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Oakland May Close 'Duplex Loophole' To Stop New Landlords From Evicting Tenants

OAKLAND (KPIX) - The City of Oakland may be on the verge of closing what's known as the "duplex loophole" which gives new owners the right to evict tenants.

A ballot measure could make that more difficult and tenants are pushing for it.

Realtors and landlords are fighting the proposal, and they seem to have at least one Oakland lawmaker on their side.

"It would be really hard for me to stay in Oakland if I moved," says tenant Mark Hammond.

Hammond is a singer-songwriter living in a duplex in West Oakland. He's from the UK and has been living in the rent-controlled apartment for 7 years. Now his landlord is trying to kick him out.

"There's been various forms of intimidation," he says.

Consistent construction and threats of eviction are just a few examples he says he's dealing with.

It's not an uncommon story. No doubt, Hammond's landlord knows a vacant home is worth more.

"They're listing it for $720,000. If it's vacant they can list it for $850K upwards," he says.

Hammond is now adding his voice to dozens of Oaklanders fighting for tenants' rights. Specifically he wants to see the city close the 'duplex loophole' so that whoever buys Mark's building can't kick him out immediately. Right now they legally could.

Closing the 'duplex loophole' would need City Council support to become a ballot measure in November. It has failed in the past and is facing heavy opposition this round too.

"Oakland is dealing with an economic crisis beyond our making and our doing people need to see that as it is," says Councilmember Lynette McElhaney.

Councilmember McElhaney says tenants' rights groups haven't convinced her closing the loophole is necessary.

"I believe we're going to see the proposals - I have not been working closely with those coalitions," she says.

She does appear to have a closer relationship with the real estate lobby. City records indicate McElhaney has received more than $52,000 in campaign contributions from real estate and landlord lobbyists since 2015. That's more than double any other members of City Council.

Last week she introduced an ordinance that would offer landlords who own 5 units or less a loan from the city to pay the evicted tenants relocation.

She says her ordinance will prevent long standing African American homeowners from having to sell their properties.

"Tenants' rights advocates, as you know, say this incentivizes eviction. I think they're wrong, the eviction is going to happen," says McElhaney. "We have so many African American homeowners - we saw this in Berkeley - who lost their properties in protection of tenancy. I think black ownership matters"

Tenants' rights advocate John Jones, III just laughs at the notion that McElhaney's plan would help the African American population stay in Oakland.

"Wow that's interesting," he laughs, shaking his head.

Jones is a third-generation Oaklander.

"We were very concerned when we found out there was an effort to take some of the money that was used for anti-displacement to fund this project," says Jones. "No, we need every penny to help tenants face evictions - we're hearing that's as high as a 1000 a month."

Jones's activism is deeply rooted. He's formerly homeless and says displacement is a direct pipeline to homelessness.

"We do not want to intentionally or unintentionally provide an incentive for landlords to evict tenants," he says.

"This one has to be closely watched," says McElhaney. "They have to come through the city to certify the criteria which are pretty strict and pretty narrow,"

Hammond says he's living proof landlords will count on you not knowing your rights and if he hadn't been able to afford a lawyer, he wouldn't be telling his story right now.

"I think I would've just accepted some nominal amount to just move out, out of fear that I wouldn't get anything like they said."

KPIX reached out to Hammond's landlord and real estate lobbyists multiple times to schedule an interview, but they were not able to provide someone to comment.

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