to an overhaul of the Oakland Tenant Protection Order approved by Oakland City Council in July of last year.

First created in 2014, the law was updated with a slew of new provisions at the start of the pandemic, with tenant advocates saying they were necessary in the face of mass unemployment, which could bring more landlords threatening to push tenants.

Updating the Tenant Protection Order increased penalties for harassment and expanded some definitions of this harassment, including shutting down public services. Landlords are also not allowed to change the terms of the rental, a key provision of the lawsuit.

Oakland City Council member Dan Kalb, who drafted the original ordinance and its update last year, said years of litigation have revealed it needs to be strengthened to better protect tenants.

“We realized that there were over 15 or 16 types of harassing behavior that owners might engage in,” he said, “so we added a few and clarified how the operation works. application. We wanted to make sure it was as strong as legally possible to prevent people from being kicked out. “

Harassment is a common tactic deployed by landlords in the Bay Area, supporters say, where real estate makes a lot of money. Veritas, San Francisco’s largest landlord with over 200 properties, was criticized in 2019 by its tenants for allegedly harassing them to kick them out of their homes.

“I think this will be the first big trial (in California) roughly, ‘You are not allowed to harass people,'” Simon-Weisberg said. Few cities in California have strong enough anti-harassment laws to make this litigation possible – in California at least, the only other city with such a strict law is Berkeley, she said.

Los Angeles is in the process of passing such a law right now. While some lawsuits bring harassment allegations to other major allegations, Simon-Weisberg said, this lawsuit is unique because most of the allegations focus on harassment.

The case is important because it can bypass a tactic commonly used by landlords to foreclose tenants without actively evicting them.
“The idea is that a strong law should deter bad behavior,” Kalb said.

And although he declined to comment specifically on the ACCE lawsuit against Mosser, Kalb added, “There will always be some really bad actors who don’t care what the law says and they will flout it and abuse, and try to harm. residents and evict them for their own selfish greed. And that’s when we need to bring them to justice.

Djamila Boudjema lives in a building owned by Mosser near Lake Merritt with her husband and child. She says Mosser’s staff have entered her home several times since 2016.

“It was so stressful,” she said. “It’s like every day they say, ‘We have an inspection coming up’ … that was too much.”

Boudjema said Mosser also started charging them for their electricity bill from April, which the company had not done before. It took her completely by surprise. She has been a tenant of the building since 2011, before Mosser owned it, and has never paid an electricity bill.

In its lawsuit, ACCE alleges that Mosser improperly charges tenants in the Boudjema building for electricity because the previous owner advertised the units as “all utilities paid” and factored in the cost of paying for the charges. utilities in the price paid by Mosser to acquire the building.

Neighbors speaking to KQED say the majority of the tenants in the building are immigrants from Algeria. They told KQED that they were forming a community together, sharing traditional dishes like couscous or sharing religious holidays together. Some are Muslims and attend the Oakland Islamic Center for prayer.

Boudjema, who is also from Algeria, says she suspects Mosser of underestimating the immigrants and assumes they would be duped by the company’s tactics.

“I have a feeling Mosser is doing what he does, what he does now, because we as a community don’t know much about the law,” she said. “That we cannot stand up for our rights.”

But that assumption would be wrong, she said. Boudjema helped organize tenants in his 84-unit apartment building to push them away.

Said Koulougli and Karima Miloudi live in the building with their 7-year-old son and are also among those neighbors who are organizing against Mosser. Miloudi suffers from multiple sclerosis, which makes her more vulnerable to COVID-19. The couple claim that Mosser’s staff repeatedly entered their home before and throughout the pandemic, raising concerns that she was exposed to the virus.

“COVID-19 is not a play, not a joke. And we are seeing people die and thousands die,” Koulougi said. He was particularly worried about his wife. “I protect her from strangers,” he said of COVID.

Additional utility charges also hit the couple hard.

Koulougli’s job in painting and renovating apartments fell during the pandemic, and Miloudi is a student at CSU East Bay studying to be an accountant. With scarce work and school a priority, these public service charges were added to their rent, which itself was already accumulating.

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