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Oakland City Council Votes To Close So-Called 'Duplex Loophole'

OAKLAND (KPIX) - Oakland city council members voted early Wednesday morning to close an eviction loophole that was putting hundreds of renters at risk of getting kicked out of their homes.

The vote was a last-ditch effort to get a measure on the November ballot. It would close what's known as the 'duplex loophole.'

Right now in Oakland, if you buy a duplex or a triplex and move into one of the units, you can evict everyone living in the other units as well. No other major California city has this exemption.

Tuesday night, City Council deliberations and discussion stretched into the wee hours of the morning. The vote finally happened at about 2 a.m., with council members passing it unanimously.

For the past week inside Oakland City Hall, it's been tenants versus landlords. Tensions are high, with both sides feeling like their rights are slipping away.

Right now, tenants living in duplexes and triplexes can be evicted without just cause. If it passes in November, the ballot measure would give them the same protection as tenants living in larger apartment buildings. It was introduced by council members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo.

"I want to ensure our voters have the opportunity to vote on something in November that gives our renters the protections the rest of our renters already have," said Kalb.

A KPIX investigation exposed realtors coaching investors on how to profit from the law. They walked us through duplexes and triplexes, and told us how to legally kick out everyone living there. Oftentimes the tenants were within earshot.

Morgen Love is one of those tenants. She lives in a triplex and her landlord is selling the place.

"It's definitely a low key continuous anxiety that I have that someone is going to buy this house," said Love.

"I think what in many ways for me is the most disturbing is they don't think there's anything wrong with what they're doing," said Leah Simon Weisberg, a tenants rights advocate with Centro Legal de la Raza.

Simon-Weisberg says our undercover video of realtors coaching us on the business of eviction shows why the law needs to change.

"That people are seeing this as a business model in the height of an affordability crisis its reminiscent of war profiteering," she said.

"You can't stop people from buying a house, and when people do buy a house, one of the most important rights that they have is to be able to live in it, and that is exactly what people are doing, said Wayne Roland, president of the East Bay Rental Housing Association.

He says claims of rampant owner move-in evictions in Oakland are way overblown.

"They have enough records to show that the number of evictions is really really low. They have the information, they can provide it, and the public should know," said Roland.

Getting a clear picture of the eviction issue is challenging. In response to a public records request for every notice to vacate for the last two years, KPIX got 127 records for just two months last spring.

Most were for failure to pay rent, or illegal activity. Seventeen were terminations of tenancy without explanation, so there's no way to know if the cause was a new owner move in.

Michelle Byrd with Oakland's Department of Housing and Community Development couldn't provide answers either.

"We don't know specifically. We would have to have someone assigned to track it and monitor it our capacity is not at that level at this point in time," said Byrd.

When asked if she worries about the City Council making a decision to put this on the ballot without those numbers she said, "I believe there will be more due diligence done. That's something we really want to work on."

Some on the City Council argue the lack of data makes any decision on whether to close the so-called duplex loophole premature.

"I wish we had a little more time to make it more nuanced," said Councilwoman Lynette McElhaney, who opposes the ballot measure.

But City Councilman Kalb says it's time to act now.

"We've already seen so many of our renters being pushed out and I want to do whatever we can do within the law to stop that," said Kalb.

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