Striking Oakland renters demand landlord sell building to them

Curbed SF - Tenants of an Oakland apartment building near the Fruitvale neighborhood have stopped paying rent, demanding that their landlord sell them the building for $3.2 million via the Oakland Land Trust nonprofit.

The rent strike is the tenants’ response to what they say are years of rent increases that threaten to push them out.

At the 14-unit building on 29th Avenue, half of the building’s renters are are participating in the standoff that started in October. CBS SF cites one 20-year tenant, who pays $1,500 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, which he says has doubled in price over the last three years. This, in part, has prompted fears of eviction in the building and neighborhood in the gentrification.

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The current owners bought the circa-1988 building for $717,000 in April of 2019. The owners have not issued any statement or responded to requests for comment.

Working with renters’ union Alliance of Californians For Community Empowerment (ACCE) and the land trust, the group of tenants want to buy out the building. “We don’t have to accept this housing crisis,” ACCE said via Facebook, encouraging more renters to participate in the strike.

Rent strikes returned to the headlines in recent years in the Bay Area. In fact, tenants at an apartment building in San Francisco’s Western Addition have been on strike for over four years, resisting attempts to demolish part of the Midtown Park Apartments on Scott Street.

 In most rent strikes, tenants still pay their rent every month, but they put the money in escrow until the landlord meets their demands, usually related to conditions in the building. Courts frequently rule such actions illegal, although in cases where the property owner has neglected the building for long enough, a judge may side with renters. And if a strike is big enough, a landlord may concede to the terms rather than put in the work to conduct mass evictions.

Withholding rent with the purpose to buy is a relatively novel application of the concept. The Oakland strikers and ACCE both cite the example of Moms 4 Housing, though the circumstances of that recent standoff in West Oakland were different.

At the end of January, Oakland City Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas introduced new legislation that would give Oakland renters the first right to buy their homes if the buildings are put up for sale, modeled on similar laws in other cities that sometimes result in renter takeovers of buildings, although in this case the 29th Avenue apartments are not currently for sale.