Members of ACCE Action and local tenants rally outside the Antioch City Hall on Tuesday, July 25, 2023, before the City Council considered an ordinance on tenant protections. (ACCE Action)
Antioch is strengthening its tenant protections with new rules against landlord retaliation and harassment.
After hearing more than three hours of public comments and debate on the matter, the City Council voted 3-1 on Tuesday, with Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock dissenting and Councilman Mike Barbanica, a real estate agent/broker, recusing himself.
“Antioch is not the first city to propose anti-harassment protections,” proponent Ethan Silverstein, an attorney with the tenant advocate group ACCE Institute, told the council. “These protections are becoming more and more popular. Even Sacramento is considering one.”
Richmond also passed similar tenant protections in 2021, he said.
The Antioch anti-retaliation policy will bar landlords from retaliating against tenants when they exercise certain legal rights related to their rentals. Examples include landlords increasing rent after a tenant requests a broken appliance be repaired or replaced.
And, although state law prohibits harassment of tenants with the intent to get them to leave their home, the city’s proposed anti-harassment rule goes further addressing harmful landlord actions done in “bad faith” or for a reason that’s difficult to prove, according to City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith. It also includes situations where a landlord simply wants to avoid the expense or inconvenience of giving a tenant what he wants or needs.
Silverstein called the proposed protections “a fine ordinance” that has what is needed to protect tenants, as well as fines if a landlord violates the rules.
“‘Here, if you can show the landlord acted in bad faith in doing whatever conduct they did; that’s what you need to prove, and we feel that’s reasonable,” he said.
“I also think it’s really admirable that this ordinance includes violations that are unique to Antioch — you know, things about towing cars, things that really represent a lot of the tenants’ stories that you’ve been hearing here,” Silverstein added. “It’s not just copying and pasting from another city. It’s really responding to the needs of the community.
Opponent Rhovy Lyn Antonio of the California Apartment Association, though, said her group had “serious concerns” about the proposal, noting state laws already cover the issues raised.
“What this is actually doing is redefining the definition of harassment, and adding new restrictions that only serve to create financial and legal landmines for Antioch housing providers,” she said.
Antonio questioned the language on “retaliation,” saying it presumed the landlord was guilty and blurs the burden of proof, relieving the tenant from having to prove the offense.
Furthermore, she also took issue with the proposed fines, which begin at $1,000 for a misdemeanor conviction.
“The punishment is excessive and makes this ordinance very punitive – jail time, excessive fees on top of state law. … You really have to talk among yourselves and see the impact and the message this will be saying to the local housing providers in your city, especially when the applicability of this ordinance extends to all the family-owned and operated properties.
“If we are trying to send a message that rental property owners should invest in Antioch, this message is not it,” Antonio added.
Local landlords and real estate agents agreed.
“You’re going to end up with fewer rental properties, which will make them more costly for residents looking for housing,” Joe Stokley Sr., an Antioch real estate investor said. “I implore you please do not force me to go through the hassle at my age of selling my properties and reinvesting elsewhere.”
Renee Callaway of the Delta Association of Realtors also urged the council to reconsider supporting the proposed rules, calling some aspects “deeply troubling,” including the fines.
Callaway suggested that the city strive for a balanced approach and craft an ordinance that protects the rights of responsible landlords.
A slew of local tenants and advocates, though, applauded the measure, saying new rules were needed to protect tenants.
Millie Phillips of East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy said the state laws against harassment and retaliation are not useful if they aren’t being enforced.
“If the state isn’t doing it (enforcing the laws), then it becomes the job of the local governments to do it,” she said.
“I don’t see the issue here with the landlords feeling like they are being lumped in with these horrible offenders,” Phillips added. “If they’re not doing that kind of behavior, the ordinance will never apply.”
Christine Clark, an Antioch resident and member of Juntos Rising, formerly the East County Regional Group, applauded the anti-harassment policy.
“We are excited to be here to support the passing of this very important step to keep Antioch families safe from landlord harassment,” she said.
Clark said many residents have shared stories of harassment from landlords.
“Major complaints include not getting receipts for their rent when tenants request them, issues like trash piling up in Dumpsters, major appliances broken and endless cockroaches,” she said.
Renter Kimberly Carlson said “nobody deserves to live with feces,” referring to previous problems with a flooded apartment and being harassed when asked to have it repaired.
“We need to have anti-harassment, not only to protect all of us, but to protect the children in this community,” she said.
Following public comments, Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock agreed that “everyone deserves to live in a safe environment,” but she questioned several aspects of the proposal, including the need for a better definition of what “bad faith” is and who decides it. She also questioned why there wasn’t an exemption for senior home facilities – it was later added – and why the rules included houses when most of the issues were regarding corporate landlords.
“I also don’t think the landlord should have to bear the burden of proof on all of it,” she said, adding that she thought the fines were excessive.
“I believe that we again need to work collaboratively regarding creating the resolution and ordinance that all can work with,” she said.
But Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker said Mayor Lamar Thorpe had tried that approach before, meeting with landlords, nonprofits, service providers and others.
“I don’t know why it didn’t work,” she added, noting that she wasn’t at the meeting. “But everybody who felt like they represented a certain constituency was in that room. And for some reason, we couldn’t come to an agreement at that point.”
Torres-Walker later moved to approve the new tenant protections, with some minor language clarifications and an exemption for residential senior care facilities.
The ordinance will go into effect within 30 days.