Lyndsey and Sharon Ballinger didn’t expect a cakewalk when a job change took them clear across the country and back, especially with two young children. What took them by surprise, however, was that moving back into their own house would cost them their savings and property rights.
The couple bought their home in Oakland, CA in 2014. The following year, Sharon, a registered nurse with the Air Force, was selected for a nurse practitioner doctoral program at the University of Maryland. This meant transfer orders for Sharon and Lyndsey, who was an Air Force squadron commander at the time. So they moved to Washington, DC, and expecting to one day return, they rented out their home in Oakland– a better option, they thought, than selling their home and returning to an even more expensive housing market.
Sure enough, three years later, Sharon earned her doctorate and a new assignment as an acute care nurse practitioner at the medical center on Travis Air Force base close to Oakland.
Tenants Get $6,500 to Move Out!
The Ballingers were going home. They thought the transition would be relatively easy, as they arranged a month-to-month rental agreement with their tenants. But Sharon and Lyndsey discovered that in order to move back into their home, they first had to pay their tenants more than $6,500 to move out. “When we got the official orders, I called the property management company and told them we were moving back to California in June and planned to move back into our house,” Lyndsey explains. “They said, ‘That’s great, but if you want your tenants to move out, you’ll have to pay them.’”
Illegal City Ordinance
The Ballingers found themselves snared in the city’s new Uniform Residential Tenant Relocation Ordinance. Under the ordinance, owners can only evict tenants if they pay a so-called relocation fee to help tenants displaced when property owners want to take their rental property off the rental market so they or a relative can live there. This fee ranges from $6,500 to $9,875 depending on the size and type of unit – regardless of the tenants’ income or whether they actually use the money for relocation.
The look took effect in January 2018, after Sharon and Lyndsey linked the rental agreement with their tenants. Nevertheless, the law still compelled them to pay the whopping sum to their tenants – whose tech sector careers draw higher incomes than the Ballingers.
“Both of us felt like we were punched in the stomach,” Lyndsey recalls. “And so was our bank account. We had money saved for the move and additional costs will always come along. But nothing like this. We completely drained our savings.”
“To have this law thrown into place with no opportunity to do anything about it was the toughest part,”Sharon adds. “We didn’t have any other avenue to resolve the issue because, being a military family, we aren’t even California residents right now. So we don’t have any representation through ‘traditional’ means, either. It left us very few options.”
The Ballingers felt helpless, yet encouraged by support from others who agreed that despite the good intent to address the city’s lack of affordable housing, the law doesn’t make sense.
Pacific Legal Foundation Steps In
“Trying to fix the housing crisis on the backs of the middle class feels like overreach,” Lyndsey says. “By trying to do a good thing, the city is ultimately doing the opposite by deterring people from putting anything on the rental market.”
So Lyndsey turned to Google and found Pacific Legal Foundation [PLF]. And she was glad she did because the ordinance is not only misguided, it’s unconstitutional – its conditions violate the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the Fourth Amendment, and state law.
“Helping fellow Americans can’t happen at the expense of our constitutional protections,” says PLF Senior Attorney Meriem Hubbard. “Furthermore, the housing crisis is due not to rental home owners, but rather to government regulation which makes new homes very expensive. People who want to move back into their own homes should be able to do so without paying for the tenants to go elsewhere.”
Represented by the PLF free of charge, the Ballingers filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Oakland– not for the money, but because they don’t want anyone else to go through the same ordeal.
“We definitely see and understand the city’s daunting problem when it comes to affordable housing,” says Sharon. “But it’s important to us to get another voice out there to share another perspective on how forced legislation can be more burdensome to the community than solving problems through other means.”
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Founded in 1973, PLF litigates cases nationwide to vindicate the rights fundamental to a free society. With nine consecutive U.S. Supreme Court victories and counting, PLF fights on the front lines, ensuring individual liberty is secure. Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, individual rights, and free enterprise, in courts nationwide. PLF represents all clients free of charge. For more information, visit www.pacificlegal.org, call (916) 419-7111 or write PLF at 930 G. Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.